Go down to the woods today

11th March 2005 at 00:00
David Bocking introduces a project which takes learning into the forest

As any reader of fairy stories knows, children shouldn't even think of venturing into their local woods, because under the shade of the trees, goblins, wolves or worse are waiting.

This is just one reason why woods are so fascinating, says Peter Machan.

"Woods are an outstanding resource. There's loads of literature, such as forest myths and European fairy tales; there's fantastic stuff in ancient woodlands about living ecosystems and the cycle of life; and there's also local history, where your local woods can tell a story that goes way back."

Peter, a former Sheffield headteacher who now works on history resources for schools and other organisations, has produced an array of materials on ancient woodlands within the South Yorkshire forest, where evidence can be found of work and life in the woods going back hundreds of years.

Tangled oak trees growing from a stump show where wood was coppiced for generations as fuel for charcoal burning. Q-shaped pits show where slivers of wood were dried in a kiln to provide lead smelting fuel 300 years ago.

And beneath the bushes you might find a sunken path or holloway, a track used in medieval times or even earlier.

"Teachers are not always familiar with that sort of environment, and woods are very complicated places. The ecology, history and geography don't jump out at you, which makes it difficult for teachers, but I think it also makes it more interesting."

Fuelling a Revolution is a Heritage Lottery Fund project that sets out to restore a series of South Yorkshire woods, improve access and produce educational and interpretive materials for use by visitors and schools. A description of the geography and history of each of the 35 woods covered by the project has been produced together with a growing number of worksheets (around 70 so far). There's also a "big book" on the history of a Sheffield wood for use by younger children.

Although the project is based on the woods of South Yorkshire, all the curriculum-linked worksheets (for KS1-3 and foundation) can be used for lessons on woodlands anywhere, says Peter. The "woodworkers" worksheets are primarily intended for use on site, and the "woodlanders" sets (which include most of the historical material) provide follow-up worksheets, which can be used in the classroom after one or two woodland visits.

Peter advises schools outside South Yorkshire to start their woodland work by looking for local material on the Forest Education Initiative website, which also includes links to other resources. Teachers can then download the worksheets they need as pdf documents from the Fuelling a Revolution website, which also includes advice on preparing for a woodland visit.

"Woods reflect the local history wherever you are, because woodland crafts were an important part of the country's economy, whether it was coppicing, clog-making, besom-making or tanning using local bark," says Peter.

The local woods, he adds, could be an integral part of a school's annual curriculum. "Children love working in their woods which, these days, are not always that familiar to them. The aim of these materials is to make woods more accessible as an outdoor classroom."

* For details of Fuelling a Revolution: Tel: 0114 2571199 Email: team@syforest.co.uk

www.heritagewoodsonline.co.ukschools www.foresteducation.org

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