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Celebrating Ten Years of Achievements at Dreamcatchers Forest School

For the past ten years, Guideposts’ Dreamcatchers Forest School has been a beacon of hope and transformation for children and young people (CYP) with diverse needs. From communication difficulties and restricted motor control to social anxiety and challenging behaviours, the children we have supported faced significant barriers to enjoying the great outdoors. Yet, through the unwavering dedication of our staff and the support of the community, we have witnessed remarkable changes that deserve to be celebrated.

We are grateful to Children in Need who have made this project possible, and are looking forward to applying our experience to a new outdoor project launching later this year.

A boy wearing a grey jacket and a blue hearing aid is looking at the forest school leader who is handing him something small in a matchbox. There is another child in the background, looking excitedly into his matchbox.

A Journey of Transformation

One of our most inspiring stories involves a non-verbal young person who we’ll call Tommy, who used an iPad for communication. Initially, Tommy was disengaged and easily frustrated. Over the course of six sessions, they transformed from a withdrawn individual to an engaged participant who smiled and interacted with peers and adults.

Tommy’s fascination with trajectory play – watching feathers and daisies float to the ground – became a gateway to improved social interaction and emotional well-being. They began to initiate physical contact, participate in group activities, and even enjoyed sensory experiences they previously avoided. This transformation exemplifies the profound impact of the programme.

Transforming Lives through Nature

Our forest school aims to create a safe, engaging, and inclusive environment where every child can thrive. Many of our participants struggle with well-being, stress, anxiety, isolation, and loneliness. Outdoor activities, which most children take for granted, are often out of reach for these young individuals due to safety concerns or lack of specialist support. We bridge this gap by providing structured, nature-based activities that promote wellbeing, social skills, and emotional regulation.

One of our key strategies involves a comprehensive baseline assessment. Families, Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs), and the CYP themselves complete a profile before attending their first session. This helps us tailor our activities to meet their specific needs and interests. Ongoing observations and feedback ensure we continuously adapt to support their development.

Building Social Skills and Confidence

Child toasting marshmallows over a firepit

The forest school experience is designed to enhance social skills, emotional resilience, independence and engagement. Many children who start with low social interaction scores have shown incredible progress. For instance, children who initially struggled with social cues and patience began to hold reciprocal conversations and show better emotional regulation.

Comments from the children themselves highlight these achievements:

  • “I waited, did you see? That’s good, isn’t it!”
  • “I gave my stick to [friend] because theirs got broken.”
  • “I didn’t like waiting; I got grumpy and shouty, but now it’s okay.”

Parents and teachers have also noticed significant changes:

  • “My child never liked attending after-school clubs, but now she asks about more clubs thanks to her confidence from forest school.”
  • “His speech has really improved since attending. Can I share the video with his Speech & Language Therapist?”

Fostering Creativity and Imagination

A boy in red jumper holding a sculpture he has created, and smiling excitedly.

Creative play is central to our program. Activities like clay work, storytelling, role-playing, and art with nature enhance cognitive flexibility and working memory. These sessions allow children to safely experiment, solve problems, work as a team, and express their ideas—crucial skills for lifelong learning.

One notable example is a young person who used a simple stick to fuel their imagination:

  • In one session, it was a “branch of life” symbolising their journey and their father’s journey.
  • In another, it became a gun, and later, a wizard’s staff protecting imaginary creatures.

This kind of imaginative play not only enhances creativity but also builds a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Overcoming Challenges and Building Pride

Many of the children attending face social, emotional, and mental health challenges, making it difficult for them to recognise and celebrate their achievements. We feel privileged to have helped them to acknowledge their achievements and take pride in their progress, no matter how small. By breaking down tasks and providing positive reinforcement, we have helped them build confidence and resilience.

One young person, who initially struggled with climbing a tree, eventually exclaimed, “I did it! I’m so excited!” after persistent encouragement and breaking the task into manageable steps.

Connecting with Nature and Each Other

Regular exposure to the same outdoor site helps children develop a deep connection with nature. This connection promotes learning, reduces stress, and supports emotional regulation. Teachers have observed increased classroom engagement and reduced behavioural issues, while parents have noted that their children sleep more soundly after a day in nature.

A boy in a blue jumper sitting on a bench in field, concentrating on moulding some clay

Our efforts have also strengthened community ties. Children in Need funding has allowed us to make a significant difference over the last ten years. We are committed to continuing this impactful work, with plans to blend our forest school approach with a CBT-informed programme to support children with emotional health challenges.

Looking Forward

Dreamcatchers Forest School has made a lasting difference in the lives of many children, young people and their families. Our model works, and our vision is to expand our services to reach even more children, including those not currently accessing education, as well as continuing to offer in-school and holiday provision. We aim to create a fun, impactful, and lasting experience that builds resilience and coping skills.

Please join us in celebrating the achievements of the last ten years, and support our ongoing mission to nurture the potential of every child through the wonders of nature.

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