As a forest school where children spend all day outside in the woods in a variety of weather conditions, help care for live animals, use tools, and build campfires, we frequently get asked by people unfamiliar with outdoor schools whether this is a safe environment for children.
To that point, one could ask whether fortress-like public schools that must be protected by security systems and patrolled by armed school resource officers are a safe environment for children. However, all rhetoric aside we do recognize that there are risks at a forest school that would not be present at an indoor school.
Rest assured that we take the safety and health of our students very seriously and have policies and precautions in place to keep children in our program safe and healthy. In fact, in general children who attend forest schools tend to be healthier than their peers in traditional schools thanks to the many health benefits of this type of education.
Below are the specific ways that we manage the risks present at a forest school in order to keep the children in our care safe.
We believe that by being completely outdoors the risk of contracting COVID-19 is minimized, but we also recognize that the risk is still very real. We will take as many precautions as possible to minimize cross contamination between members of our school.
We ask that each family take as many precautions as possible in your daily life to lessen your chances of contracting and spreading Covid-19. We reserve the right to ask a family to leave the school if we feel the family is taking unnecessary risks with their health.
We also reserve the right to ask any family not to return to school for at least 14 days if:
- Traveling outside the state of Virginia
- Any exposure to a positive case of COVID-19 occurs
- Any member of the family is ill
The first and most important safety precaution we take is to make sure all our staff are properly trained.
All of our staff has basic first aid and CPR training as well as years of experience working outdoors with children.
In addition, every person who works for Little River Outdoor School is a mandated child abuse reporter as required by the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are trained in child abuse reporting and are required to renew our training annually.
One of the most obvious differences between a forest school and any other type of school (traditional or non-traditional) is the fact that our students spend 100% of their time outside in all types of weather conditions, including rain, cold, wind, and snow. While this certainly presents some risks that are not usually present at school, these risks can easily be managed with proper preparation.
Properly preparing a child for an all-weather school begins with making sure they have the proper clothing. We require each child to bring appropriate clothing for the weather conditions on any given day, including a minimum of two changes of clothing.
For our colder, wetter months we recommend:
- 2 pairs of waterproof insulated boots
- Waterproof rain pants
- Waterproof coat
- Extra socks
- Warm pants for layering
- Warm shirts/sweatshirts to layer
For our warmer months we recommend:
- Lightweight shoes
- Lightweight clothing
- Sun hat
Watch the video below to see our lead teacher Isabelle Porter demonstrate the types of clothing a child will need for forest school.
When severe weather occurs at forest school, there are a couple of different things that may happen, depending on the situation. Note that the term “severe weather” in this case actually means severe weather, as opposed to “bad weather”. We do hold school in what some people might call “bad” weather, including in light to moderate rain, light snow, and cold.
If we anticipate the possibility of severe weather before school is open in the morning, we will cancel school or delay school, depending on the situation.
If severe weather arises while the children are already at school, we have a safe place to go to that is supported and protected from the wind. We'll walk down there, call parents, and wait for parents to pick up their children if it is safe to do so. Depending on the weather, we may just have to wait it out there if it is not safe for parents to come and pick their children up.
You can find specific procedures for every severe weather scenario in our emergency handbook.
Use of tools & equipment
During the course of instruction and daily activities, students at the Little River Outdoor School will have the opportunity to use tools and equipment, including gardening & forestry tools and fishing equipment. Use of these tools & equipment is always closely supervised by a staff member and is limited to age-appropriate students.
Interaction with animals
Children will have opportunities to learn about and care for domesticated animals throughout the day at our school. Interactions with these animals are supervised by staff and instruction is given to students about how to properly handle and care for the animals. Animals located on the property include:
- Dog - Border Collie
- Cats - breed unknown
- Mouse - breed unknown
- Rabbits - New Zealand
- Horses - Quarter Horses
- Cattle- Angus
- Chickens - ISO Browns, Guineas
- Ducks - breed unknown and Mallards
- Goats - breed unknown
- Pigs - Tamworth and breeds unknown
Health & Sanitation
Despite being held entirely outdoors, we keep things clean and sanitary here at the Little River Outdoor School.
With eating and with other activities, we have the children wash their hands at a hand washing station with water and soap before eating or before doing any activities together.
For eating, children bring their food from their home. There is no sharing of food or touching of each other's food, and they dispose of their food garbage by placing it back into their boxes to be taken home and thrown away at home.
The tables we at the school for eating and other activities are sanitized and cleaned every morning in-between use, especially after eating.
Everyone has their own water bottle, which is never shared. We have a container of water to refill water bottles that is never touched to the lip of the water bottle.
For restroom needs, we have a bathroom area and a composting toilet with toilet paper. There is a hand washing station in the bathroom area. We always make sure students wash and dry their hands after using the bathroom.
Little River Outdoor School is committed to being fully prepared for emergencies. A copy of the School’s Emergency Preparedness Plan is located in our first aid kit.
Please, note if we evacuate the property we will gather at the public library in Floyd if the weather is bad, or we will take the students to Warren G. Lineberry Park located behind the Mexican food Restaurant in Floyd.
If there is an emergency during class that does not require evacuating the property, we will take shelter in the barn or house. The Emergency Plan is always with us with every student’s records.
We conduct fire and emergency drills monthly. We practice evacuation drills quarterly. All staff are trained in CPR and First Aid.
We will not hesitate to call 911 in emergency situations, and we will follow a First Responder’s recommendations for transportation to a hospital. Parents will be notified as soon as possible. If parents cannot be notified, we will notify emergency contacts indicated on entry paperwork and continue to try to contact parents.
Amanda Lawson (253)792-1710
Isabelle Porter (253)392-9171
School Landline (540)745-2034