Exeter Deaf Academy is lucky to have a dedicated outdoor classroom. Our Forest School tepee was built by our students in 2014.

Our students take part in forest school at least once a week and the sessions cover a range of areas: self-esteem and confidence, working co-operatively, motivation, team work, and teaches knowledge about the world and environment.

The sessions give the students a wealth of experience that they communicate about using British Sign Language, writing and drama. We see their confidence grow and they learn to value themselves.

… But what does Forest School actually mean? And why is it important for Deaf children to do?

“My name is Nick Mussell, I am the founder of the Tanglewood Project, an organisation set up to support young people in learning new skills, not only practical, but also supporting them in their personal, emotional and social development. I teach the outdoor classroom sessions in Exeter Deaf Academy’s Forest School, I have been signing almost 20 years.

Tanglewood has worked across Devon supporting schools and colleges in developing their outdoor education provision and have built a number of beautiful roundhouse shelters with their pupils to be used as outdoor classrooms. I have also had extensive experience working in a variety of settings with Deaf young people and their families.

At Exeter Deaf Academy, we use many of the values of a mainstream Forest School, but a traditional Forest School ethos encourages learning through free play and many of the pupils at Exeter Deaf Academy need a little more support. Our focus is about acquiring language and self-confidence.

We certainly do encourage connection with nature, creativity and fun, but importantly at the Deaf Academy we underpin all the sessions with the ethos of something called Protective Behaviours. This ethos has two themes, this first being “We all have the right to feel safe all of the time”.

We teach everyone to understand feeling safe and being safe are two very different things. We teach that taking some risk is a good thing, as it is a natural part of growing up. Importantly though, we encourage understanding that with their right to feel safe, there is a personal responsibility to be safe. This is learned by taking ‘risks’ in a supported environment by trying new things that are both exciting and educational without things going wrong. These new experiences also encourage discussion and promote communication.The second theme is “Nothing is so awful (or small) that it can’t be talked about with someone”.

The important thing here is how do you decide what is awful or small? First listen to what your body is telling you, feeling unsafe is a very personal thing, we all feel unsafe for very different reasons. Then the key thing is to talk with someone. During our sessions we empower young people to expand their vocabulary and develop skills in understanding emotions. We do this by using a level of sign language which reflects the needs of the individuals within each group. We also think about who we might want to have in our personal support network ensuring that if we feel unsafe we know we have someone we can trust who we can turn to in order to get help.

In essence Tanglewood combines Protective Behaviours, outdoor education, Forest School and Deaf culture providing a rich environment where pupils can thrive. So next time your child brings home something they have created with us and which they are rightly proud of. Please consider the journey behind the creation and all the conversations that are woven into it to help your child on their path to reaching their full potential.

We love working with your children and we are excited about what the future holds as outdoor education at Exeter Deaf Academy gains momentum. Who knows we may even build a roundhouse!

If you would like to know more about Tanglewood, you can find us at tanglewoodproject.co.uk or friend us on Facebook at: Tanglewood Devon, where we often share some of the things happening at Exeter Deaf Academy”.