Inwoods Small School: A Tour of the Building, Grounds and Features

By Sarah Lewis

Light on the Inwoods Big-Barn, play area and Oak House

Since its modest beginnings, the aim at Inwoods Small School has been to create a space where a child can flower and his or her intelligence can be awakened. Physically manifested in Inwoods’ two-acre woodland campus, this intention is present in every rafter, beam, and bale that has gone into the construction of a humble and naturally beautiful school. Each building arose through an organic and creative attempt to meet the diverse needs of a young child, resulting today in a campus where exploration and learning occur as much within the classrooms as on the grounds that house them.

The garden used as a play space by all
Inwoods was at the start a small gathering of parents and children. It was nothing more than a field with two dilapidated barns alongside a house for members of the vibrant Brockwood Park community. As the size and scope of this playgroup grew, it became clear that what began as a meeting of the children of Brockwood’s staff was evolving into something greater. In response to this movement, the Small Barn was renovated, and has over the years shifted from being ‘The Children’s Space’ for a pioneering group of three, four and five year olds to a studious classroom space for the senior nine, ten and eleven year olds.

Big Barn and morning movement

Inwoods continued to expand into the only other original building on the property, accurately referred to today as the Big Barn. The Barn was renovated in stages, and large windows were installed to provide a feeling of space and lightness for the ‘Open Classroom’ within. It is here that young children are provided with resources for many disciplines from art to mathematics, and are guided in becoming independent learners with the freedom to play, work and learn at their own pace.

 

Balance Beam and Oak House

Located directly outside of the Big Barn is the Balance Beam Play Feature. The structure is aesthetically consistent with the natural woodlands in which it exists, and is built to provide a safe way for the children to challenge themselves physically. Children in the Open Classroom are allowed to use this feature whenever they choose, and are supervised from within as they engage in the physical component of Inwoods’ holistic curriculum.

 

Tree climbing

As the name implies, trees at Inwoods also play a prominent role in the daily life of the school. In addition to providing the calm, forested setting within which the school operates, trees also represent Inwoods’ philosophy that children can be given the space to take risks responsibly. Throughout the campus, teachers assess the trees for safety in consultation with the children, and tie red ribbons to mark the height agreed on of those thought to be acceptable for climbing. The children are helped to explore their own physical strengths and limitations.


The Clay Pit

Peppered throughout the grounds are little corners where children have additional resources to interact with the natural environment. Educators at Inwoods have found that the children learn a great deal from building creatively, and so have provided a Clay Play Feature where children co-operate in the construction and destruction of a tiny metropolis. There are also little corners for relaxing in a hammock, drawing on an outdoor chalkboard, and playing house.



A Special flame blooming in the fire bowl

The Inwoods Earth Oven was built with the participation of all of the Inwoods students in keeping with the philosophy of the importance of hands-on activities. Through the building of this structure, children learn about traditional ways of cooking and construction. The finished product also acts as an exciting and interactive method of producing pizzas and breads during celebration days.

Located near the Earth Oven is the Fire Pit, where Earth Oven goodies can be consumed to the sound of song, storytelling and poetry. Children are taught fire safety in this area, including how to build and maintain a fire.

Oak House and Tree House

Inwoods’ newest building, the Oak House, represents its commitment to ecological and innovative building methods. The Oak House is a straw-bale building painted with eco-paint, and uses local building materials to provide natural warmth and insulation. The Oak House is the result of collaboration between teachers, parents, and volunteers, who managed to erect the walls of the structure in a single weekend.

 

 

Gardening

The Vegetable Garden is one of the most newly renovated areas of Inwoods. The children are now able to practise gardening in raised beds, which help to keep the weeds out and provide easier access to the plants without the risk of trampling on them. Adjacent to the garden is the outdoor classroom, which is covered to provide a year-round learning space in the heart of nature.

The Vegetable Garden is bordered by the Back Field, where sports, games, and general running-around take place.

Whittling
Through the hedge that borders the Back Field is the Wildlife Area. As the name suggests, this is the area of Inwoods that is not a free-play space, and requires the agreement or supervision of a staff member to explore. At several times throughout the year, an organisation called Spinney Hollow holds bushcraft and woodcraft classes here, and children are introduced to fire making, whittling, and cooking with the surrounding vegetation and many other facets of living with nature. The Wildlife Area is one of the most well-loved and fascinating areas of Inwoods, and allows children to learn about nature in an engaging and responsible way.

Steve Myburgh and watchers preparing to put the tree's 'Hat' on

Overall, Inwoods’ grounds offer a naturally beautiful setting within which children have the opportunity to engage with their environment, and find their place in nature. At Inwoods, educators believe that keeping a child indoors all day creates resistance to school. From play comes discovery, and from discovery comes learning. Each feature of Inwoods’ grounds acts as a spark for social interaction and exploration, thus laying the foundations for self-enquiry and further academic study. The result is a space that fosters integration and the awakening of intelligence, not just to numbers and books, but also to the whole movement of life.

Kids playing on the Oak House deck on a frosty morning

Balance Beam

Balance Beam

Balance Beam

Balance Beam

Nature and art

Gardening near the Small Barn