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Fernwood House

10 June 2021

Our school is 137 years old and as we look forward to the future, we also look back at our strong foundations and successes of the past. We have proposed a new Reggio Emilia inspired EYFS and Year 2 building ‘Fernwood House’. Along with our outdoor classroom, ‘The Lookout’ and woodland area for all girls to enjoy. This building has been inspired by our girls. The purple pledges they wrote last October had a clear message: to learn about the environment and to be the change you want to see.

As a school, we made the following pledges to our girls:

  • To create an outdoor learning zone
  • To create well-being weeks

As we consulted our archivist Sue James about building names, Fernwood sprang to mind as this was the first proper home of the kindergarten and junior department. It was on the other side of the Cheam Road and it was one of the many beautiful Victorian villas that were destroyed in the twentieth century. It remained the home of the kindergarten until the early 1930s when Homestead and Suffolk House were acquired and so the school could be together on one site. The Head of Fernwood from 1914 to 1932 was Violet Henry, an old girl who was at the school from 1903 to 1910. From 1920 to 1933, she also trained other teachers as she was a lecturer at Clapham High School Training College. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to add Fernwood House to Hayes and Homestead.

Nursery and Reception - Love it, Love it, Love it!

Fernwood House is enormously exciting as it will mean an even better learning environment for our youngest girls, starting to build the foundations for life, in a way that will set us apart from other early years settings. The natural interior colours will reduce cognitive overload and means that girls will be calm, able to self-regulate and to focus on their learning (along with our Tes Award-nominated Brains Matter initiative!) so progress will just happen! They will be able to demonstrate their Reggio Emilia inspired 100 languages of children through:

  • Small art studio areas linking classrooms together
  • Wide corridors with reading zones to inspire a love of books
  • Agile spaces which can transform from maths zone to a drama space to a writing area within minutes
  • Light and space to breathe, to ensure their well-being is maximised
  • Time and space to draw their ‘thinking and understanding’, so important as they learn to read and write
  • Room to curate their work through bespoke shelf designs, display boards which will document their learning journey
  • Furniture and resources which are natural and tactile to stimulate their brain
  • Seamless inside/outside feel which means learning is not compartmentalised to the classroom, it is happening all the time

 Year 2 curate their own learning

As sounds of laughter and a buzz of learning fill the Nursery and Reception classes on the ground floor, the first floor will be a step up for our Year 2 girls. It will be the place to be, the place that is motivating their learning adventures, it will be time to explore.

Large windows overlooking the woodland garden will let natural light fall onto the reading zones in the widened corridors. Bespoke lockers will ease the hustle and bustle of normal cloakroom life. Glass panels will let you see into the classrooms, to watch curious minds at work and to feel connected as a Sutton High School family.

As the corridor leads out to the ‘Lookout’, the outdoor classroom, it will have a natural science feel. The pressed ferns, 100 years old, from the original Fernwood House, will be seen, a nod to our inspiring history, with courage, with truth, with joy

 ‘Cabinets of curiosity’ will be displayed, created from their own learning: for example, the Egyptian artefacts from their history study which have been replicated creatively in clay, along with information cards, creating our very own British Museum, National Gallery or Science Museum.

 Agile spaces and furniture mean teachers can adapt to girls’ needs and girls not having to ‘fit into the box’ but very much out of the box. It is ‘Be You’ thinking.

Fernwood House 1Fernwood House 2

 Breathe the Wild Air  - The ‘LookOut’ and the Woodland

These areas are for all our girls, Nursey to Year 6, to take their learning outside, so they can run, breathe and stimulate their brain. Wellington boots will be pulled on from bespoke storage racks, stomped up to the top of the outdoor staircase to the ‘LookOut’. They will become ornithologists, learning names of our British birds, meteorologists recording the weather at our weather station, artists drawing the view and scientists growing plants.

The Woodland will create an area for EYFS to learn and an area for our Big Sisters to meet our Little Sisters. It has been inspired by The Lost Words, Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris. We know that outside learning is beneficial to children's well-being as well as their learning skills. How do you know the names of all the British flowers, trees and wildlife if you have never seen, smelt, touched them? You need to experience types of weather, watch shadows move during the day. There has never been a time, in the midst of COVID, when outdoor learning has been more needed. For all of us, it has helped us through an enormously difficult time and still does.


 As we feature in this article:

Schools have the opportunity to not only provide a safe learning environment for children, but to positively contribute towards their health and wellbeing by getting children outdoors. This means moving away from the principle of a classroom having four walls and creating environments that provide the opportunity to take lessons outside.

The principle of ‘outdoor learning’ is not new. As the benefits have come to fruition over recent years, it has started to be looked at more seriously. It has, however, taken the pandemic to accelerate awareness of the benefits, alongside the need to social distance.

Outdoor learning is very different to outdoor play and allows structured lessons to be taken outside. It provides children with the opportunity to actively learn, connecting and engaging with the environment, as well as providing increased exposure to that all-important Vitamin D.

This could include outdoor growing, investigating wildlife, compost making or simply creating a space to hold a lesson amongst nature. Outdoor learning is not only restricted to STEM subjects, the introduction of arts spaces and amphitheatres also provides opportunities for open air productions.

By thinking outside of the four walls, we are working with schools to help create fantastic outdoor learning environments, demonstrating that outdoor lessons do not have to be restricted to PE.

We have been working on a number of exciting projects with the Girls’ Day School Trust – the UK’s leading family of independent girls’ schools – including Sutton High School.

One such proposal for this school includes the creation of an outdoor learning terrace that allows a teacher with a class of 18-24 children to take lessons there. Planters will create space for children to grow their own fruit and vegetables, facilities will be provided for compost making and creating new habitats (such as bumble bee hotels), as well as the introduction of a graphic paving system for outdoor maths. The learning terrace has been carefully designed to include natural materials and lots of greenery to maximise health and wellbeing benefits, and generally provide a calming environment.

Miss Anne Musgrove
Head of Prep School