What is Forest School?
Taking children out of the classroom and into the great outdoors, Forest School is an increasingly popular project schools and nurseries are embracing.
There’s a growing trend in primary schools for getting children into the world outside, come rain or shine, to get hands-on with the natural environment.
Forest School is nature-based learning as a regular, long-term process, rather than a one-off. Typically children will attend Forest School sessions six to 12 times a year, ideally throughout the four seasons.
Despite the name, it doesn't have to be in a forest; it can be any natural outdoor environment such as a meadow, a grassy park with a few trees or a beach.
According to the Forest School Association, Forest School is a "child-centred inspirational learning process, that offers opportunities for holistic growth through regular sessions. It is a long-term program that supports play, exploration and supported risk taking. It develops confidence and self-esteem through learner inspired, hands-on experiences in a natural setting".
Play has been a fundamental part of early years education in Scandinavia since the 1950s. It began in Scandinavia as a way of life, arrived in the UK in 1993 and has grown from strength to strength since then.
The foundations of forest school were laid in the early 1900s, with the creation of young people’s groups like the Scouts and Woodcraft Folk, which focused on youth camps and outdoor skills.
Children will discover the world through natural activities, learning about wildlife and caring for our environment and wildlife. This will enable children to understand and appreciate our natural environment.
Activities such as:
Bird watching and identification
Mini beast hunts
Games like Hide and Seek
Fire building and lighting
Puddle and mud jumping
How do children benefit?
According to MIND, spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. For example, doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects. It can:
improve your mood
reduce feelings of stress or anger
help you take time out and feel more relaxed
improve your physical health
improve your confidence and self-esteem
help you be more active
help you meet and get to know new people
connect you to your local community
help you feel more connected to nature
provide peer support
The Wildlife Trusts commissioned a study by the Institute of Education at University College London (UCL) to evaluate the impact that experiencing nature has upon children. The study focused on primary school children and the effects of Wildlife Trust-led activities on their wellbeing. Overall, the research revealed that children’s wellbeing increased after they had spent time connecting with nature.
The evaluation suggested Forest Schools make a difference in the following ways:
Confidence: children had the freedom, time and space to learn and demonstrate independence
Social skills: children gained increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on peers through team activities such as sharing tools and participating in play
Communication: language development was prompted by the children’s sensory experiences
Motivation: the woodland tended to fascinate the children and they developed a keenness to participate and the ability to concentrate over longer periods of time
Physical skills: these improvements were characterised by the development of physical stamina and gross and fine motor skills
Knowledge and understanding: the children developed an interest in the natural surroundings and respect for the environment
Following lockdown kids spend more time on screens than ever, school is probably the longest 'screen break' any of them get. Being outside would give them the opportunity to engage with the natural environment whilst at school, and ensure they get the benefits of being outside and interacting with nature.
According to MIND, spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. For example, research into ecotherapy (a type of formal treatment which involves doing activities outside in nature) has shown it can help with mild to moderate depression. This might be due to combining regular physical activity and social contact with being outside in nature.