What is forest school?
As a Primary School teacher delivering Forest School sessions, one of the most common queries from parents is ‘What is Forest School?’, whereas teachers are more likely to ask ‘Why should pupils engage in Forest School sessions?’.
This blog post answers these questions with the aim of encouraging both parents and educators to look beyond the classroom.
What is Forest School?
Forest School is very different from traditional teaching practices seen in most schools around the UK.
It is a child-led approach to learning that originated in Denmark. It is, in essence, an inspiring, fun and unhurried educational experience which takes place in a natural outdoor environment.
Forest School is a long-term programme allowing children to have regular contact with the natural world in almost all weathers.
The same basic structure can be followed for each session to allow all children, including those with sensory and processing needs, feel calm, relaxed and ready to try new activities.
During Forest School sessions, children are encouraged to become independent learners, following their own lines of enquiry and exploring through play.
The sessions offer opportunities to take part in practical activities which build upon the children’s abilities, interests and confidence.
They support the curriculum and give a strong emphasis on raising children’s self-esteem and independence. These activities can include:
-Woodwork using tools
-Fire lighting and cooking on the fire
-Climbing and balancing including tree climbing
-Collecting, identifying and sorting materials
-Using knots and lashings
-Bug hunts and habitat creation
-Identifying birds and other fauna
Trained adults support as observers and facilitators rather than as leaders and directors.
Children are encouraged to engage in physical play including tree climbing, moving loose parts and the use of tools.
They are involved in risk assessing activities at the start of the session and encouraged to think about risks of self-initiated activities as they occur, balancing the potential risks against the benefits of an activity.
Through Forest School, we also aim to teach the children about caring for the environment in a variety of ways and children will be encouraged to minimise their impact on the site. We aim to balance the benefits the outdoor environment provides by actively caring for it.
Why should children take part in Forest School sessions?
The aim of Forest School is to develop the whole child, regardless of age or ability. Some children who find the traditional classroom setting challenging have shown a preference for the outside setting of a Forest School.
The holistic development of participants is fostered through a multi-sensory, learner-directed approach.
Children learn to cooperate and work with their peers and adults as they develop strategies in order to take risks within the boundaries of safety.
The children have to trust each other, for instance when carrying long branches or using tools together, or to maintain each other’s safety around the fire.
The regular participation in small groups encourages friendships and communication, which in turn help develop emotional intelligence in participants.
It allows every child to have a voice, especially those who find it difficult to communicate in a more conventional learning environment.
Through regular Forest School sessions, children become more self-aware, resilient and empathetic towards others.
Physical development and wellbeing are encouraged by providing a purpose for physical activity, be that walking to the site, running around to play games, lifting and carrying heavy objects to build structures, climbing trees or myriad other ways.
It also encourages a love of being outdoors which can encourage participation in further physical activities.
The outdoor setting of Forest School is thought to allow people’s attention and focus to reset, which can, therefore, increase concentration and readiness to learn once children return to the classroom environment.
Forest School gives children the freedom to explore and be creative, making their own decisions about learning and then being carefully supported to achieve.
The Forest School ethos promotes a growth mindset and the acceptance of mistakes which allows children to learn free from a fear of failure.
Because the children are engaged in self-directed, purposeful activities they often demonstrate much greater perseverance than they would in a typical classroom task.
Many of the skills taught through Forest School activities are also new to the children, for instance, fire lighting with a flint and steel, and require resilience and lots of practice to master.
When children achieve a goal that they have set themselves they gain a far greater sense of satisfaction and therefore boost to their confidence and self-esteem.
If these answers have inspired you to find out more about Forest School why not get in touch with us. We will be running regular Forest School sessions for families and children and are available for school settings too.