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Forest Schools

What is Forest School?

Forest School is a type of outdoor education that allows for the furthering of personal, social and technical skills. The primary goals of a Forest School are to

  • Encourage exploration and curiosity
  • Empower children in the natural environment
  • Encourage spatial awareness and motor development

The Forest School England Network has defined Forest School as:

An inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve, and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands on learning experiences in a woodland environment.

Although there are many benefits to the Forest School concept (listed below), the development of confidence and self-esteem as laid out here is one of the most important and widely observed. These attributes lay the building blocks young children need to enable their development in many areas, and give them a solid foundation for further social, emotional and learning skills.

The ethos and activities practiced by a Forest School are not just general outdoor activities carried out in an area with a few trees. The idea of Forest Schooling is quite specific and there are some key aspects to its delivery:

  • Using a wild (woodland) setting with boundaries and safety routines that give children the freedom to use the setting and learn by themselves and within groups with some input from adults (albeit as unobtrusive as possible).
  • High adult-to-child ratios give the dual benefit of allowing children to undertake activities they would not normally be able to, such as climbing trees, without putting them at undue risk as well as allowing the adults involved to really understand the different abilities of the children in the group.
  • Learning is linked to National Curriculum and Foundation Stage Objectives this isn’t just about playing in the woods! Children are encouraged to use a wide range of skills in their Forest School activities that can be linked back to many areas of the curriculum or early years’ objectives. In addition, this environment can be particularly rewarding for those children who find it difficult to learn in a standard early years’ environment.
  • Freedom to explore and use all of their senses – helping to encourage creative and imaginative play. Allowing this freedom really helps to let children develop their own learning style and pace. Encourage your children to use their senses, using this Senses Activity Pack.
  • Regular sessions over a significant period of time – Forest School is generally something that takes place regularly over a substantial period time period. to allow children to encounter a range of seasons.

What are the benefits of Forest School education?

Forest School allows for flexible approaches to learning and play and can accommodate a range of learning styles, in particular, kinaesthetic learning.

Research related to learning outside in a natural environment and Forest School ideas highlights the positive impact this type of activity can have on young children. Studies have found that children who play in natural environments undertake more diverse, creative and imaginative play, forming an important part of a child’s development. One study, reporting on children aged 3-5, noted that children learn to work collaboratively, socially construct knowledge, and develop social skills, while cooperating, helping, negotiating, and talking with others. 

A case study of a Forest School initiative in Oxfordshire found there was also evidence of increased speaking and listening skills, with those involved saying they noticed the ‘increased ability of quiet children to express themselves, an increase in confidence, and positive participation from disruptive children.’

An analysis of the available literature researching Forest School approaches by King’s College London states that ‘environmental-based education makes other school subjects rich and relevant’, finding that it leads to better performance in reading, maths, science and social skills.

Overall the key benefits of this type of educational setting and learning are set out in a report by the Forestry Commission

  • Confidence – children have the freedom and space to learn and demonstrate independence
  • Social Skills – children gain an increased awareness of the consequences of their actions and learn teamwork skills
  • Communication – language is developed through the children’s sensory experiences
  • Motivation – The environment engages the children to such an extent  they are keen to participate and are able to concentrate over longer periods of time
  • Physical Skills – Using and playing with objects that naturally occur in the environment help to develop gross and fine motor skills, alongside a general development of physical stamina
  • Knowledge and Understanding – Children develop a greater interest and understanding of the natural surroundings and are found to have more respect for the environment

All of our children have the opportunity to experience Forest School at Stocks Wood.

In addition we visit other places to enhance our curriculum. This term Key Stage 1 visited Whinlatter Forest as part of their Geography and Science lessons.