Forest Schools

Paul Main

What impact can forest schools have on the development of a child and wider educational outcomes?

What are Forest Schools?

The Forest School network has produced a definition of Forest School, which argues that it is an "inspirational process that enables children, young people, and adults through the regular opportunity to achieve and grow confidence and self-esteem with hands-on learning opportunities in a wooded setting.

Forest Education Initiative is an inspirational outdoor learning technique for children that provides opportunities for integral growth and provide exposure to nature through regular creative learning sessions. Over the last few years, there has been significant mainstream education involvement. Primary schools have experienced the benefit in terms of academic education outcomes and the social-emotional impact on their pupils. It's a long-term program that encourages curiosity, confidence, play, and risk-taking behaviour in children. The development of social skills and communication skills forms a significant part of the outdoor environment experience.

There is a widespread perception that children are not spending as much time in woods and green spaces as their parents did because of safety concerns and the growing variety of indoor activities that are on the market. There is also evidence that if children do not visit woodlands and greenspaces when they are young, they will grow up to be people who do not use these spaces, missing out on the physical and emotional benefits of exposure to nature.

According to a National Foundation for Educational Research report, learning outside can have a variety of effects, including cognitive, affective, interpersonal/social, and physical/behavioural effects.

Learning in nature versus learning in a classroom setting is a totally different experience. Outdoor learning has the potential to play a significant role in life-long learning, health and well-being, and environmentally sustainable civilizations.

Woodlands and greenspaces have enormous educational potential and can assist a wide range of youngsters, including those on the autistic spectrum, those with emotional and behavioral difficulties, and those with learning disabilities.

History of the Forest School Association

The first forest school was created in Denmark in 1952 and the founder of this school was Ella Flatau. The Forest School concept first began in Scandinavia and it was introduced in the UK in 1993 after that, this concept gained much popularity and strength.

Forest School Ethos and Principles:

A Forest School is a long-term process with regular sessions in a natural setting - Practitioners should aim for Forest Schools to occur on a regular basis, with sessions occurring at least once every two weeks over a long period of time. The sessions should ideally be attended by the same group of students. Planning, adaptation, observation, and review are all essential. The program's structure should be focused on collaboration between learners and practitioners. Learning advancement should be clearly highlighted and fit within the wider school curriculum.

The Forest School takes place in a woodland area, helping the learners' engagement with the natural environment. If a woodland setting is not accessible, a limited number of trees in a location can nonetheless enable appropriate Forest School practice. The wooded environment should give students the opportunity to explore and discover. Forest schools should regularly analyze their environmental impact and assist in the development of long-term environmentally sustainable habits in students, staff, and the community.

The Forest School provision should ensure the involvement of all participants and the complete development of individuals - Forest Schools should cultivate resilient, confident, independent, and creative learners. Forest Schools should also strive to improve the learner's physical, social, cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social, and spiritual growth. Wherever possible, learning and Forest School activities should be linked to home, school, work, and other life situations.

The Forest School should promote risk-taking behavior in individuals-The Risk-Benefit analysis should be tailored to the learner's developmental level. However, the activity must be appropriate for the learners, and an initial risk assessment must be conducted.

The Forest School should include trainers and practitioners that are qualified - All practitioners must have at least an authorized Level 3 Forest School qualification. A Level 2 certificate is required for Forest School aides. All practitioners should work in a reflective manner and regard themselves as learners capable of adapting, changing, and growing. Forest schools should also have the necessary policies and procedures in place to administer the school and define the staff's duties and responsibilities. The Forest School Association has more information on Forest School qualifications.

The Forest School should be learner-centered and build a learning and development community - The learner-centered approach should be responsive to learners' needs and interests. Cooperative learning should include teaching, observation, proper conversation, connection development, and reflection.

Outdoor learning activities in Forest schools
Outdoor learning activities in Forest schools

What are forest school activities?

Schools that participate usually send certain classes or quite often use the provision for students with special educational needs to Forest School for a morning or afternoon session. These can take place every week or fortnight during the school year and can last anywhere from 2 to 12 months, depending on the school.

The four most highly ranked principles of forest school activities are: (1) a supportive environment; (2) tasks separated into small achievable chunks; (3) the use of the natural environment; and (4) engaging with all the senses. At Forest School, children participate in a variety of activities, such as using tools to make artwork or listening to and responding to a variety of stories to strengthen language and communication skills.

Forest School lessons also include learning about habitats, plants, and animals, as well as teamwork in which kids can learn to take turns and share. Many of the jobs at Forest School require some type of teamwork, and this is designed to encourage the children to collaborate and engage with one another. They might need to build a shelter or a den in the woods.

Data from the three case study sites revealed that time spent at Forest School allowed children who were initially insecure to work and play with others. Repetitive activities and experiences, such as tree climbing and story time around the fire, are important components of Forest School practice. Children are encouraged to be part of a team in the pursuit of tasks that need more then one pair of hands. Materials and tools are shared among the group and the children take turns using them.

Children are given the freedom to play independently from adult intervention and are guided by the rules of games that encourage teamwork which helps pupils become more accustomed to working independently from adults. Primary school teachers have reported significant improvements in the behaviour of children and this has had positive impacts on academic learning.

Children gain an increased awareness of other people’s personal space and are able to form new friendships as they identify abilities that are valued by their peers. Improved educational outcomes are achieved by working together and negotiating with each other to achieve team tasks. These creative outdoor learning experiences enable children to relate positively to members of their peer group.

Activities associated with a Forest education initiative

Forest School activities are often divided into the following categories:

  • Art and creative activities - This could involve creating artwork with natural materials such as leaves, sticks, and mud. Students could even create their own paints or dyes.
    Planting, flowers, fruits, and veggies
  • Building shelters and foraging are examples of bushcraft and survival tasks.
  • Tool use - Students may utilize tools such as knives, hammers, saws, or fire.
  • The outdoor curriculum could include activities based on English, Science, or Mathematics.
  • Foraging and cooking over campfires are two examples of outdoor food.
  • The outdoor play could include mud cooking and den construction.
  • Trails and treasure hunts
  • Memory exercises
  • Tree activities could involve determining the tree's height and age, constructing a bird's nest, identifying tree species, and decorating trees.
  • Animal activities could involve detecting insects, constructing habitats, tracking animals, and doing bird surveys.
  • Sensory activities are those that focus on one or more of the five senses.

Other Forest school activities you might like to try:

  • Jigsaw search and wood store building
  • Explore and draw the woodland area
  • Flags and mini beast hunting
  • Building shelters and mini beast hunting
  • Trees and shelters
  • Measuring the age of a tree and identifying trees
  • Making dyes, bunting, and elder jewellery

Impact of forest schools
Impact of forest schools


How do forest schools help children's education development?

This approach to education has achieved many measurable outcomes over the years. As well as academic attainment, there are many other child development reasons for working in a woodland environment.

Cognitive impacts – The children started to gain a better understanding of the environment, they started to remember the names of plants.

Affective impacts – There were some recorded incidences of children developing respect for the environment and informing other children how to protect flora and fauna (see Knowledge and Understanding theme)

Interpersonal and social impacts – Improvements in team working were noted by practitioners and the use of descriptive language used by the children (see Physical skills theme);

Physical and behavioural impacts – Advances in stamina and improvements in balance were recorded (Physical skills theme).

Support exceptional children: Children who lack confidence and those who suffer from behavioural problems are when exposed to an environment of freedom and responsibility encourage to develop their innate curiosity and develop the motivation to learn. So participating in forest school activities help the children to boost their confidence and help children with an additional support need.

An increase in self-belief - Learners are encouraged to assess risks and determine whether to take risks on their own. Exploration, risk-taking, and child-led learning can all lead to increased self-esteem. Learners and practitioners are urged to reflect in order to comprehend their accomplishments and learn from their mistakes.

Improved confidence - Encouraged risk-taking, access to the natural environment, learner-led experiences, and play-based learning can all lead to increased confidence.

Improved problem-solving abilities — Students learn how to assess problems and make their own decisions about the best way to solve them. Learners become more self-sufficient problem solvers.

Communication abilities - This includes furthering one's linguistic abilities. Forest Schools promote sensory experiences, practitioner scaffolding, proper discussion, and collaborative work, all of which can help to improve a learner's communication abilities.

A boost in motivation and concentration - Young learners frequently struggle with concentration. Forest School activities, on the other hand, are intended to be intriguing and engaging. Learning through play and child-led learning increases interest, which improves a learner's attention and concentration. Learners are more likely to focus for an extended amount of time.

Promotion of Emotional intelligence-  Emotional Intelligence is a set of talents that includes self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation. Emotional intelligence enables children and adolescents to recognize and control their own emotions as well as the emotions of others.

Focus on physical health - Forest School students are typically more physically active than students in standard school settings. Parents of Forest School students frequently note that their child's interest in woodland settings and the outdoors carries over into their home life. As a result, children may be more prone to engage in physical activity at home.

Builds resilience - by teaching students how to deal with difficult or unfavourable events. Nature and the outdoors not only decrease stress but also teach youngsters how to overcome problems and reflect on their experiences.

Forest schools offer opportunities for wider educational outcomes
Forest schools offer opportunities for wider educational outcomes

Other educational outcomes associated with Forest Schools

Outdoor classroom experiences provide children with a completely different educational setting. These natural environments provide primary school teachers with many different learning options. A woodland environment is full of different materials that can be put to purposeful educational use. Beyond the formal curriculum outcomes, schools have reported other benefits that include:

  • There is a big emphasis on personal and social development.
  • Learning about the natural world.
  • Developing problem-solving abilities.
  • Developing positive relationships
  • Improving communication abilities
  • Promotes emotional well-being.
  • Increases learning capacity.
  • Encourages students to have a good environmental impact as well as to appreciate and care for the natural world.

Den building in Forest schools
Den building in Forest schools

Who should attend a Forest School?

Forest Schools are appropriate for children and adolescents of all ages. From the age of two, children can begin attending a forest nursery or preschool. Forest School programs are available for children up to the age of 18. A Forest School can help children and young people of all ages and circumstances.

A Forest School can be particularly beneficial to those who struggle in a traditional classroom environment. This may include:

Children and young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Children and young people who require additional interventions.

What training do we need to become a forest school?

To get more involved in a Forest School, you must first obtain a Forest School qualification. There are three levels of Forest School certification:

Level 1

This is an overview of Forest Schools. You will learn about the six Forest School principles as well as a general practice. Level 1 certification does not allow you to lead a group, but it does allow you to work as a volunteer at a Forest School. You must be at least 16 years old to enroll in a Level 1 training course.

Level 2

A Level 2 certificate is required for a Forest School helper. You will be able to take a more proactive role and assist a fully qualified practitioner in planning and delivering the program with this certificate. You will also be able to assist students. You must be at least 18 years old and have previous experience working with children or young people to be eligible for a Level 2 training program.

Level 3

This certificate is intended for individuals who wish to lead a Forest School group. This qualification teaches you how to facilitate learner-centred learning and how to sustainably operate a Forest School. You will also master all of the necessary practical skills for a Forest School practitioner. Level 3 certifications train you to create, lead, and administer Forest School programs.

You must be at least 21 years old and have a Level 2 qualification or equivalent to be eligible for a Level 3 training program. This may involve certification as a teacher, youth worker, or support worker. You must also have substantial expertise working with children or adolescents.

Finding a forest school near you

As mentioned earlier, there are currently only 108 certified Forest School practitioners in the UK. If you are interested in sending your child to a Forest School, it is important to check their endorsement and qualifications. To find out if there are any certified Forest Schools in your area, you can search online. Ensure you speak to the school’s lead practitioner to check the school is endorsed by the Forest School Association. Alternatively, you can check on the Forest School Association website.