Definition of Forest School England
Forest School is an inspirational process that offers children and young people opportunities to achieve and develop their confidence and self-esteem through hands on learning experiences (usually) in a local woodland environment.
Origins of Forest School
- Forest Schools originated in Sweden in the 1950s but our culture has influenced the development of Forest School in this country.
- The first Forest School in England was opened in 1995 at Bridgwater College, Somerset.
- It is a ‘grass roots’ movement as it has developed through the enthusiasm of practitioners, who recognise the enormous benefits Forest School can bring, rather than being driven by Government Policy.
- Training courses have been developed to enable practitioners to run Forest School sessions.
- The 2002 Seminar at Bishops Wood Environmental Centre in Worcestershire created a Forest School Network that was supported by the Forestry Commission under the umbrella of their Forest Education Initiative (FEI).
- In 2012, a new national association for Forest School Practitioners and anyone interested in Forest School was created. The website address is: http://www.forestschoolassociation.org and as stated on the Home page, “The Forest School Association is the professional body and UK wide voice for Forest School, promoting best practice, cohesion and ‘quality Forest School for all’.
What is Forest School in England?
- Forest School offers children and young people the opportunity to achieve and develop their self-confidence and self-esteem, independence and physical, language and communication skills, that in turn supports their holistic development.
- This occurs through hands on learning experiences and learning strategies implemented by insured and qualified Forest School Leaders – preferably in a local woodland environment.
- It needs to take place over a period of time to achieve optimum benefits.
- Managed and responsible risk taking and challenges are encouraged, coupled with the development of trusting relationships with an emphasis on partnerships in learning not teaching.
- Forest School aims to encourage and promote an understanding and caring ethos towards the Natural world:
This is achieved through the following principles:
- Forest School is for all children and young people.
- Forest School builds on a child’s innate motivation and positive attitude to learning, offering them the opportunities to take managed risks, make choices and initiate learning for themselves.
- Forest School is organised and run by qualified Forest School leaders.
- Forest School maximises the learning potential of local woodland through frequent and regular experiences throughout the year, not a one-off visit.
- Forest School helps children to understand, appreciate, respect and care for the natural environment.
- Forest School takes place in all weathers, apart from strong winds, as to quote Farstad, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”.
- Safety is paramount and there are recognised criteria that ensure safe practice in forest schools and we also have to meet the safety and welfare requirements of any applicable curriculum, such as The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
Further benefits of Forest School
- For many children, outdoors is their preferred environment.
- Outdoors offers learning opportunities that are different or additional to indoors but of equal value.
- Forest School practice recognises the value of accessing outdoor provision to enable children to be healthy and achieve well-being.
- Physical activity and development and the use of all our senses can stimulate the brain and intellect.
- Forest School practice promotes choice.
- Forest School provides opportunities for managed risks and challenges that promote confidence.
- It is recognised that there is a surge of testosterone in 4-5 year old boys (and some girls) requiring more vigorous activity.
- Forest School promotes a deeper understanding of the natural world and how people affect and effect their environment.
- Forest School fosters independence – more opportunities to play, learn and develop away from an adult regulatory gaze.
- Forest School compensates for the modern restrictions that children may suffer and enhances their childhood experiences.
The Adult Role in Forest School
- Safety, Security, Health and Well-being are paramount.
- We carry out risk assessments and regular inspections of the environment, activities and any equipment.
- We build trusting relationships and engage in shared learning through play-based and largely child-initiated and led activities.
- We provide sensitive support – scaffolding and role modelling but not taking over play.
- We observe, assess and plan for learning and development across all areas of any applicable curriculum.
- We demonstrate flexibility, adaptability and spontaneity.
- We respond to children’s needs, interests and preoccupations.
- We respect children who wish to be quiet and alone.
- We encourage children to take managed risks.
- We ensure an appropriate response to changing weather conditions.
- We have a commitment to, involvement in, and understanding of the benefits of outdoor learning, to support children’s optimum development.
In this world of ever-increasing violence and technology, Forest School allows Mother Nature to redress the balance by placing children in a nurturing, embracing environment that fosters their self-esteem, personal, social and emotional skills and development and therefore learning dispositions in a natural and child-initiated way.
Through long term, regular and repeated participation, Forest School can engage and support children to become resilient, caring, creative and confident citizens of the future.