Forest School

The positive impact of being in and connecting with nature is immense. Research suggests that some of the benefits for children accessing a green space include stress and anxiety reduction, enhanced focus, resilience, reduction in behavioural problems and overall improved mental well-being.  

Yet, many of our children spend most of their time indoors. We live in urban areas with little immediate access to a garden let alone a large green or wild space. Modern living is becoming more detached and disconnected from nature.  

The Forest School ethos is becoming increasingly popular all over the world and provides an opportunity to combat children’s increasingly sedentary lives. Forest School programmes can be offered through schools or other providers by qualified practitioners.  They offer a chance to experience hands on outdoor learning and develop an understanding of the natural world. There are so many real-world learning opportunities to be had – minibeast hunts, habitat studies, identifying light and shadow sources, flora and fauna studies, building shelters, developing survival skills… the list is endless.

Reported benefits for young people participating in Forest School programmes include increased self-esteem, confidence, ability to collaborate, enhanced moods and the development of broader resilience skills. In addition to this, the freedom to move around and explore an open space has physical benefits such as enhanced stamina, co-ordination and strength.  

There’s no better way to hear more about Forest School programmes than from someone who is actively involved in leading one! Nigel has been teaching for 22 years in primary schools in Warwickshire, England and is currently a KS2 P.E. Teacher, Designated Safeguarding Lead and Forest Schools Leader. He has a real passion for outdoor, experiential learning and kindly agreed to share his experience with us below.

  • Tell us a little about your Forest School programme…

We have used Forest School programmes for whole class activities, but in particular it has been targeted at lower KS2 children during curriculum time.   It has also been delivered to Reception to support their social and emotional development. In addition to this, it has been used to work with children who have struggled to engage in the classroom as an extra-curricular activity and after school club. 

  • How do Forest School programmes complement school-based learning?

We have found it improves both concentration and behaviour.  We include team building exercises, collaborative working, problem solving.  Developing skills in working safely/ following instructions and working with tools they wouldn’t usually use in the classroom.  Trust building.  Gaining opportunities to work in a way they often wouldn’t have the opportunity to normally.  Using saws, knives, potato peelers, lighting fires, outdoor cooking, crafting, making wooden tools, furniture, bird boxes, bug hotels. Naming British birds accurately, insects, trees.  Growing, planting, nurturing the world around them.  Taking part in art & crafts including wooden jewellery making, musical instruments – art created using natural materials only. Building dens and animal shelters.

  • What key skills can children develop when engaged in Forest School activities?

Often child led – which develops autonomy.

Resilience – learning to things they didn’t know they could do.

Trust in others and themselves.

Collaboration.

Following instructions.

Working safely.

Working independently, in pairs and as groups.

  • When children complete a session/day, what’s a common line you hear from them?

“This is the best day ever!” “Why can’t we do this every day?” “Can we roast marshmallows again?” “Can we cook next week?” “Can we build our own bug hotel and take it home?” “This is amazing!” “I love this” “I love being outdoors!”

  • If a family can’t access a Forest School programme, what similar activities might they do with their child?

Visit free local woods.  Build bird boxes at home. Gather natural materials on a walk and create a nature themed picture. Play games in the woods like hide and seek.  Leaf rubbings or sketching of what see in a wood.  Bird watch in your garden or on a walk.  Find three things outdoors and say why you like them. 

Bug hotels made by children at Forest School…

Further Reading

Barnes, S. (2018) Rewild Yourself.

Capaldi, C. A., Passmore, H. A., Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Dopko, R. L. (2015). Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of connecting with nature and its application as a wellbeing intervention. International Journal of Wellbeing5(4).

McCormick, R. (2017). Does access to green space impact the mental well-being of children: A systematic review. Journal of Pediatric Nursing37, 3-7.

The Forest School Association

2 comments

  1. Forest School has been my daughter’s first introduction back into group situations (she’s been to 2 so far). She absolutely loves it – and even if she begins the session not wanting to go (tired…) she comes out bouncing with energy. Thanks for spreading the word – lovely article to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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