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Forest schools aren’t actual physical schools. Instead, they refer to regular outdoor sessions, mostly at nursery or primary school level, in natural environments to enable children to develop confidence through hands-on learning.

How often do children get to be in forest schools?

At some forest schools, which mainly take place in woodland, children spend the whole day outside. But ‘forest school’ usually refers to weekly lessons as part of a normal school curriculum or as an after-school club.

What is the philosophy behind forest schools?

Originating from Scandinavia, the concept of ‘friluftsliv’ (free open-air life in Danish) was initially  developed with under-7s. The benefits of their self-esteem, motivation and learning was soon recognised and it developed in the UK in the 1990s into what we know now as forest school. Forest schools have been shown to:

  • Increase self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Improve co-operation, communication skills and awareness of others
  • Increase motivation, self-discovery and positive attitude towards learning
  • Encourage ownership and pride in the local environment
  • Encourage a better understanding of the outdoors
  • Increase the skills and knowledge. 

What can you expect?

Highly trained staff who can oversee potentially hazardous activities such as fire making and tree climbing. Children are encouraged to work out problems for themselves and take the lead, whether  through identifying safe trees to climb or discovering and mapping ant nests. They go out whatever the weather, snow, hail or sunshine.

Who is it for?

Forest school participants range from nursery children, primary, secondary or special schools, pupil referral units to home schooling.

What kind of activities?

Schools can use sessions as part of  their  curriculum and, for example, link lessons on Romans to making bows and arrows out of wood. Science might involve filtering sediments with tree taps, or making elderflower cordial, identifying bugs using a magnifying glass. Sessions can inspire essays and art, involve traditional crafts such as weaving nettle cordage, balancing on a tree to tree tightrope or mindfulness in a hammock looking at the sky.  There are also great opportunities for teambuilding – making and testing shelters, for example - and self-esteem workshops.  And there’s time for plenty of fun, digging in the mud, building dams, running through fallen leaves.

More information

Further reading:

Home education

Steiner-Waldorf schools

Montessori schools

The 'alternative' alternatives

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