For curious parents, teachers thinking about enhancing their provision, and anyone wondering about this unique way of learning, let’s answer the question: what is forest school?
What is forest school?
This article is part of the Beginners’ Guide in our Forest School Activities resources.
Maybe you’re heard about forest school and are curious about what they are?
You might be the parent of a young child, considering school options.
Perhaps you’re a childminder or childcare professional and you’re exploring the idea of extending your provision.
Or you could be a teacher hoping to add forest school lessons to your curriculum and you’re needing to explain the educational philosophy to your colleagues and parents.
This guide will explain what a forest school is, what children learn at forest school, and the many benefits children get from attending forest school sessions.
Ready-made forest school lesson plans
Make your forest school teaching easier using our ready-made outdoor lesson plans.
The Forest Classroom: a beginner’s guide to forest school will give you the confidence, ideas and practical plans to lead forest school lessons with your children.
Our best-selling guide gives you over 40 lessons plans and 16 practical printable sets that you can use in your forest school setting, school yard/playground, local park or your own backyard to run a forest-school style curriculum.
The lessons are suitable for children aged 4 to 10 and cover a broad range of subjects including nature study, math, literacy, science, arts and crafts, and wellbeing.
See more and get your copy of The Forest Classroom here, for easy, ready-made outdoor lessons you and your children will love.
What is a forest school?
A forest school is an educational programme that takes place outside in forests and woodland. You might have heard of them referred to as outdoor nursery, forest kindergarten, nature preschool, outdoor classrooms, or forest classrooms.
Of course, children have been playing and learning in forests throughout history, but this modern model of schooling grew in Scandinavia in the 1950s. It has been growing in popularity in the UK and US over the past 30 years and is now widespread worldwide.
Forest schools have a fluid curriculum, following the interests of the children, and influenced by the seasons and the weather. Children get time and space to discover the outdoors and themselves, and all learning is hands-on. The programme encourages children to explore their outdoor classroom and all it offers, developing curiosity, wonder, experimentation and skills.
The role of the teacher in a forest classroom tends to be quite different to their role in a traditional classroom. The adults in a forest school are in more of a supportive rather than leadership role. They are often in the background or on the sidelines of activities, observing their children, facilitating the children’s plans, and supporting the children in their curiosity, safe exploration, and discovery.
Forest schools have a loose, over-arching curriculum framework, which is flexible to follow the children’s interests and the opportunities the weather and natural surrounds offer on each day.
There is likely to be a simple structure to the sessions with a welcome, time for free play and adventure following the children’s interests, perhaps a more structured activity on offer, and a closing session. The opening and closing times are often held as a circle time around a campfire.
Each session has rhythm and familiarity, so children can feel secure and at home, and yet each session is unique and offers something different.
Different forest school providers offer different session options: you can find a variety of daily, weekly or termly options, and whole day and half day sessions.
Key to the forest school model though is that it follows a long term programme to allow children to develop a deep relationship with the natural world and to really embed the learning and skills they are developing.
What are the benefits of forest school for children?
The benefits of forest school are many. They overlap to an extent with the learning available in a traditional school classroom but offer unique opportunities too.
Many children who find traditional school classrooms challenging, with their confinements, rigid routines, and ‘top down’ teaching structure, thrive in a forest school. Studies have shown forest school programmes offer an environment where children with ADHD, autism, behavioural challenges and particularly boys flourish.
Children get to actively influence the activities for the session and learning is individual and collaborative, rather than always prescribed by the teacher or national curriculum.
A forest school curriculum is holistic and develops the whole child. It gives children time and space to develop physical, cognitive, practical and emotional skills.
It’s not giving a lesson to focus only on a narrow math skill, for example, but rather a time to develop into a curious, creative, resilient, independent learner. What a marvellous goal to head for!
What do children learn in forest school?
In a forest school setting, children can learn a wide range of skills across physical, academic, practical, emotional well-being and life skills. Here are some of the things forest school teaches:
:: Physical skills, including physical fitness, cardiovascular strength, stamina, gross motor skills and balance as they hike, climb, jump and run
:: Confidence: in their bodies, their decision making, and self-esteem
:: Resilience – to cope with the weather, to go outside their comfort zone, and to cope with changes
:: Risk assessment and thoughtful risk taking, often lacking in modern, ‘protected’ childhoods
:: Management of their own behaviour, in a real-world setting, around others and in a changing environment
:: Problem solving and creative thinking: how are they going to get round/over/through that giant puddle?
:: Social skills – to make friends, work as a team and enjoy community
:: Natural science knowledge such as tree, plant and animal ID; personal knowledge of ecosystems; understanding of food webs; knowledge of weather systems, and ecology (The Forest Classroom has resources for all these areas)
:: Woodwork and crafts (See The Forest Classroom for a selection of nature crafts suitable for all seasons)
:: Practical life skills such as dressing for the weather and campfire cooking
Forest school develops skills that will stay with a child for the rest of their lives, through times of challenge and change, to help them be capable, successful and content adults.
The Forest Classroom :: download your ready-made forest school lesson plans
A forest classroom is a place of adventure, discovery, and imagination. It can also be a wonderful place to learn about math and science, explore art and crafts, and develop language and social skills.
The Forest Classroom is a practical guide which will show you how to engage your children in fun and educational forest-school activities.
These ready-made forest school lesson plans are suitable for forest school leaders, teachers, childcarers and parents with children aged 4 to 10, to learn in a forest, school nature area, local park or your own backyard.
Get your copy of The Forest Classroom here and you’ll be ready to head straight outdoors and enjoy teaching, using our ready-made lesson plans.