What is Forest School?
A Forest School can only be delivered by qualified Forest School Practitioners, who are required to hold a minimum of an accredited Level 3 Forest School qualification and an ITC Outdoor First Aid Certificate.
Forest School aims to develop where appropriate, the physical, social, emotional and spiritual elements of each student in a natural environment as this helps to develop and adopt a meaningful relationship between the child and nature.
Although Forest School happens outside of the classroom environment, wherever possible links will be made with school curriculum. You would be surprised at the amount of opportunity there is in each Forest School session to weave in elements of Maths, English, Science, Geography and Art. This further embeds and supports the students with the functional skills they will need through life.
Forest School is inclusive of everyone with a high ratio of support, the additional support can be provided by any adult and welcomes family engagement. The ideal environment for a Forest School session would be a local woodland but this is not always possible and something as simple basic as a school field can support good Forest School practice.
As Forest School is something that happens over time, ideally students will attend Forest School on a regular basis. It is always going to be more beneficial and meaningful to the student if they have the opportunity to re visit Forest School throughout the seasons and in different weathers in order to really feel connected with nature.
Sara Knight author of “Forest School for all” says that “Children learn best when they are able to develop skills over a period of time and to revisit these skills on an ongoing basis, applying them in different contexts for varying purposes” (Knight 2012:37)
This History of Forest School
Forest School began its origins in Scandinavia where approaches towards learning in a woodland setting were founded on the Steiner principles and it is from the centre of that region that the idea of Forest School was taken. Steiner education holds nature, its rhythm of the earth and cycles of life at its centre. In the Steiner philosophy education in nature and student led to support the physical and spiritual growth of each student.
In the 1990’s staff from the Bridgewater College visited Denmark where they say children playing and cooking on fires at woodland kindergartens. The staff decided that this was something they would like to develop in the UK and this idea is what turned out to be known as Forest School.
Since the 1990’s forest school has gathered momentum and many schools are now embracing Forest School as part of their curriculum, lots of teaching staff throughout the UK are now accessing training courses to enable them to become Forest School practitioners.
The Forest School ethos is built on the following foundations
1, Each session is student initiated and free time based learning is facilitated by a Forest School Practitioner.
2, Forest School is something that happens over time and is about the journey, not the end product. A typical Forest School programme usually runs for a minimum of 6 weeks.
3, Each session will have a beginning and an ending where small achievable tasks will be achieved by ensuring all students “learn by doing”. Achievements are always shared and celebrated.
4, Forest School facilitates positive controlled risk taking.
5, Forest School build skills over time so students will gain a deeper knowledge with repeat visits, this also supports the use of the outdoors as a vehicle for social, emotional and personal development.
6, Trust is central at forest school.
7, Forest School positively encourages active involvement from responsible staff and families.
What happens at a Forest School?
The Forest School Practitioner will have prepared a session plan and carried out risk assessments relating to all activities before the session commences
Before the session starts, the Forest School Practitioner will lead a safety discussion with the group, giving lots of opportunity for student involvement. This will include agreeing some ground rules and all aspects of Health and Safety.
The session will involve games and activities, some activities may include tool use and making fires safely under observation from the Forest School Practitioner. Each student will be supported to take positive risks that are appropriate to the activity, themselves and the environment.
There will be lots of opportunity for free time in every session, this is important as it allows the students to let their own imagination lead their learning and development. Free time also gives a great opportunity to the Forest School Practitioner for observation.
Towards the end of the session there will opportunity for reflective practice and this is often done in a communal way by getting the group to sit in a circle which automatically creates a friendly energy and equal space with no barriers. A circle is a natural shape and is inclusive with the benefit of being warmer in a group huddle. Reflection allows the students to reflect and share their achievements whilst giving the Forest School Practitioner opportunity to make mental notes that will support planning for future sessions.
Through positive role modelling, the Forest School Practitioner and assistants encourage respect for us, others and the natural environment and nurtures good manners, politeness and listening skills as well as encouraging sharing by embedding a community spirit.
The aim of Forest School is for everyone to have fun and to use as many natural resources as possible in the most sustainable way. At Forest School we always monitor the ecological impact of the site and follow the “leave no trace” rule.
Forest School is a great way of encouraging students who are not necessarily “outdoorsy” to appreciate the outdoors and it can help to nurture a deep understanding between the student and nature.
Who can come along to Forest School?
Everyone is welcome at Forest School and the sessions can be pitched at all ages and levels. There are recent case studies that demonstrate Forest School being delivered to a wide range such as primary schools, secondary schools, school refusers, school exclusions and family groups.
Family engagement is actively encouraged whether it is parents helping out at a Forest School session or sessions being delivered to family groups. As a parent, following your child’s lead and ideas rather than imposing your own, allows children to lead improved child engagement levels and allow for more creativity. Family devised fun is much more positive than a structured and organised activity. Forest school is also being used to facilitate eco therapy. MIND, a leading mental health charity has identified the value of healing the mind with the power of nature.