Forest Schools have gained much publicity lately but the understanding of what they are, how they approach education for children from the Early Years Foundation Stage upwards, and how to become qualified as a Forest School leader, is sorely lacking. If you have come across this teaching concept, you may well be wondering if this is a direction that your teaching career might take. I spoke to Red Box Teacher recruitment to find out what Forest Schools are all about.
Forest School is an educational approach that aims to build children’s self-esteem and emotional intelligence. It does this by encouraging confidence, independence, resilience and creativity via the use of the outdoor woodland environment.
During the outdoor sessions, children get to play and discover their natural surroundings in a way that stimulates their innate creativity and provides a fully sensorial learning environment. Forest School leaders are trained to take their cue from the students and support new understandings as they emerge; there is no set lesson plan.
The Forest School initiative originated in Scandinavia in the 1950s and, by the 1980s, was well established across all Scandinavian countries. Widely adopted in Early Years education in Denmark, the concept reached the UK in the 1990s, where it was first introduced in Bridgwater, Somerset. There are now over 140 Forest Schools in the UK.
It’s a holistic way of learning which the Forest School Association defines as “an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults, regular opportunities to achieve, develop confidence and self-esteem, through hands-on learning experiences in a local woodland environment.”
These objectives are promoted through various strategies. The environment is the key tool that is used to empower learners and give them responsibility for their own learning experience – fostering risk management and independent decision making.
- Child based learning
The student observes a skill or activity being taught and then chooses a germane activity to carry out, focusing on his own interests and leading his own learning. Forest School leaders won’t tell the student what to do, but play a supportive and encouraging part to facilitate learning. This fosters resilient and confident students who are not constantly looking to adults for direction.
- Independent exploration
Learners are encouraged to explore the environment at their own pace, within set boundaries, which encourages the development of confidence, resilience and self-confidence. Students are trusted to make their own choices, not expected to follow a teacher’s instruction or specific teaching plan. By exploring the environment in their own way, making choices about activities and learning they would like to engage in, self-esteem is developed and active and creative learning is fostered.
Outdoor Forest School sessions are 2 hours long, and students quickly learn how to get themselves ready with suitable clothes, backpacks and other needs.
- Social interaction
New and exciting outdoor experiences such as group games and campfires are shared with co-learners, and students develop a sense of togetherness. As supportive friendships form and develop, it is interesting to note that they are often formed in different groups than during indoor learning, since some learners have skills that are recognised in different environments.
- Praise and recognition
Learning successes are praised and recognised appropriately, which results in increased levels of self-esteem. As there are no pre-defined learning outcomes to reach, everyone is able to succeed in their tasks – it is a positive learning experience for all.
Forest School focuses on the process of learning. Instead of traditional, planned lessons, the content of Forest School sessions is fully child-led, with specially trained teaching staff reacting to and facilitating new perceptions and insights as they occur.
Delivered alongside more conventional education methods, Forest School enables students to transfer their skills into everyday life, often making a connection with the outdoor environment that may have been missing previously.
The Forest School approach has shown considerable success with learners across the board, including those with learning difficulties. Better social skills and peer interaction, improved relationships and problem solving skills are can all be attributed to this way of learning.
This article was written by Dakota Murphey.