Research is resoundingly clear that spending time outdoors benefits children’s development. In the last 8-9 years, many schools have started taking notice, integrating outdoor programs into their curricula. One such program that has steadily gained popularity is the concept of Forest Schools.
A movement that started in the early 1990s, Forest Schools are an outdoor program that uses woods as play areas to aid the development of students. Some British educators noticed how the education system in Scandinavia has imbibed the virtues of open-air living and decided to introduce the idea in the UK as well.
practitioner, one must complete the structured training programs and possess a Bachelor’s in Technology in Forest School practice.
While there are some full-time Forest Schools in the UK–like Wildawood Forest School, Cambridgeshire–most function as programs within mainstream schools. Students attend Forest School for a half- or full-day, once or twice a week.
So what exactly do they do in this scheduled time? Students are encouraged to explore the natural environment they are taken to with Forest School, which are often wooded, green areas. The woodland acts like a blank canvas, full of sensory stimulus and new challenges for the children to take on. Such play stimulates a child’s imagination, increases their physical activity, teaches them how to safely navigate unfamiliar spaces, and work closely with others.
The principles for the Forest School Association state that children are entitled to drive their own learning, experience appropriate tasks, experience regular success and develop positive relationships with themselves, other people, and nature. With the climate crisis becoming a hot-button issue, it is vital that children in all future generations develop an innate desire to protect their environment, and Forest School provides the ability to have formative positive experiences with nature.
Forest School gives children the opportunity to develop non-academic skills like independence, resilience, and negotiation. Research has also shown that they feel a greater sense of responsibility towards themselves, for their peers, and the world.
For the naysayers, it has also been proven that Forest Schools complement and improve traditional learning. Children learn how to apply everything they learn in school because of the hands-on nature of Forest School. Even for teachers, it is an opportunity to break the uniformity of classroom learning with some self-directed learning. Headteachers also report that outdoor play is helping release the pressure put on students from a young age.
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Therefore, Forest Schools have the potential to blend academic and non-academic skills in one environment, giving children the opportunity to not only grow but also develop a broad set of skills. This is essential to help prepare a child for their adult life, which will require the ability to negotiate on unfamiliar ground in a healthy way. And it helps children develop a love for nature to boot!
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