Over the last 25 years, a revolutionary educational model has taken thousands of children out of classrooms and given them the opportunity to expand their education in nature. Forest schools are growing in popularity around the UK, but what are they, and what role do they play in education?
Forest Schools: A Natural Approach to Education
A very simple definition of a forest school is outdoor-learning, with a focus on nature. Forest schools take place outdoors, in any local woodland area, and revolve around learning and playing in an educational way. A key part of the concept is for children to gain the full benefits of time spent in nature, learning resilience, teamwork, and the value of informed decisions.
The hands-on experiences in forest school help children of all ages to build their confidence, engage in creative activities, and explore nature. Some of the most important principles of forest school are holistic development, building relationships with the natural world, and taking supported risks.
Learning in a forest school is child-centric, where the children choose the activities that they want to experience under the guidance of a practitioner. Common activities, include:
• Building Campfires
• Nature Walks
• Outdoor Games
• Climbing Trees
• Arts and Crafts
• Outdoor Cooking
In the UK, the Forest School Association (FSA) is the organisation that promotes and regulates forest schools. The FSA provides training courses and qualifications for people who want to become forest school practitioners.
Forest Schools and Traditional Education
The idea of a forest school is not to replace classrooms but to expand a child’s knowledge in a different way. Forest schools are a long-term commitment to outdoor learning, with programmes that can run throughout the year.
Schools or groups can establish the programmes by either employing a trained practitioner or having a staff member train as a practitioner. It’s then up to the school to decide how many sessions to hold each year. The number could be as small as six, or significantly higher.
During the sessions, children can enhance their knowledge on topics that they’ve previously covered in the classroom. Through outdoor learning, it’s simple to include elements of geography, science, maths, and many other subjects. Due to the higher teacher to student ratios and larger focus on observation over direction in forest schools, the learning experiences can be very unique.
Why Are Forest Schools Growing in Popularity?
Forest schools first originated in the 1800s, but it was only in the 1990s that schools in the UK began to really explore the alternative model of education. In recent years, popularity for the unique long-term educational opportunity has surged.
Part of the popularity is due to the great learning opportunities that that model provides children with. Regular, long-term exposure to outdoor nature activities can help children to develop essential life skills, like self-awareness, motivation, and independence. Studies into the benefits of outdoor learning, in its many forms, have shown that it has the potential to improve well-being and positivity change the lives of children.
In the UK, and around the world, there are currently hundreds of forest school trainers, providers, and members; and the numbers are rising.
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