What is a Forest School?
A Forest School is an innovative educational approach to outdoor play and learning. The philosophy of Forest Schools is to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through positive outdoor experiences.Forest Schools will aim to develop:
- Self Awareness
- Self Regulation
- Intrinsic motivation
- Good social communication skills
- A positive mental attitude, self-esteem and confidence
The History of Forest Schools
The initial idea for forest schools originated in Scandinavian countries in the 1950s. The philosophy behind it believes that children's contact with nature and the natural world is a very important factor in their development.
By the 1980s forest schools were being integrated into the Danish Pre-School Early Education programme for children under seven years old. They are now firmly embedded in the Danish education system and have been in use for three generations.
The development of forest schools in Britain began around 1993, when tutors and students from Bridgwater College in Somerset visited Denmark on an exchange visit. They were inspired by the emphasis placed on outdoor activities, and on their return toEnglandthey set up their own forest school for children of students at the college.
Today there is an increasing number of forest schools throughoutBritain. Some are privately owned but the majority are supported by the local education authority.
What are the benefits of a Forest School education?
Making use of a forest school setting, whether as a full time alternative to nursery or pre-school in the early years or as a regular 'out of classroom' activity throughout Primary and Secondary stages, can potentially address the holistic development of a child. It also provides the opportunity for 'cotton wool children' to face risk and develop self awareness, self regulation, self motivation, empathy and social skills. It is important to remember that for every possibility of risk or hazard there is always a resulting benefit. (Sarah Blackwell, 2010).
The forest school experience is an inspirational process that offers children rich opportunities to promote their well-being and confidence in a natural environment. In the forest, children are allowed to develop their own ideas, make decisions, solve problems, and take risks.
Forest schools are on the increase because practitioners believe that this practical way of learning is of benefit to all children. In the forest, children are developing at their own speed and in their own time, and are gaining an awareness of the outdoors and the environment.
In 2006 the Forestry Commission produced an evaluation on the benefits of forest schools in England and Wales. The findings were very positive. One of the recommendations stated that the way forward for forest schools was to promote 'forest schools to educationalists and parents to give them a better understanding of what forest school is about, the impact it can have and how learning takes place' (O'Brien, L and Murray, R, 2006).
Maslow's Heirarchy of Need
In a forest school setting, it is important that basic needs are met. After survival and emotional safety, children look for belonging (connectedness, empathy, acceptance) and autonomy (choice, mastery, self-efficacy). Belonging is connected to fun, and autonomy to self-fulfilment.
Critically, the survival needs; warmth, shelter, food and drink; are at the root of all progress towards self actualisation. If we are concerned or distracted by those needs, we cannot focus on our self-fulfilment or on having fun. Forest schools focus on providing awareness of these needs and how to meet them- even in the youngest of children.
The process of meeting those basic needs can be a vehicle for having fun and feeling proud of your achievements - building a shelter, lighting a fire or collecting wood are simple examples of these activities and are at the heart of a Forest School's activity.