Forest School is an inspirational programme that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve and develop conﬁdence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment. It addresses the stresses in society that result from ever-decreasing contact with the natural world.
The Forest School movement started off in Britain in the mid-1990s and is based on Scandinavian practice where it is mainstream in schools. Children’s contact with nature is considered to be of the greatest importance to their healthy development, both psychologically and physically, and is backed up by a huge body of research.
Key features include:
- The use of woodland or other outdoor settings
- A high ratio of adults (including trained practitioners) to pupils
- Learning through play and discovery that can be linked to National Curriculum and Foundation Stage objectives
- Regular time spent in the same outside space over a signiﬁcant period of time
This Trust has been promoting Forest School since 2011.
We have undertaken initiatives in three particular areas:
1. The Forest School Association (FSA)
We part-funded the creation of The Forest School Association (FSA), a charity which forms the National Governing Body for Forest School in the UK. Forest School is a movement which is developing rapidly in the UK – it is estimated that there are around 9,000 trained practitioners to date! However, it is a grass root movement which has gone somewhat “feral” with a disparate range of training providers, varying curricula and different diploma awarding bodies. There was therefore a pressing need to create the FSA in order to promote and maintain quality, recognised standards and to develop and maintain professional status for Forest School practitioners. FSA is the established representative of the Forest School community coordinating and supporting research into its impact and helping to spread the movement at the national level.
2. Forest School promotional film
We produced a short documentary ﬁlm for a London Primary school to demonstrate the value of the programme to its teachers and parents. The ﬁlm has had wide circulation to other schools, health and community workers in order to spread the word.
The ﬁlm was made by a broadcast television team - supporters of ours and at minimal cost. The school in question is Eastwood Community Centre and Nursery School in Roehampton (southwest London) which serves the second largest housing estate in Europe – the Alton Estate. Eastwood is a Forest School and some children arrive there having never been into a park, scared even of getting dirty or walking on leaves! The enthusiasm that their regular outings to a nearby woodland park generates is touching to witness! The key is frequent regular visits to the same area as familiarity deepens involvement and interest: having favourite trees to climb, awaiting the arrival of tadpoles and knowing where to ﬁnd them, experiencing the changes that occur with the different seasons.
3. Forest School Sites
The Trust is now focussing on helping develop Forest School sites within school grounds. Such schools must still have sufﬁcient outdoors space albeit often on a limited scale. They have also to be schools which by deﬁnition have no access to suitable alternative sites within close reach and which lack the resources necessary for a minibus and the extra time and stafﬁng requirements such school outings involve.
We have an ongoing programme of developing several substantial sites together with a leading landscape company which has donated labour, many of the materials and design inputs pro bono. Less extensive sites have also been created or improved in a number of other schools with more coming on stream all the while. The sites typically incorporate woodland trees and shrubs, fruit trees, a small pond, ﬁre circle, mud kitchen, willows for craftwork, wood for building huts, large logs, bug houses and the rest! Children are taught to use sharp tools and ﬁre responsibly, to discover ways of occupying themselves without resort to toys and screens. It’s a different world at Forest School and almost all children love it! Staff report on the calming effect of Forest School – it is most unusual for there to be any discipline problems on site. Furthermore, children who may struggle in the classroom often ﬂourish in this different and less stressful environment with the knock-on effect of improving their conﬁdence and self-esteem generally.