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Forest School

What is Forest School?

Forest School is a learner-centred approach, that offers opportunities for holistic growth through regular sessions.  It is a long-term programme that supports child-led play, exploration and supported risk-taking, designed to develop confidence, self-esteem and emotional resilience.

Forest School is a grass roots movement, not an idea from government.  It is a philosophy, an ethos, a process, it's a way of working with people. It is not a place, a set programme of activities or a way of taking the national curriculum outdoors (although the full school curriculum can be taught outdoors).  Forest School is an atmosphere created by community within the woodland, facilitated by Forest School trained professionals.  Originally inspired by open air 'friluftsliv' Scandinavian education, Forest School was developed in the UK in 1993.  The philosophy "sits on the shoulders" of centuries-old human psychology, educational theory, Nature Pedagogy and long forgotten traditional community celebrations.

Forest school does more than facilitate knowledge gathering, it supports holistic development, including spiritual.  It creates a safe, non-judgemental environment for learners to try new things and take managed, supervised risks.

Forest School, like permaculture, aims to weave humans and nature together, understanding that humans are part of nature, that we can live in harmony with nature, rather than the idea that humans are bad for and separate from the natural world.  Forest School focuses equally inward and outward, becoming a whole person, and preserving the wholeness of the natural world.

Why is risk-taking important for children's development?

In Forest School we believe that risk is more than just potential for physical harm, but rather offers opportunities for holistic development.  Children learn whittling, fire lighting and woodwork as part of nature education, because "this approach aligns with children's instinctual impulses that have existed for a millennia" (Sobel) and because of the opportunities for physical and emotional development.  There are risks in everything we do, and we grow our skills, confidence and self-esteem by overcoming them. By learning to manage and assess risk for themselves, with guidance from qualified professionals, participants become, healthy, resilient, creative and independent learners.

Does this mean that we just don't manage risk and expose children to unnecessary risk of injury? 

No! It actually means we risk assess in great depth, considering all the variables, including each child's needs and experiences and the all potential outcomes.  We weigh up the risk against the benefit for children's development and put measures in place to ensure that the risk is mitigated as far as possible, without infringing on the opportunity for growth and development.  High risk activities such as fire lighting and knife skills are taught in small groups or one to one, and only taught by a Level 3 qualified Forest School leader, who has been trained to offer these skills to children and adults. You can read our risk assessments on our terms and conditions page.

We are currently working towards becoming a Forest School Association (FSA) Recognised Forest School Provider. Session must include all 6 of the FSA Forest School principles below to be classed as Forest School, as opposed to another type of outdoor education, learning or play.

 

The Forest School Association states "Forest School is an experiential educational approach which is one branch of the outdoor education family tree.  It was developed in the UK in 1993 after being inspired by the Scandinavian education system, and is governed by 6 core principles:

  1. Forest School is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session.

  2. Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a lifelong relationship between the learner and the natural world.

  3. Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning.

  4. Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.

  5. Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.

  6. Forest School is run by qualified Forest School practitioners, who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice

Forest School works brilliantly with learners who are anxious or have low self-esteem, and can help others find their voice.  It creates a positive road to mental well-being, through understanding problems and working them through to solutions.  This resilience is so important especially as the numbers of child suicides have increased and mental health problems are skyrocketing".

Read "What does a Forest School Session Look Like?"

 

To read more about "What is Forest School?" visit the Forest School Association website.

Benefits of Forest School

Benefit to participants:

  • Improved confidence and self-esteem

  • Improved physical development, physical health and fitness

  • Improved social skills and ability to verbalise needs

  • Improved behaviour, which may translate to other contexts such as school and home

  • Encouraging other family members and friends to be outside more, benefitting the wider community.

What does a Forest School session look like?

A Forest School day usually begins at "basecamp" (our fire circle) for an opening circle time, where we come together to ground, settle into the session and meet each other before the main workshop begins.  This normally includes a welcome, introductions (if there are new people) and usually includes a game, safety talk and information about what is on offer that day.

We then move away from the circle to the activities on offer.  Participants choose their activity. These may be nature crafts, mud painting, tree climbing, Bushcraft, survival skills, whittling, making mud pies, nature ID, willow weaving, clay, painting, cutting wood, learning to tie knots and using them to build structures or shelters, or many other activities.  They may wish to simply explore the site, or join the facilitators in a group game.  Many children enjoy playing and exploring the site during their first few sessions.

Depending on how long the session is, we may come together again at the fire circle for a snack and drink or lunch and perhaps a story (for younger groups).  We then move away to more activities, returning to the fire circle for a closing circle at the end of the session.  The closing circle normally includes reflection and feedback from the session, mindfulness, gratitude, singing and a story (depending on the age of participants).

To find out more about our weekly sessions see the 'Sessions / Workshops' tab at the top of the page.

What does a Forest School session look like?

Why we chose the Forest School approach

We love Forest School because it incorporates so many of HARE's core principles.  Most importantly the focus on well-being through connection to nature.  Forest School's ability to build confidence and self-esteem, while improving physical health, resonates strongly with our values. You can read more about the Forest School approach and HARE's approach on our 'About' page.

Have you still got questions about Forest School?  Get in touch using the form below.

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