When being introduced to new people, I am often met with the inevitable question of “what is it that you do?”. When responding with “I am a Forest School Leader”, I am often greeted with looks of confusion. So here is a quick introduction as to what forest school is, its history and why it’s growing in popularity.
What is Forest School?
Forest school is a holistic learning environment in which regular sessions are run in a woodland or natural environment. The sessions, which are led by a qualified practitioner, are learner centered and provide opportunities for the learners to play, explore and take supported risks. The sessions provide an opportunity for the learners to develop a positive relationship with the natural world, increasing their confidence and self-esteem, all of which will support them for future development.
In a more colloquial sense, what I love about forest school is the freedom the children have to explore, develop and learn on their own terms. Nowadays, children have little freedom to roam and learn on their own through exploration. A more controlled and risk free approach is often taken, which can prevent the holistic development children require.
The aims of forest school
To provide a fun and safe environment for children and young people (not always, forest school can be beneficial to anyone) to enjoy the natural environment whilst learning and developing.
To develop self-esteem, confidence, communication, physical and mental well-being, team work and independence.
To help reconnect learners to the natural environment
To nurture and create environmental advocates through a deeper connection and understanding to the natural world
To provide a safe and secure space for children to take supported risks and learn certain skills in an outdoor setting
To allow the learners to develop and grow in a manner suited to them, making learning a fun and rewarding experience
The History of Forest School
The first appearance of Forest School was in the early 1900’s following the introduction of formalised and compulsory education and the subsequent growth of “alternative” education. Early influences during this era came from Susan Isaacs and Maria Montessori. Isaacs promoted the benefits of learning through play which is an integral part of forest school. Montessori’s principlesm of child led learning, also has a strong influence on the forest school principals. She emphasizes that children have the innate desire to learn, and that the role as an educator should be to enable and facilitate this desire by providing an appropriate environment and guidance.
During the 1950’s Scandinavian Forest School’s, and outdoor practices were expanding. In the UK, emphasis on the benefits of getting children outside and reconnected with nature were becoming apparent.
In 1993, a group of Nursery Practitioners from Bridgewater College made a trip to Denmark to observe Forest School in action. Following their return, they began a Forest School at the college, and by 1995 they had developed the first Forest School BTEC to be offered in the UK . This was the first step in formalising the Forest School Practice.
n the early 2000’s local authorities and the forestry commission began to take an interest in Forest School and its educational benefits to children and thus support was given for the provision of training. In 2002 an official definition of forest school was formed along with the main features.
Richard Louv played a big part in increasing further the profile of forest school to educators across the country and the general public with the publication of ‘Last Child in the Woods’ and ‘The Nature Principle’.
Currently there are 100’s of forest schools across the country and an estimated 10,000 practitioners.
Future importance and uncertainty
There is a growing body of research that suggests physical, mental and spiritual well-being is directly linked to our connection to nature. This generations children are becoming increasingly less connected to the world around them which is directly impacting their development and well-being. In addition to this, if children do not connect to the natural world, they will not possess any desire to conserve and protect it.
The need for an intervention is both obvious and urgent. However, there are currently plans to alter the curriculum excluding any environmental topics until the age of 11. This coupled with cuts to local child services and the forestry commission makes the future of forest school unknown. More input from the top is required to prevent an environmental and societal crisis.
Despite these challenges, forest school is still gaining momentum and is becoming more popular. However, this comes with its own problems. How can forest school maintain its grassroots principles within a growing and often commercialising setting? This is a definite concern and will become more apparent as forest school and environmental alternatives continue to grow.
I hope this has sparked further interest and a desire to learn more. Will you also become part of the forest school movement?