Forest School – an approach to outdoor learning in schools and nurseries.
Forest school is an inspiring process, a specialised approach to outdoor learning that aims to develop confidence and self esteem through hands-on learning in woodland environments.
It has become widely used in a short space of time across the UK. It’s roots lie in early years work, Woodcraft Folk, Scouts, Scandinavian education and related to other approaches such as Reggio Emilio.
Forest School is not a wording that should be applied to all learning outdoors. Read on for advice and views on running Forest School in your setting.
If you would like to find out more about training opportunities in outdoor learning, Forest Kindergarten and more, please follow the link below.
The Forest School approach
Forest School has six key principles which ensure this approach is shared and used appropriately. These have been agreed by the Forest School community and are shared across the Forest School Association network of trainers.
Forest School is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than a one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session.
Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning.
Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.
Forest School is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.
However, Forest School can be a misunderstood phrase. To that end you can find a list of common myths and our reasoning about Forest School below as well.
Forest school is not just another word for outdoor learning. It is a very specific approach and has clear outcomes that are not curricular led. Outdoor learning is a broad area of work, encompassing anything that happens outside of the school walls.
You don’t have to be Forest School qualified to get outdoors. Using school grounds, local greenspace and more is ‘routine and expected’ and requires no formal training or qualification. You do need to work to a risk assessment and you should be competent – we would view most teachers and educators as competent. There are more challenging activities, such as fires and tool use or specific adventure activities such as climbing, canoeing or hillwalking which expect evidence of a higher level of competence from the adult facilitators.
Forest School is not ‘the best’ outdoor learning approach. While a transformative tool for specific outcomes, Forest School is one tool of many to use when learning outdoors. It is good to have a breadth of tools and approaches available and be able to select the best one. Forest School also has some shortcomings in a school environment, such as group sizes being less than a full class, the time commitment to train and deliver and the lack of pre-planned curricular outcomes.
You do not have to hold Forest School Level 3 leader to use tools or fire with pupils. You do need to demonstrate confidence, competence and work to a suitable risk assessment. There are multiple ways of doing this, including our own LtL Firelighting and cooking course, FOLA courses, Forest Kindergarten, Woodland Leader, Food Hygiene Outdoors and more. Forest School L3 can be a good way of demonstrating competence, but it is a costly and time consuming route to achieve this.
You can’t use Forest School to deliver a maths lesson. By the child and environmental led nature of Forest School, you should not be starting off with specific curricular outcomes in mind. If a group decides to problem solve a math’s issue, such as ‘how tall is that tree?’ then it can meet curricular outcomes. You should not plan this however.
Forest school is not about the ‘badge’ of achievement. It is about the process and the individual learning outcomes. Pupils do not receive achievement badges or certificates- however teachers and educators can assess their development and achievements.
You do not have to be a Forest School certified leader to access woodland or forests. Just as you would not be a certified ‘beach leader’ or ‘park leader’ or ‘church for the end of term service leader’.
Forest School is not cheap to certify in or provide in schools. The time and costs of training and certifying at Level 3 are significant. Due to the small group sizes and need for multiple staff to hold Forest School certification, the delivery costs are high. Arguably the training Forest School Level 3 offers is to a higher standard than is required for leading many outdoor learning opportunities.
Is Forest School for me?
Forest School is a powerful and proven tool for use as part of education. We know many across the UK who use this approach to great success in many ways – and have Care Inspectorate, Ofsted or HMIE inspections to confirm this. If you feel that Forest School is the right path for you, we suggest you get in touch with the Forest School Association – click here.
We would suggest that for most teachers there are alternatives, many of which are more appropriate. In our view all outdoor learning is good, and finding the approach that best suits your learners, school or nursery ethos is most important.
LtL offer a variety of curricular led course in outdoor learning.
We also offer courses on play based learning – transforming break time at school into positive, child led and teacher-free time for health and wellbeing, social development and learning.
We also offer advice on how to maximise the use of school grounds and local greenspace for learning. This keeps the costs for travel and time down and allows whole class curricular learning to go on.