What is a Forest School?


With the rising requirement for Forest School leaders in educational establishments across the country and the increasing knowledge about climate change and how it will affect us, the need for getting outdoors and understanding it, has never been so important.

For some people, Forest School began in the early 1990s, when a group of nursery practitioners visited a setting in Denmark to see how the outdoor provision worked. They were amazed that the children were outdoors for the full time but were so engaged and learning in a positive learning environment, which allowed them to learn at their own pace and level of their choosing. They bought this idea back to UK and through Bridgewater College, set up and ran the first Forest School course for practitioners.

For others,the ideals and ethos of Forest Schools can be traced a lot further back than then. Some trace the ethos back as far as the pre 1800s,when the lifestyle that people had, was considerably different to today. The attachment below gives an outline of the time span for this which ismuch easier than writing about it


Since the start of “modern” Forest School ethos in the 1990s, the UK has grasped the ideals with progressively more strength,as education has focussed more heavily on academic qualifications. It can be argued that children have lost the idea of freely chosen play and that they need to be entertained by a screen more and more. The Forest school ethos and methods of taking small, achievable steps, promoting positive learning environments to enable children of all abilities to learn,is being seen more and more as the inclusion method in schools. Pupils that are unruly and unable to learn indoors,now have more ability to learn outdoors in a green space either on school grounds or locally. Forestry England have lots of information about how you can get involved and a location finder to find a Forest Schools session near you: Forestry England Learning


Below are the ideals for what is Forest School, agreed by the Forest School Association and are worth a read in entirety;

  • 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.  The process of regular long term involvement is more difficult to entertain in mainstream school curriculum.  That said – it is possible to undertake Forest School sessions and programmes during the school day and link them to almost anything from the Early Years framework to the end of Key Stage 2 and beyond.  The FS leader carries out the planning cycle above and should be on hand to review and adapt each and every session as they go to enable the best possible learning experience for the children.  The FS leader is more a facilitator of learning than the teacher – being able to change easily from one subject to another to suit the learning requirements of the children during the session.  Once the session is complete – the leader will evaluate the session and inform their next session accordingly. 
  • FOREST SCHOOL takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.  This can sometimes be a challenge in the traditional school setting as there may be little or no “green” areas available on site.  That said – there is always the possibility of taking your sessions to a local park or even better a local woodland to run your programmes.  Most schools have a small area that can be a dedicated FS area with some thought and work.  The woodland environment has a calming effect of children and adults alike – a new initiative of “Forest bathing” has shown the benefit of being immersed in a woodland for periods of time. 
  • FOREST SCHOOL uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning.  The leader as mentioned previously is observing, evaluating and informing their session even as they deliver it to the learners.  So many variables are looked at and evaluated to achieve this such as weather conditions, age and ability of the learner and the stage of the programme that the learner accesses FS ethos at to name but three. 
  • FOREST SCHOOL aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.  Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is an interesting initiative that helps to develop the learner both Intra-personal and Inter-personal ability.  So frequently in the current environment that we live in do we see how the self-motivation of the young learner is more for extrinsic reward such as a sticker than the intrinsic motivation of wanting to achieve results for their own happiness.
  • FOREST SCHOOL offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.  All activities are risk assessed as a matter of course however this does not eliminate the risk of harm or injury entirely.  The activities are as safe as reasonably practicable and in line with HSE guidelines to enable the learner to understand and mitigate the risk for themselves as they take part in the activity. 
  • FOREST SCHOOL is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.  The Level 3 Forest School leader qualification is now nationally and internationally delivered as the benchmark of what the practitioner is able to do at Forest School.  The Level 2 Forest School assistant enables the leader to run the session and is also a valuable requirement during the programme too.  The Level 1 is an entry level qualification which can be delivered locally to educators to give them an idea on what is possible with FS ethos and delivery methods.