What are forest schools?
Forest Schools is a unique way of building independence, self-esteem and a positive attitude towards learning in children and young people as they explore and experience the natural world for themselves.
A combination of freedom and responsibility is beneficial to children with little confidence or challenging behaviour. Valuable life skills are learnt – communication, team working and responsibility.
It has 6 key principles:
- It’s a long-term process of frequent and regular sessions.
- It takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
- Aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners
- Children are allowed take risks which are appropriate for themselves.
- Forest School Programs are run by qualified Forest School practitioners.
- Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for development and learning.
Why are forest schools good for children and young people?
- Beneficial for children who learn by ‘doing’
- Children involved in Forest School become more responsible for their actions, can calculate risks better and show improved self-confidence.
- A desire for learning is encouraged and transferred back to the classroom
- Forest Schools encourage children to become more active and healthy
- Children develop self-awareness
- Develop better communication skills
- Developing independence
Forest Schools promote:
- Healthier bodies: physical exercise, a challenging environment, fresh air.
- Healthier minds: Forest Schools provide time to just be – We can mix with peers or have time on our own. The space we use gives us the space to chill, the space to investigate and the space to have fun. We are more willing to try new things and complete tasks because of this.
- Healthier environment: We go into the Forest once a week all through the year so we understand and appreciation our natural environment. We Know of how systems interlink, and how we affect our surroundings. When we grow up we will still care for the environment because of the connection we have to it.
- Healthier future: Many of the skills that develop as a result of spending time at a Forest School are essential life skills that in time will benefit the economy. Children develop determination to complete tasks; they learn to work together as a team communicating effectively.
- Healthier communities: Forest Schools can offer the opportunity to involve parents and the wider community in their development and running. Many families are more likely to access woodland spaces and spend time in them playing and enjoying the outdoors if they have been involved with the development. Often the whole school shifts its approach to outdoor learning as staff has the opportunity to observe children in a different setting. This has a knock on effect as techniques can be applied across other learning.
What happens at a typical session?
A typical session will often involve many things. It usually begins with the same routine – always getting ready to go outside – dressing in appropriate clothing, wellies and waterproofs. The group will gather at a seating circle of logs and catch up with what happened at the last session, what the weather is like, what they plan to do at this session. Forest School sessions usually run for a minimum of one and a half hours, most are two hours, but many last longer.
Participants in Forest School are free to choose amongst many activities; some will have been introduced by the leader, for example bug hunting, mud painting, collecting, counting. Many are child-initiated and these are as varied as the children and participants involved; some examples include building a dam, creating an assault course, shelter building.
Forest School also uses handtools to master a variety of tasks under the tutoring of the leader, Forest School participants can learn how to use the tools and use them to help them with their existing projects/activities – e.g. use a saw to cut wood to the right length to use in a shelter. They can also use the tools to create new activities – e.g. making items from wood – a mallet, a kazoo, a coaster etc. Activities using tools can be very simple or take many weeks to complete something more intricate and with more skill involved.
Many Forest School sessions will have a snack time, which is a nice way to get everyone back together to share what they’ve been doing. It may also be a good time to have a campfire and heat some water for a hot drink, perhaps cook some food on the fire.
How Forest Schools has developed in Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull?
Forest Schools began in Warwickshire supported by the County Council in partnership with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. In 2006, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust was successful in bidding for a Heritage Lottery Grant in partnership with Warwickshire County Council, Coventry City Council and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council for a £327,000, three year project. The project, which began in 2007, recruited three Forest School coordinators for the three areas. These coordinators have worked to promote Forest Schools in the three areas and encourage educational professionals to train to become Forest School leaders. Over the three years of the project over 100 new Forest School leaders have been trained.
Beyond the Lottery funding, Forest Schools in the local area continues to grow. In 2012, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust decided to hand over its Forest Schools training programme to local training providers. One of which Sarah Capper previously Forest School Co-orindator of Warwickshire now owner and training director of Get Out Of The Classroom; www.getoutoftheclassroom.com continues to working across Warwickshire, Coventry, Solihull and in the Midlands to deliver quality Forest Schools training and support for Forest School Leaders.
Local Council Partnerships
The Forest School project across Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull saw Warwickshire Wild life Trust working in partnership with Coventry City Council, Solihull Metropolitan Council, and Warwickshire County Council with funding of £321,500.00 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop Forest School across the three areas.
Each council has also contributed funds towards the development of Forest School provision on a local level providing OCN Forest School training to people working in the education sector. Whilst this project has now expired – The Legacy still exists –Sarah Capper of Get Out of the Classroom is continuing to work hard providing local, quality training to these areas. It is hoped more and more more children in the West Midlands can take advantage of an alternative learning experience in the outdoors.
“If we are to protect the Earth and our future, we need to equip today’s students to be tomorrow’s environmental stewards. They need a deeper understanding of the relationship between our society and the environment itself, and Forest Schools will do exactly this”.
Anne Jenkins, Heritage Lottery Fund Regional Manager for the West Midlands
Alveston C.Of. E Primary School
I took part in training at Brandon Marsh in October and November 2010. To say typical English weather would be fair – cold, wet and windy. However, despite this, I can honestly say I’ve never had so much fun learning and training! Sarah ensured activities were engaging, appropriate and exciting (to take back with the children but also for us as adults). Some of my favourite activities were making tree cookies, magic potions and shelters – all of which I have done with my classes and my Reception classes have loved them. The children love going to Forest School, whatever the weather and they fully engage in every activity – regardless of ability, gender or backgrounds. We have developed a Forest School from a bare patch of land – developing it slowly but surely. We have had lots of support from Sarah, not only with the qualification but also with sourcing wood and materials. Forest School has added an amazing dimension to our school and I feel very lucky to have taken part in such a creative and inspiring initiative.
Milby Pre School
Debbie and I were very fortunate to be able to secure Forest School Training as we needed the financial backing from both the Local Authority and the Management Committee of our setting. I had done a little research into Forest School, but not many local settings have embarked on this exciting venture.
Our training took place at a local nature reserve, and run by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust with trainers Sarah Capper and Sarah Klaes. It ran over almost two weeks with both practical and written work days.
Sarah and Sarah were excellent trainers, they were very friendly, explaining activities and techniques simply and practically so we all understood what to do. They gave us the confidence to ‘have a go’ and learn by doing. Exactly the techniques we are now using with our children at nursery, during our own Forest School sessions!
The trainers were very inspirational and their enthusiasm for Forest School soon gave us the drive to build Forest School into our weekly activities and to promote the importance of outside play to our colleagues and parents/carers.
When the training was completed Sarah and Sarah continued to be helpful and supportive whilst we were completing the theory and portfolio to complete our Forest School Leader qualification.
The course was very rewarding and far exceeded our expectations. Forest School has become very much part of our weekly routine at nursery. Due to the quality of training it has given both of us the confidence to deliver taster sessions for our work colleagues and in the future, parent/child sessions.
Both Debbie and I agree, this training has easily been the best training we have done that has had the biggest impact to the learning outcomes of our children.
Aldermoor Farm Primary School
I have worked with children from reception to year six in Forest Schools. One of the main things that I have noticed happening is that children have been able to play. At first not all the children have understood the concept of freedom that Forest School allows them buts slowly the children have gained confidence to explore, experiment and to learn. Reception children have gained so much in the storytelling sessions, not only in telling the story but in them retelling using things with-in the forest school area to help do this. I get Children weeks after there last session coming up to me and start to say part of stories to me. It benefits all curriculum areas for example Year six have combined ICT and forest school to produce instructional films for other year groups. This has help them with both their ICT skill but with literacy as well
Bug hunting – spontaneous choice of activity, she was then intrigued to find out how many different animals she could find at FS!
‘Sticky Elbows’ – a quick but effective means of gathering the children and ensuring no-one has disappeared! We then count round the circle, children saying numbers, and adding this to the number of adults also present.
Map making – first session run by me, for my portfolio. The children were simply asked to make a map of the area – after asking where the pen and paper were they then set about the task without these.
Action shot – exploring what we can do in long grass!
Child leading and adult supporting – making ‘home’ for the ‘Woodlanders’ – the children’s ideas were then used in creative writing sessions later that week. All of the children were motivated by the idea of ‘Woodlanders’ and this was reflected in the quality of their stories. The adult is supporting by asking questions and very much following the lead of the child.
During a session of painting our faces as ‘mud warriors’ we found that some of our ground was very clay based and we could take chunks and make models with it. This led to a very interesting discovery that our main site has 3 different types of soil – very clay based, typical soil and compost-like. All 3 types were discovered as having different properties by the children.