Forest School | What is it? Benefits and Activities Involved in Forest School Learning

What are forest schools and where are they used? Forest schools are becoming more popular but a lot of people aren’t aware of the many wonders of forest schools and just how much they can do for their children. Let us answer all your questions about forest schools!

A child who grows up around nature and adventure is more likely to grow up feeling like the world is at their feet.

At present, there is an overwhelming physical and mental health surge echoing through schools across the UK. Primary schools are being urged to get children outside and encourage them to play and exercise; as well as educate younger children on the environment, sustainability, and the impact they can have on it.

It all sounds like a bit much at first. They’re kids, after all – but that’s just it! They are kids, and kids learn faster and retain knowledge better while they’re younger.

What are forest schools?

Forest schools are essentially long-term outdoor activity hosts. Children will usually attend forest schools several times during the year, rather than just going once or twice. This is to help them build up more skills and get used to the idea of spending time in more natural outdoor areas. Forest schools aren’t dissimilar to Guides or Scouts; though instead of being led or directed, children are encouraged to find their own feet in their natural surroundings.

Forest School, What is Forest School Outdoor Classroom

The activities don’t always take place in forests, any wide open and safe spaces are used. As long as the environment the children are learning and playing in is as natural as possible. Some forest school activities have been known to take place on a formal primary school’s own premises, or even in a nearby park area.

Interested parties should understand that forest school is just the name; it’s quirky, it’s fun, and it sums up the idea of the type of education your child or children would be receiving from these outdoor activities. Though some formal primary schools have their own forest school sections, there are also forest schools that run by themselves, with adult leaders who have trained to run the activities they do.

Recommended reading:

Forest School Adventure: Outdoor Skills and Play for Children
  • Dan Westall (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 05/07/2018 (Publication Date) - GMC (Publisher)

Where are forest schools used?

Forest schools are used all over the world. In any location where there is an open and natural area, a forest school activity can be run. Ideally, forest school activities are run in forests, Scout camps, or similar areas. But, as mentioned above, they are brought into any formal primary school, as long as the school has some kind of green area for the children to explore.

Forest School, What is Forest School Safe Campfire

Most forest schools are short one-day or afternoon workshops, but some have taken to hosting weekends or longer. It really depends on the kind of forest school activity a parent is looking for, and what the hosting company can offer.

Interestingly enough, forest schools actually originated in Sweden under a different name. From there, the ideology of outdoor schooling took to the rest of Northern Europe; eventually making its way to the UK in the 1990s by Bridgewater College. It was Bridgewater College who coined the term “Forest School”.

Since forest schools were introduced here in the UK, activities are mostly run for children from early years to primary school age. Giving young children the chance to get involved in physical activity while learning about nature. There are very few opportunities available in forest schools for children at Key Stage 3 and above; but there are other options, of course! Forest schools aren’t the only way to educate people about nature and get them back to the outdoors, it’s just a safe and regulated way for young children to learn and get involved.

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The Stick Book: Loads of things you can make or do with a stick (Going Wild)
  • Danks, Fiona (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 128 Pages - 03/15/2012 (Publication Date) - Frances Lincoln (Publisher)

What applications do forest schools have in standard schools?

Every forest school activity session is completed with the children attending in mind. Forest school leaders will work with primary schools and parents to ensure that the children going to the session will enjoy it and feel safe at all times. If a primary school is going to become its own forest school, then the company hosting the activity will ensure that they stick to the primary school’s own rules and regulations, as well as their own specialised ones for the activities they’re running.

Forest School, What is Forest School Den

Taking children out of the classroom doesn’t mean they stop learning; it just means they’re learning in a different way. The balance between education and nature is much simpler than people may realise. Think of it this way: forest school activities are like an art class, P.E. class, and a science class all rolled into one. Children are free to be creative, free to run wild in a safe and regulated environment, and free to learn at their own pace.

The space the children attend forest school activities is a blank canvas. A setting that they can make their own using the games and activities that forest school leaders run with them. Forest schools are about giving children the option to be children and learn at the same time.

Forest School, Forest School Benefits School Activities
School’s can also use their forest school collections to use for indoor activities.

And, of course, if a parent is worried or anxious about their child being in a forest or on campgrounds, then that’s why forest schools have the option to bring their activities and workshops to a formal school’s location. Forest schools can help primary schools nurture children in an exciting and beneficial way. The time that children spend in these workshops is time that they get to explore the world and all of the new ideas that will come to them.

Recommended products to get started with forest schools:

The Den Kit Company The Original Den Kit
  • Our kits have been designed to encourage children outdoors and foster a lifelong connection with nature - which is great for their physical and mental health.
  • Our kits contain everything you need to build a den outdoors - with minimal instructions - inspiring immersive, exciting, imaginative play.
  • Our kits are full of real, robust tools and materials - so can be used time and time again - packing away into a handy satchel.
  • Our kits don’t need batteries, have minimal packaging and don’t contain single use plastic. Components are sourced, where possible, from the UK.
  • By choosing to buy our products you’re helping a small, UK-based company grow and helping to spread the joy of outdoor adventure.

Is there a set forest school curriculum?

Many parents and schools often wonder if forest schools need to follow a type of curriculum. The short answer is no, there is no set curriculum for forest schools. Practitioners integrate the sessions to follow the set early year’s curriculum when used in a school setting, there is no set forest schools curriculum for them to follow. Often, when someone new to the forest school concept starts looking into forest schools, they believe that forest schools are just another type of formal school; and though there are schools that have forest schools in them and companies that run purely as a forest school, it’s just a quirky name.

A forest school isn’t really a school, more a way of learning. An ethos to follow and understand so that forest school leaders may direct children in a natural place. Learn more about forest schools and the benefits of forest schools.

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The six principles of the forest school ethos

These six principles were all agreed upon back in 2011 by the UK forest school community. They are guiding principles to help leaders apply good practice when using the forest school programmes that they develop. All of these principles and their full points are listed on the forest schools association website.

Forest School, Forest School Benefits School Scavenger Hunt

Principle 1: Forest schools are a long-term process of regular sessions that take place in a natural environment, such as woodland. They are not supposed to be run as one-off visits. It is integral that a forest school leader plans, adapts, and reviews the elements of their forest school activities.

Principle 2: Forest schools take place in a natural wooded environment, where possible, to support the development of the relationship between attending children and nature.

Principle 3: Forest schools aim to promote the holistic development of all those who are involved; encouraging and promoting resilience, confidence, creativity, and independence (among many other skills).

Principle 4: Forest schools offer children the opportunity to take supported risks that are related to their environment and to themselves. Risk management is a necessary part of learning outdoors.

Principle 5: Forest schools should only be run by qualified forest school practitioners/leaders who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice. There are qualifications available from level one to level four for those interested in running a forest school programme.

Principle 6: Forest schools use a range of processes that are catered to the children attending the programme. This enables forest school leaders to create a community for the development of their children.

Being qualified to run a forest school

Courses in forest school learning will help potential leaders understand how to create their own programme of activities. There are a number of OFQUAL (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) recognised awarding bodies that leaders and trainers work through, and the forest school association lists several on their website for those interested in training.

Forest School, What is Forest School Pond Dipping

Typically, most courses run from level one to level three, and those are the only levels needed to officially be qualified as a forest school leader/practitioner. However, some other schools also offer level four, though this qualification is not necessary.

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6 benefits of forest schools

Forest School, Forest School Benefits

Forest schools allow for numerous benefits for children who are still learning and growing each and every day. For a moment, think about your child and the last time they went outside. What did they play with? What did they do? When children play by themselves in the garden of their home, they can become creative and even a little mischievous; and these are good things! But there are ways to make being outside more than just fun. Being outside can be educational. It can be enthralling and awe-inspiring.

1. Building independence

Forest school leaders aren’t there to watch over your child every minute or constantly direct them. They aren’t lecturers, and their job is a bit different from most teachers. A forest school leader is there to oversee the children they’re looking after and help them build on their independence by pushing them towards solutions that they figure out by themselves.

Forest School, Forest School Benefits School Independence

From building dens and tents of sticks to learning how to navigate with a compass and read a map, children who attend forest school workshops pick up skills that are fun but vital. On a level, some of the skills may seem survivalist, but they’re actually helping children become more creative and building their independence by allowing them time to come up with their own solutions.

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2. Understanding empathy

Empathy plays a huge part in the world. Children are extremely empathetic; they feel things deeply, and they feel often. A child is more likely to cry when they’re sad and smile when they’re happy than try to keep any of their feelings locked away. Forest schools encourage children to feel their emotions and to understand how they feel when they observe something.

Forest School, Forest School Benefits School Independence (1)
Children learn to appreciate every aspect of nature no matter how small.

Forest school workshops ensure that children work in groups and understand the values and necessities of teamwork. Natural settings help people bond more easily; taking away the competition of the classroom and introducing the concept of caring for each other and the world around them.

3. Physical activity

Possibly one of the most obvious benefits is how much physical activity and exercise children do during forest schools. They run, they climb, they leap over logs. It’s more than a P.E. class, it’s fun and fitness in a way that children don’t often get to experience.

4. Better mental health

It may seem strange to talk about mental health in children, but the matter of fact is: Children are more susceptible to stress and negative emotions. Today’s children are under much more pressure than in past years. They have more homework, more exams, and everything is much more difficult than it was ten years ago.

Forest School, Forest School Benefits Mental Health

There are a huge number of studies that link being outside in nature with better mental health. Not only better mental health, but better physical health, too! Exercise factors in, and so does natural sunlight.

5. Safety

Despite being in the “wild”, all forest school adventures are fully controlled and safe. Forest school leaders encourage children to assess risks and to seek out help if they feel they need it. Unpredictable situations will always exist, but they have adult help to understand how best to deal with that situation and come up with a solution.

Safety Forest Schools

Eventually, they won’t need assistance. The solutions will come as naturally as teamwork, planning, and creativity. Children learn through understanding their mistakes and how to fix them. The abilities they gain during forest school activities will be invaluable.

6. Promoting communication

Last on our list of benefits is communication. Not only do forest school activities promote teamwork, but they also promote communication. Without communication, tasks can easily fail or not be properly completed. No child gets left out of their team because all of them know they need to work together to complete the activity they’ve been set to do.

Forest School, Forest School Benefits Communication

Children become enthusiastic about playtime and being outdoors. Forest schools are no different. A new environment is always exciting! They’ll listen because they’re unsure at first, but they’ll learn because they’re interested and they find it fun.

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All in all, forest schools have many benefits. These are just some of the basic ones we could think of, but there’s a lot more information and relevant research out there.

6 forest school activities

Forest school activities don’t have to stay in a school setting. You can summon fairies with magic wands, shelter from the rain in your own den, and invite guests to your bug hotel from as far as your back garden. We have chosen 6 really easy forest school activities that you’re going to love.

Put down the t.v remote, get the kids off their tablets and phones, then grab your coat because we have picked 6 forest school activities you won’t want to miss out on. This is a great post to read for forest school leaders or for those looking to implement the teachings of forest schools into their children’s lives. Here, we’ve listed several easy forest school activities, some of which you can complete at home or in small natural areas!

1. Building a bug hotel is one of our favourite forest school activities

Forest School, Forest School Activities Bug Hotel

For the bug hotel, children should be encouraged to build a small structure using planks of wood, sticks, and leaves etc. The idea is to create an insect-friendly place with amenities that would interest our crawly friends. Children may want to add cardboard tubes, shredded paper, and maybe even small food sources such as fresh leaves!

It’s a small and creative activity, which requires no expense and very little preparation.

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Why not get a ready-made bug hotel for your garden? Become friends with bugs and interact with nature with this educational bug hotel. Hang it on a tree, shed, or fence and watch the bugs take up residence.

2. Build natural towers

Forest School, Forest School Activities Natural Towers

Encourage children to make a tower out of natural materials like stones, pebbles, logs, and sticks. They’ll need to work together to create a structure that stands without any assistance, which will likely include a solid base or foundation. If the groups manage to make a tower, their next task could be to see if they can make changes to the tower without it all collapsing.

The natural towers activity is great for teamwork, communication, fine motor skills, concentration, and hand-eye coordination. It has no cost and very little set up because it’s more fun to let the children find the materials themselves!

3. Create magic wands

Forest School, Forest School Activities Magic Wand

For this activity, forest school leaders will need to take the age of the children attending into account. For younger children, you can use vegetable peelers to stave off the risk of anyone hurting themselves. Older children who have learned outdoor risk management and have the experience may be trusted with small knives.

A magic wand requires a decent stick and a lot of patience. Children should use the peeler or knife (under supervision!) to whittle sticks and take off all the bark. Once this is done, they can use pens or paints to decorate them.

Wand making promotes creativity, hand-eye coordination, and helps advance the ideas of risk assessment in young children.

4. Make flower crowns

Forest School, Forest School Activities Flower Crown

Allow the children to go on an adventure and collect flowers, leave and foliage. If you have enough set-up time, you could make a list of the kinds of flowers in the area and make it into a kind of treasure hunt. Once they have enough flowers, teach them the basics of making a flower crown. There are two main ways to do this with natural materials: the standard daisy chain, or by knotting together long grass to create a wreath that flowers can be tied onto with more grass.

Flower crowns promote creativity, teamwork, concentration, and fine motor skills.

5. Building a shelter/den

Forest School, Forest School Activities Den Building

When setting up the shelter/den building exercise, remember to choose an area that has a lot of long sticks on the ground and large leaves. You may need to provide some string or some other basic supplies, but ultimately, the children should be able to build a shelter using mostly natural materials. Encourage them to use trees to help with the structure of their shelter or show them a couple of pre-built examples of your own so they can study them and learn from you.

Building shelters like this are great for introducing survival skills, as well as promoting creativity, communication, and teamwork.

Recommended Product:

This den kit comes in a handy rucksack. The Orginal Den Kit includes all the materials to build a den outside in a woodland setting or garden.

The Den Kit Company The Original Den Kit
  • Our kits have been designed to encourage children outdoors and foster a lifelong connection with nature - which is great for their physical and mental health.
  • Our kits contain everything you need to build a den outdoors - with minimal instructions - inspiring immersive, exciting, imaginative play.
  • Our kits are full of real, robust tools and materials - so can be used time and time again - packing away into a handy satchel.
  • Our kits don’t need batteries, have minimal packaging and don’t contain single use plastic. Components are sourced, where possible, from the UK.
  • By choosing to buy our products you’re helping a small, UK-based company grow and helping to spread the joy of outdoor adventure.

6. Go foraging

Forest School, Forest School Activities Foraging

Give your children a guide or list of things in the area they can find. This activity is essentially a natural scavenger hunt where they can find useful materials in the forest and learn to identify them. Good examples of foraging are seeds, berries, and flowers. However, do warn your school not to eat anything before they’ve checked them with you. It’s best to give them a guide or two to the things they’re looking for, so they don’t accidentally pick up a nettle or a poisonous berry.

Foraging teaches great skills, such as teamwork, communication, and knowledge of nature.

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We would love you to try some of our forest school activities we have picked out! If you do please tag us on Facebook and Instagram in your photo’s, we would love to see you and your little ones having fun outdoors. Why not try to develop your own ideas as well!

1 thought on “Forest School | What is it? Benefits and Activities Involved in Forest School Learning”

  1. Good Afternoon,

    We are looking at opening a forest school could we please have some advice or guidance. thank you


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