We’re back at Forest School this Spring and it’s fantastic!! It’s the perfect way to get kids outdoors if you don’t have the time or inclination to do it yourself. And kids need to be outside.
Caroline attended a woodland play session (forest school for pre-schoolers) when she was 3 and has enjoyed forest school ever since, except for the year of her cancer treatment in 2017. She loves being back in the woods with campfire cooking, knives, axes and wild garlic picking. Yes really.
What is Forest School?
If you’ve never heard of it, forest school is the best thing since sliced bread, especially for inner city children who wouldn’t necessarily experience outdoor time other than in the playground. It basically does what it says on the tin with children learning outdoors in woodland, in fresh air and all weathers (except high winds).
At Forest School kids learn curriculum subjects like maths and science as well as experiencing the seasons, nature, the weather, wildlife and developing life skills such as: –
- Fire making
- Flint and steel
- Safe tool use
- Whittling (marshmallow sticks, mallets, arrows etc)
- Charcoal making
- Natural art and crafts
- Outdoor cooking
- Den building
- Mud kitchen play
- Tree climbing
- Plant growing
- Tree planting (and hugging!)
- Vegetable growing and much much more.
The only real limitations are the kids’ imaginations.
Originating in Scandinavia, Forest School came to the UK in 1993 via a group of British nurses researching Danish pre-school methods. It became a UK-wide phenomenon, first crossing my radar around 15 years ago. I was hooked on just the name!
A favourite woodland glade in the New Forest
I was single, in the throes of divorce with no children (& no possibility nor desire for them then) yet something about kids being outdoors whilst learning, whilst at school, really appealed to my love of nature and the wild; even better for it to be in the woods. And I just happened to work on an estate with an awful lot of woods…
The land agent was initially dismissive but later asked for more information so I visited a Worcester County Council Forest School in action and spent a day at an eco-learning centre in Oxfordshire. Within weeks our estate had identified a suitable acre of woodland and the council set up the venture! (It’s now used for corporate training so not included in this post)
Woodland Elves and Safety
Forest school groups differ based on available woodland space and to a certain extent the leader. Some leaders are more prescriptive, others let children choose their own activities, most apply a mix of both. All follow the same ethos, pedagogy and health and safety guidelines.
Do Kids Use Knives in the Woods?
For example, pre-schoolers or first-time older children start learning to whittle with potato peelers and safety gloves before moving on to proper knives with gloves and eventually no gloves before learning to use axes. This may horrify many parents but I can’t impress enough the importance of how GOOD this is for children in a safe environment.
Afraid of Taking Risks
I’ve written about this elsewhere but in all of life one wouldn’t expect an untrained person to be dropped into a hostile environment and become an immediate expert.
If we wait until children are ‘the right’ age’ before allowing them to use matches or climb trees we somehow believe they will be ‘safer,’ ‘more reliable’ and ‘sensible’. In my experience quite the opposite is true.
Older kids suddenly allowed to run riot with an axe for the first time in their lives can be incredibly over-excited, mindless and downright dangerous!
A 5-year old who’s been whittling with peelers and knives for a couple of years under the correct supervision is likely to be far more mindful, sensible and reliable, hence my absolute passion for allowing kids the freedom to explore dangerous situations and scenarios from as young an age as possible.
There are risks but forest school is a safe environment in which to take them, and wild kids are my favourite kind of kids! My forthcoming post Rites of Passage for Outdoor Kids discusses this further.
Outdoor Learning Benefits
Below are a few facts about why outdoor learning is so beneficial.
– 25% higher oxygen concentration in the air improves brain function – Source Norfolk County Council
– Farm children are 35.5% less likely to develop asthma – Source journal Thorax; European Community Respiratory Health Survey II,
– Every hour a child sits still adds 3 minutes to bedtime!! Source not known
– Trees planted around a school created a 40% increase in air quality – Source ACS Chemistry for Life. ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology
A favourite anecdote I’ve heard involves an inner city boy who had never been among trees before. At his first forest school session he apparently spent many minutes simply hugging a tree trunk!
And we’ve all heard the latest fad for forest bathing – a wonderful practice that all forest school kids could vouch for.
What more encouragement do you need? Get those wild kids booked into a forest school now. Many schools have woodland areas in their grounds whilst some local authorities have central woodland areas for multiple schools to use.
Other forest school practitioners offer sessions for SEND groups, home educators, youth clubs, parties, after-school clubs and even overnight camping. There are also Coastal Schools for those with more beach than woodland!
Find A Forest School Near You
The Forest School Association regulates UK Forest Schools. Find your local provider here.
How to be a Forest School Leader?
Read our Jobs of the Wild article on how to train, then contact the FSA for a course near you. More information in Forest School Leader.
Outdoor Skills Training
As a parent you can learn forest and bushcraft skills to use with your own children.
TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) hold conservation days which are great for learning to use tools etc. Check out their courses here
Nature Net offer various outdoor courses, find their list here
Read about urban campfires in the garden here.
Buy your own outdoor resources at Muddy Faces