Forest School is a child-led philosophy where childrens’ interests and observations lead the experiences. Activities offered engage children in motivating and achievable tasks which challenge both physical skills and intellectual development. Self-exploration of the natural environment leads to new discoveries, extensions to their physical limits and unique connections with the flora and fauna that they explore and learn about. Working with tools gives confidence in their abilities and a sense of achievement and responsibility. Their growth in self- esteem, social skills, language development and motivation are clearly evident, all whilst developing an understanding and appreciation of the natural world.
Forest School helps children to grow in confidence because of the freedom, time, and space they are given in their learning. This allows them to demonstrate independence at each individual child’s rate. Research has shown that Forest School stimulates through hands-on engagement with the natural environment which benefits children in the following ways:
- Develop physical abilities and help participants to stay active and healthy.
- Heighten self-awareness and improve emotional and social skills.
- Promote cooperative and group working.
- Provides the practitioner with an alternative view of the child and further insights into a child's particular development.
- Encourage participants to take care of themselves and others.
- Foster care, appreciation and respect for wildlife and wild places.
- Broaden knowledge and understanding of the natural world.
- Provides opportunities for the children to take risks, problem solve and use thinking skills.
- Build confidence and wellbeing, improving mental health
- Forest School complements learning in the classroom and creates a symbiotic approach with the belief that academic subjects are dependent on one another, and knowledge must be cross-disciplinary to be lasting and resonant for our youth.
Children are taught to take risks with the support of a qualified adult. For example, children will have opportunities to balance on logs, climb up slippery slopes, use tools and learn to make a fire. Forest school leaders help children assess risks and benefits so their decisions are always carefully informed. We ask them to always consider ‘am I keeping myself and my friends safe?’. Risk taking builds resilience and self-esteem and the outdoors provide children with opportunities to experience real risk, take responsibility and develop an understanding of safety measures required in the real world. “It is argued that taking risks can have positive implications in terms of children’s developmental, social and emotional needs, as well as their overall health. By providing the opportunities for children to manage their own risks in a controlled environment, they will learn vital life skills needed for adulthood, and gain the experience needed to face the unpredictable nature of the world.” (Gill, 2007)
Nature provides an excellent avenue for mindfulness and reflection. When we think of our best memories of childhood, many of us think of a time when we were outdoors and given the space to be curious. Being emersed in the natural world promotes a sense of calm, makes us pause to reflect on observations and allows us to consider our connection and sense of belonging to the wider world. Children explore, play and make discoveries within their environment developing physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. These experiences increase their confidence and self-esteem which in turn gives them a sense of wellbeing.