When it comes to education, time spent in the outdoors doesn’t have to be limited to recess and extracurricular activities. Forest school brings education outdoors by allowing children to have hands-on learning experiences in a natural setting. Forest school does not refer to a specific place, but instead refers to an education ethos that puts nature at the centre of learning. Despite its name, a forest school can occur in any type of natural environment whether it is in a school park, meadow, or forested area. While traditional schools and daycares occasionally arrange for class outings in nature, a forest school prioritizes outdoor time and includes it in the curriculum on a regular and frequent basis. Many traditional primary schools or daycares feature open-play time and fun activities such as crafts and games. These same elements are included within forest schools but occur outdoors.
In order for a forest school to be classified as such, there is a list of principles designated by the Forest School Community in 2002 that must be followed. These principles include frequent and regular sessions in an outdoor environment, the presence of woodland or a natural wooded environment, the promotion of holistic development for those involved, opportunity for supervised risk taking, the presence of a qualified Forest School practitioner, and the use of learner-centred processes.
Forest School originated in Denmark in the 1950s and was quickly introduced in Sweden as well. In Scandinavian cultures, young children are commonly exposed to nature-based activities in kindergartens and pre-schools, resulting in advanced social skills and confidence when entering school age. The Forest School phenomenon wasn’t introduced to the United Kingdom until the 1990s when a group of English childcare providers from Bridgwater College visited Denmark in order to observe the Danish model of childcare. This visit inspired the creation of the United Kingdom’s first Forest School. Forest School was later introduced to Canada and the United States of America in the early 2000s.
Students enrolled in Forest School are able to develop their social and technical skills through interacting with each other and elements of the natural environment. While nature-based activities and games are provided for students to participate in, a large portion of the activities are student-led. Under supervision, children are encouraged to explore the outdoors and learn from their own experiences and interactions. This instills a sense of confidence in the students that is essential to their development and future attitudes towards nature. Some common Forest School activities include sensory walks, shelter building, nature art, outdoor games such as tag and hide and seek, fire building (under adult supervision), nature exploration, and educational information sharing about components of the environment and the ecological roles of species. Keep an eye out for schools, daycares, or pre-schools that run Forest School sessions, as they have the potential to help with development and engagement for the children in your life. If you are interested in supporting child development through outdoor activities, there are practitioner courses available that you may take in order to gain the credentials required to lead a Forest School.
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