Forest Schools is fundamentally one of the most important educational developments in the world today. It is changing the way people think about education and about our connection to nature.
There are 5 major elements to our Forest Schools, all of which trainees are introduced to, experience, reflect and understand during the training process;
- Outcomes: Transformational learning is an approach which recognises the holistic nature of learning and the ability to have positive influence on an individuals outlook on a fundamental and lifelong level. Depending on the age of those on the programme, it might particularly benefit to develop the ability to empathise, creating communities, experimentation, self awareness and control. We aim for this development to be self sustaining by sharing with others within the learner`s life that can give support, but also within the learner themselves, by creating opportunities to positively influence their self worth. Not only have natural spaces demonstrated themselves to be the most stimulating of educational resources, but they also allow for a meaningful relationship with nature, based on personal experiences.
- Holistic Development
- Transformational Learning
- Nature connection
- Long Term Process : This comprises of either a long term programme, or continuous inclusion in your setting/group, using the core ethos of Forest Schools to develop a genuine community. This long term nature allows learners to become familiar with a new, innovative way of approaching learning, developing projects and ideas of a period of time, as well as the benefits from having those experiences becoming well rehearsed, intrinsic abilities, which in turn is then carried back into other aspects of their lives.
- Programme planning
- Community cohesion
- Hierarchy of needs
- Learn Led Experiences : Using a variety of approaches, the Practitioner works towards supporting as much freedom as the learners are comfortable and capable of, both in terms of adapting any leader-led content to reflect that particular group`s needs and preferences, as well as encouraging them towards independence in the learning from and exploration of that space and their peers.
- Reflective practice
- Educational theory foundation
- Natural Environment : Being able to develop a personal connection with nature will mean a more meaningful and response relationship to it. Not only can it be used in incredibly educational applications, but it can also foster a respect to care for nature and be mindful of sustainability in a much deeper way. Woodland, Forests, Wildspaces, all have unique and varied potential in terms of opportunities for learning. This could be through exploration and experimentation with the materials found there, equally the benefits of working alongside others and negotiating problems and recognising how to make ideas come to fruition.
- Environmental Management
- Flora/Fauna ID
- Plant uses
- Run by Qualified Practitioners : Trained and assessed in the ethos, methodology and skills of Forest Schools, qualified Practitioners are able to create communities and enable transformational learning experiences. They are also key in developing the culture of their Forest Schools, in co-creating with the learners any routines, roles and responsibilities, passions and interests as well as helping interpret and demonstrate new freedoms capable in that space. They continuously develop their own practice and consider themselves and learner equally.
- Leadership Styles
- Personal Experience
- Skills : Inspirational experiences such as mud play, den building, fire lighting, woodcraft, campfire cooking and environmental art are just some of the opportunities available during a Forest Schools programme. These experiences are used as a “context for learning”, they are opportunities to learn about yourself, others and the world around you. They will also provide learners to explore aspects of learning which will support their approach to learning elsewhere and enable them to develop skills in approaching problems, be it personal or technical, that are lifelong skills.
- Tool use and Fire Lighting
- Benefit Risk Process
- Safety and Shelter
The final and most important quality of our Forest Schools provision, is that fact that it comes from a deep sense of wanting to genuinely influence the lives of those with them at the Forest Schools in their enjoyment of life and perhaps create experiences which will encourage them for the rest of their life, be that from an educational points of view, nature connection, personal or social persepctive.
This is why head teachers, teachers, teaching assistants, outdoor instructors, community leaders, parents, additional needs support staff any many others come to Forest Schools, they recognise that it is an opportunity to explore and become confident in how to use spaces with astounding opportunities for development, for a genuine desire to enable personal growth.
[learn_more caption=”A History of Forest Schools”]
A History of Forest Schools
A practical history of Forest Schools can begin with the original concept of Forest School in Sweden which was implemented here in the 1950’s and it has since extended throughout the world. In the 1980’s the Forest Schools concept was established in Denmark for pre-school children. This stemmed from Early Years Education, småbørnspædagogik and in the 1990’s was visited by nurses from Somerset and independently by those from other early years professionals around the UK.
It is becoming increasingly recognised that this ‘outdoor’ approach to learning and play can have a great effect on the natural development of children.
A study done in Sweden over a 13 month period found that children located in urban environments were much less happy than those attending forest school kindergarten in a countryside environment. It appeared the main reason was due to the larger range of choices present for play in nature, children played for longer amounts of time, with less annoyance of each other compared to the children of the city kindergarten. The study observed children in the city becoming irritable when they were interrupted, their stress levels rose significantly and their ability to concentrate fell. When they could not pay attention there was a clear tendency to be selfish and inconsiderate and show aggression. The forest school children seemed much more respectful to each other.
The study also showed that the forest school children had 25% fewer sick days than the city children. Outside air is almost always better than indoors, therefore a child is less likely to be exposed to a virus and bacteria and not as likely to be infected by other children. It has been shown that stress has a negative effect on the immune system, high levels of stress may be having a weakening effect on the ability for the city children to resist infection.
The children who had the forest school opportunity were in a pleasant, fun, natural and relaxing environment. These children were arriving at school with stronger social skills, high capacity to work in groups and seemed to have high self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities.
These attributes have proved over time to be an effective foundation to raise academic achievements. Since the introduction of Forest Schools, it has developed opportunities in outdoor settings for children and adults of all ages to develop a range of life skills: independence, self awareness, altruism and social communication skills, all of which assist individuals to grow in confidence and self-esteem. Participants gain confidence in their own ability. Kinesthetic learners are particularly suited to learning in this woodland outdoor environment.
Denmark has a similar climate to ours in the UK and it is becoming increasingly recognised that this ‘outdoor’ approach to play and learning can have a huge impact on the normal development of children.
A 13 month long study carried out in Sweden on children from similar backgrounds found that children attending forest school kindergartens in the countryside environment are far happier than children in kindergartens located in the urban environment. The study concluded that children in the forest school are more balanced with greater socially capability, they have fewer days off sick; are more able to concentrate and have better co-ordination than the city kindergarten children.
The result showed the children attending the forest school to be markedly better at concentrating than the city Kindergarten children. It appeared that the principle reason was due to the greater range of opportunities present for play in nature, children played for longer at a time, with less annoyance or interruption of each other compared to the children in the city kindergarten. The study observed that when children in the city kindergarten were interrupted, they became irritable, their stress levels rose significantly, and their ability to concentrate fell. When they could not concentrate there was a clear tendency to selfish and inconsiderate behaviour and aggression. The forest school children were much more considerate towards each other.
The study also showed that the forest school children had 25% fewer sick days than the city children. One reason for this is that the air is nearly always better outside than indoors because outside a child is less likely to be exposed to virus and bacteria and not so likely to be infected by other children. Another reason may be that, since stress has been shown to have a negative effect on the immune system, high stress levels may be having a weakening effect on the ability for the city children to resist infection.
The forest school children, on the other hand are in a pleasant, natural, fun and less stressful environment. As a consequence of this, children attending Forest School kindergartens were arriving at school with stronger social skills, greater ability to work in groups, and generally children had high self-esteem and confidence in their own capabilities.
All these attributes proved to be an effective foundation that raised academic achievements. Since its introduction Forest Schools has developed opportunities in an outdoor setting for children and adults of all ages to develop a variety of life skills: altruism, independence, self awareness and social communication skills, all of which assist individuals to grow in self-esteem and confidence.
Participants gain confidence in their own ability. Kinaesthetic learners [learning by doing] are particularly suited to learning in this woodland outdoor environment
(Information referenced from an external website:www.WaterproofWorld.co.uk)
[learn_more caption=”Recent Developments”]
In the last five years there have been many developments in the world of Forest Schools. In the region there has been an increase in the interest of the principles and approaches that Forest Schools espouses with the number of those going through training and onto the delivery of programmes in settings has also increased. There is now a great deal of interest in the nursery education sector and in the primary schools as well. In secondary schools there is a greater emphasis on children and young people who are struggling in the more ‘normal’ confines of a classroom experience and these children are benefiting from the sustained and strategic approach of Forest Schools.
Devon County council have been working with Joe Pearson to work with those who exhibit emotional and behavioural issues and this project is being sustained for the next year at least. Those with Special Educational Needs such as ADD, ADHD, Autism and Asperger’s syndrome are experiencing Forest Schools programmes in a range of settings and this is having a very positive impact on behaviour, learning and therefore the ability to build stronger relationships with those in authority, where this may cause stress and anti social behaviour in a more mainstream environment.
More and more research is being published that links behaviour, learning and wellbeing to the outdoors and how it has very positive impacts (some references can be found at www.getchildrenoutdoors.org)
The Forest Education initiative has supported Forest Schools for over 10 years in England Wales and Scotland and through the support of local cluster groups many practitioners have been given the opportunity to train and to receive funding that will allow the purchase of equipment and resources. Land owners are coming on board and there are many private and public owners that wholeheartedly support the Forest Schools initiative.
In the April 2012 the English FEI, now been renamed the FEN or Forest Schools Network, though these are remaining the same in Scotland and in Wales. The Learning outside the Classroom LOTC programme is funding for two years the FEN to support the new rebrand and Fiona Groves has been appointed to run this on their behalf. Fiona was instrumental in the setting up of the FSQIFF and organisations like Archimedes, Forest Schools Birmingham and Shropshire Forest Schools were all involved in the pilots of the project. The Quiff has been presented at many clusters by Susannah Podmore who trained practitioners and setting in its implementation and the development and deeper establishment of the quality assurance programme. Susannah is now working as a Forest Schools Practitioner and is on the committee of the FSTN
This research was carried out in Birmingham in 2006 looking at Forest Schools in Birmingham.
Many schools and nurseries are becoming more au fait with the concepts of Forest Schools and as such there is an increased demand in local authorities and providers to provide training on a regional level. Archimedes has been working diligently in order to support the trainers who are able to go through a Level 4 training programme and a mentoring process that enables them to become established associates and can use the very specific training model developed by Archimedes over the last ten years of successful and robust training programmes.
As a result of the increase in training provision there has been a distinct fall in quality in some districts. More and more colleges and practitioners are deciding to provide their own training programmes as these can be accessed more readily, though the potential participants need to be thorough in their investigation of these providers in order to ensure that they have a proven track record and are members of the Forest Schools Trainers Network, are professional in their delivery, the trainers are experienced Forest Schools Practitioners, have a good base of knowledge and experience in all the subject areas provided by the training.
The Special Interest group was set up by in association with the Institute of Outdoor Learning and the main aims was to establish a National Governing body or an association that could support practitioners and can also maintain training standards across the board. See the institute of Outdoor Learning on the Forest Schools site and here there is information on the new Business Plan developed by Erica Wellings and also the New Forest Schools Principles to help guide practitioners and maintain the unique educational approach that Forest Schools is known for.
A huge development was the launch of the Forest Schools Association on the 7th July 2012 at Elveston Castle in Derbyshire. The event saw over a hundred practitioners and organisiation vote for the board of trustees and also to participate in a variety of workshops, with Archimedes Training running a few. Sarah Blackwell, CEO of Archimedes was voted onto the executive board
It is a crucial time for the development of Forest schools and there has been a dedicated team of professionals who have been working with LANTRA, the sector skills council over the last 4 or 5 months in order to proceed and establish Forest School Practitioners as an industry in its own right with its own set of National Occupational Standards. All trainers will use these in order to establish good working practices and these will inform the future progress of Forest School in England. Employers will be able to ascertain the industry standards and know what they can expect from their employees and practitioners.
At present Scotland and Wales, though involved are remaining outside of the scheme and this is maybe just to see what happens over the next 12 months and also to gauge whether participation will hinder the local developments or whether it will appear to be supportive of the specialist needs of these two environments and different educational practices.
In line with the development of the NOS there is also a steering group that has looked at qualifications and how these can be put up onto the Qualifications framework. This is a long process and the NGB will in effect have a responsibility to maintain the standards set out and that all providers of the new qualifications are delivering to a unified standard of practice.
There is a disbanding of the Open College Network at present also and this means that some providers will in effect be offering their courses from different Awarding bodies such as Open Awards into the North West and others in the East Midlands and also in the south of the country. Open College Network qualifications are not recognised in Scotland and as such some providers in Scotland will continue to run OCN courses and some will move over to Open Awards. Sarah Blackwell is in the process of working with another Awarding Body (ITC) and Silver Fox training ltd to establish an Awarding body that will mean that it can maintain the integrity of the courses it delivers. It can also gatekeep the methodology and certify those who go through the Arc body and qualifications framework system with confidence that the courses are of the highest standards. Those participants will also be receiving the highest quality training and the information presented will always be up to date, both in terms of the theoretical underpinning but also in terms of Health and Safety and the assessment of risks and Benefits Analysis processes.
In the Yorkshire region there is a move towards the use of the outdoor spaces for learning and Forest Schools and its long term intervention processes are making immense headway into supporting children’s learning in a diverse society that is impinging to certain extent on the rights of children to play and experience the outdoor environment freely. Many more universities are providing electives and insights into Forest Schools and there is a great range of research that is being developed around this unique educational experience.