Challenging Behaviour at Forest School

As Forest School Practitioners, we understand ‘challenging behaviour’ to be something someone does, NOT something someone is or has. This means under the right conditions we can help them develop different coping strategies. Creating these conditions, and helping to develop these strategies, are intrinsic elements of all Forest School programs.

Forest School Practitioners also work from a person-centred perspective, which explores how we can help participants to work with their feelings and improve their emotional intelligence.

  • Practitioners model positive behaviour
  • Agree mutual behaviour guide lines with the group
  • Create a positive camp atmosphere
  • Reward positive behaviour
  • Create opportunities for participants to talk about issues/ feelings
  • Involve participants in a range of engaging activities/ opportunities
  • Ensure ‘small achievable tasks’ which do not set people up to fail, but still challenge them
  • Practitioners separate the behaviour from the person
  • Practitioners and participants are all aware of the mutually developed behavioural guide lines
  • Practitioners challenge inappropriate behaviour in an appropriate way
  • Sanction systems are clear and open
  • ‘Coping strategies’ are developed with participants

FSW supports FS practitioners working with challenging behaviour by offering practical outdoor CPD training to enable them to maximise the resources of woodlands to promote positive behaviour at Forest School.

Case Study: Short Term Behaviour Support Unit, Denbighshire, 2005 – 2007

For 2 years, all pupils attending 10 week programmes at the Behaviour Support Unit also participated in Forest School one day a week, provided by Denbighshire FS. The private, secluded and nurturing environment of Warren Wood was so far removed from the class room that immediately these children begin to relax and come into their own. DFS staff worked very closely with staff from the Unit to provide differentiated activities for each pupil. All except a couple of the 50 or so pupils were keen to attend Forest School. Levels of aggression and violent outbursts were consistently lower in the woods than the classroom.

“Forest School has proved its worth and continues to be a tremendous asset to our curriculum. It is a challenging and positive experience for a group of youngsters who are failing in the classroom setting. It would be a tremendous loss to the service if this initiative was to fold and not be taken on board by the authority.”

“They have to overcome their instinctive negative reactions and they soon realise that to get result there is a necessity to interrelate, share problems and accept advice. The tasks required of them pose real life problems and produce a keen sense of achievement and feeling of worth.”

“It is felt by all involved that if at all possible the youngsters should be able to continue to access Forest School and build on skills learnt and continue to grow in confidence in an area where they know they can achieve.”

Louise Martindale, Teacher in Charge, Jan 2006

Case Study: Anti Social Behaviour Unit, SNPT, 2005

The potential impact of Forest Schools in changing the lives of participants was keenly observed in an evaluation of Swansea Neath Port Talbot Forest School’s sessions with young people in contact with an anti social behaviour unit:

“Of 15 FS students 87% have either had a reduction in referrals or totally vanished from Anti- Social Behaviour Unit database since becoming involved in FS programme… many students have developed practical and social skills which have enabled them to re-engage in mainstream education… 31% were keen to return to the programme and take on a peer education role in the future… in a number of cases young people’s attendance at school improved.”