Early Years and Primary at Forest School

Those working in these sectors will find Forest School an excellent vehicle for delivering many National Curriculum targets as well as the Outdoor Learning recommended at the Foundation Phase.

  • There is recognition of the importance of learning outdoors where children can play while they learn about their world, themselves and each other. Children can use the woodlands for more practical and play based learning, as on page 17 of the document, begin to gain an understanding of sustainability and conservation, and be used as a learning environment for all 7 areas of learning proposed for the Foundation Stage, as well as develop socialisation, self esteem, independence, physical and emotional well being – life skills.
  • Current experience of Forest School with nursery children is showing increased self-confidence in the children. It is showing changed attitudes in staff who see challenging children in a new and positive light when outdoors.
  • Forest School helps parents and children develop skills and self-confidence as they work, learn and play together outdoors. It is particularly effective with kinaesthetic learners who feel constrained by the classroom: parents and children alike. Helping children prepare for learning is a key theme running through both the newly developed Foundation Stage and the Forest School approach.
  • It is a central tenet of Forest School that children are actively involved in evaluation. It is very important that they have a sense of ownership for ‘their’ site, are engaged in its management and conservation, are involved in reviewing each session and planning the next one, and can feel that ‘if they want to, they can.’
  • Forest School provides unique opportunities to combine the benefits of play, being outdoors in a forgiving environment, and the presence of skilled, trained Forest School Leaders who know how to follow and enhance children’s play experiences.
  • Experience of Forest School has demonstrated that when children are actively involved with their learning they are motivated to share their experience with each other and their teachers. The drive to communicate overcomes limited vocabulary and unclear speech and the success of sharing brings the confidence to try again.
  • Woodlands provide a rich, stimulating and often local environment. Children need space and freedom to explore their own ideas. This is particularly important for children living in limited environments.
  • Experience of learning in woodlands has found that skills and behaviour learnt outdoors have successfully transferred to more formal settings as long as learning remains purposeful and rewarding.

Estyn Inspectors have commended Forest School, saying of Pentre Primary School in 2006:

“an Outstanding feature of curriculum provision is the Forest School Project. Cross-curricular in presentation it contributes greatly to the spiritual, moral and social development of pupils as well as their awareness of environmental issues”

And of Dyffryn Primary School in 2004 :
“(the Forest School project provides) very good learning and social development experiences out of the classroom in a natural environment”.

FSW supports FS Practitioners by offering CPD such as the highly successful Woodcraft Skills Training Project which has generated resources tailored specifically to those working with younger children, including a continuum of tool use, and plans for an easy-to-make portable sawhorse. During 2010, FSW will be developing the role of its regional reps, to include advice and co-ordination on sourcing and supply of raw materials for school grounds.

During a 14 week FS programme with primary children from Ysgol Pentre in North East Wales, the following benefits were found: increased self-esteem and self confidence, improved social and physical motor skills, improved motivation and concentration, contributions to the development of language and social skills, contributions to children’s knowledge and understanding of the environment.

Pentre Forest School, March – July 2006 – An Evaluation of a Forest School Project
Ffion Hughes, Forestry Commission

A full report is available from Ffion Hughes. The executive summary is available in the education section at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-77chtn

“Drawing on interviews with three Forest School workers and data posted on the Bridgewater College Forest School website, this article outlines and then evaluates the key aims, approach and ethos of Forest School, focusing specifically on its relevance to young children (aged three to five years).

It is suggested that … Forest School fits well both with traditional views of ‘good’ early childhood education and more recent curriculum frameworks in England and Wales, whilst also addressing current cultural concerns about children’s increasingly sedentary and managed lifestyles.”

Forest School in Great Britain: an initial exploration
Prof Trisha Maynard, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 2007