A Guide to Forest Schools and Their Benefits


  1. What is Forest School?
  2. The emergence of Forest Schools in the UK
  3. The principles of Forest Schools
  4. What do you learn in a Forest School?
  5. What are the benefits of Forest School?
  6. How many Forest Schools are there in the UK?
  7. Do Forest Schools work?

In this Gostudent expert guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Forest Schools, from the concept of this educational model to what your child will learn. If you are sceptical as to whether or not a Forest School is right for your child, read on to discover the benefits.outdoor-learning

What is a Forest School?


There are various forest school definitions, though according to the Forest School Association, “A Forest School is a child-centred inspirational learning process that offers opportunities for holistic growth through regular sessions.” 💪

Matt Harder, the director of the Forest School Association and a primary forest school teacher in the UK, feels that much like the Montessori approach, forest schools are a developmental ethos in education. 


The emergence of Forest Schools in the UK 


The UK has always had a rich outdoor learning heritage. Though in the 70s and 80s the national curriculum was introduced in the UK to form a more goal-centred approach, especially to improve numeracy and literacy in the country. 

This is when Forest Schools gained more momentum as an “alternative” form of learning.  

Though the catalyst for its spread was in 1993, when a group of nursery nurses at Bridgwater College, Somerset, visited Denmark to look at the pre-school system. 

There they experienced the open-air culture of Scandinavia that lent itself to early years of education as well. The Bridgewater nursery nurses were inspired by this “largely outdoor, child-centred/play-based pedagogy” of the Danish. 

So when they returned to England they started their own ‘Forest School’ with children attending the college creche.   

As more practitioners were qualified in this nature-based pedagogy, Forest School sessions started being offered in schools across the UK. 


The Six Principles Of Forest Schools 


Harder emphasises six guiding principles for Forest Schools, that make this approach unique and different from other similar forms like outdoor learning and nature-friendly schools.   

⭐️  A Forest School is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session.

⭐️  Learning in a Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a lifelong relationship between the learner and the natural world.

⭐️  Forest Schools use a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning.

⭐️  Forest Schools aim to promote the holistic development of all involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.

⭐️  Forest Schools offer learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.

⭐️  Forest Schools are run by qualified Forest School practitioners, who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.

🔥  Expert Tips: “Forest schools are learner-led,” says Harder. “They aren’t based on particular activities and are less instructional.” 


What do you learn in a Forest School?


Unlike traditional classroom settings, there is no set Forest School curriculum. 

Forest school sessions are inspired by the students which organically leads them to learn new skills. ✊ 

👉  Overcoming Risks & Problem Solving 

Through free play, forest school practitioners encourage students to engage in activities, where learning comes through overcoming risks and problem-solving. 

Whether that means how to safely use knives for carving, an axe for chopping wood or safely lighting a bonfire. This way students also learn practical skills they can use in everyday life. 👊  

Kids are not only taking physical risks through these activities but also emotional and social risks – embracing the fear of trying new and challenging tasks in front of their peers.  

One such exciting session that Harder recently had was when his students, inspired by an apple tree, decided that in that session they’d make an apple crumble! 

It then became the students’ responsibility to assemble all the ingredients and prepare the pie in a Dutch oven. 

Even though many of them were baking for the first time by themselves! 🥧 

👉  Build Social Skills 

Forest school sessions are done in groups with long hours of peer interaction. 

This is primarily because group activities require cooperation and team effort. This way, students are able to build their social skills and make meaningful friends. Though they are often given the choice to work together or separately too.  

For Harder, what is unique about this Forest School approach is that practitioners only facilitate the exchanges between students through poignant questions. 

Unlike a traditional classroom, the teachers don’t pointedly intervene in conflict management between students. 

🔥 Expert Tip: “Kids are more likely to learn if they come up with the idea of solving a problem themselves.”  

One extremely moving way in which Harder saw this play out was the integration of an Autistic pupil with his peers. 

This year six pupil was initially shunned by his classmates. So during forest school sessions, he preferred to work on his own. He particularly liked using the saw and chose it every time. 

When the other students saw that this was his passion and he was great at it, they approached him to complete their saw-related projects as well. 

This way the entire class valued his skill and he was accepted into his peer group! ❤️ 

👉  Spiritual Connection With Nature 

At forest schools, kids spend long hours in nature cultivating a bond with it. 

Children are able to closely experience the change of seasons and the intimate habitats of plants and animals. This awareness of nature in kids will encourage them to protect it in the future.    

Harder says many of the sessions involve invoking nature’s essence like the “feel of the water” or the “texture of the leaves”, which help students form a spiritual connection with nature. 😌


What are the benefits of Forest Schools?


👉  Holistic Development 

Forest school education allows the “whole” or holistic development of kids.  

This includes:

⭐️  Emotional Development 

Periods of reflection form an integral part of all forest school sessions. 

It is in these moments of silence in nature that kids are able to cultivate their emotional intelligence – by expanding their emotional vocabulary and having a chance to get in touch with their innermost feelings. 

⭐️  Spiritual Development 

Forest school sessions mean spending long hours in nature. 

One of the many wonders of nature is that its beauty and magnificence allow kids to think of themselves as being part of something bigger than everyday life. 

It gives them a deeper sense of belonging to the world. 🤝  

⭐️  Intellectual Development 

Knowledge becomes hands-on as it is provided for problem-solving as forest school sessions progress. This creates a more vigorous need for learning.

⭐️  Physical Development 

Forest school sessions are about physical activity enhancing students’ motor skills and boosting their stamina. 

⭐️  Better Mental Health 

Studies show that being in nature can help reduce stress and anxiety while also boosting happiness and productivity. 

From his own experience, Harder describes how Forest Schools can improve mental health among pupils. 

After six forest school sessions, one of Harder’s young pupils, who was grieving parental bereavement showed considerable improvement in his mental wellbeing.   

🔥 Expert Tip: “Forest Schools can reverse or at least lessen the impact of past traumas and separations,” says Harder. “That’s because they help kids and adults connect with other things that are alive – plants, animals or other people.”    

👉  Supports Diverse Learners 

Similar to the benefits of outdoor learning, forest schools support diverse learners. 

It helps those students who find it difficult to concentrate by sitting in one place and listening to the teacher break free of the traditional classroom. 😀

Forest Schools give these kids the movement and space to learn at their own pace. Moreover, these kids who don’t thrive through didactic teaching can learn in Forest Schools through their own inspirations and experiences. 

In Forest Schools, nature therapy is abundant, which is known to help children with ADHD

👉  Boosts Self-Esteem 

Forest school sessions boost self-esteem in a unique way. Unlike traditional schools, they don’t have goal-specific expectations like grades that measure school success

This means that in Forest Schools when kids are encouraged to climb trees they aren’t told the purpose of it or what height they should climb to succeed! 🌳 

Instead, Forest Schools encourage learning through free play and self-exploration to gain a sense of achievement, without the pressure! 


How many Forest Schools are there in the UK?


According to the Forest School Association, there is no central record of all official forest schools in the UK. 

As hundreds of people start a forest school qualification every year in the country, yet few complete it. 

Though the Association does state that there are 108 qualified forest school practitioners in the UK. 


Does Forest School work?


Yes, forest schools work to give students holistic development so they might thrive in all areas of their life. 

Harder reports that when teachers join him in his forest school sessions they find their students far better behaved, receptive to learning and more active!

Though according to Harder, forest schools are by no means a “replacement” for classroom education. Though he believes most subjects in the national curriculum can be taught outside, parents should see forest schools as enhancing traditional education. ✊  

Just like GoStudent, where our 1:1 tutoring looks to ease the struggles of classroom education so that students might achieve their highest potential! 🚀