Nurturing learning and play through forest schools

Nurturing learning and play through forest schools
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The forest school philosophy of helping learners to develop socially and emotionally as well as physically and intellectually is closely aligned with the values held by Hand Made Places.
Exploration and discovery in a natural environment brings an equality to learning, with everyone coming together to enjoy a range of rewarding experiences.
As well as supporting learning through play, the holistic approach of forest school also focuses on the development of essential life skills.

What is forest school?

Forest school is a series of regular outdoor sessions, consisting of a range of hands-on activities.
From dressing appropriately for the weather, to building a shelter, or sitting around a campfire with a comforting hot drink, each aspect of forest school is designed to support both the physical and emotional wellbeing of participants.
Forest school is a child-led approach to personal development which encourages free exploration, helping to connect young people with nature through small achievable tasks.
Popular activities include nature or scavenger hunts, foraging, outdoor cooking, den building, art sessions such as weaving or painting and woodworking.

Who runs forest school sessions?

Forest school can take place in the course of the school day or can be provided as part of before or after school activities.
Some forest schools take the form of weekend clubs or school holiday camps.
Forest schools are led by trained practitioners. This can be teachers who have undergone CPD programmes and courses, education or environmental professionals. Leaders and assistants can also be supported by forest school volunteers.
A wide range of forest school training courses are available through a number of UK awarding bodies. Schools, clubs and organisations can become recognised forest school providers through accreditation from the Forest School Association.
While forest school follows a particular ethos, some early years centres, nurseries or schools may choose to set up their own outdoor learning projects before investing in training and developing it into a forest school practice. 

Where can a forest school be set up?

Forest school activities take place in safe outdoor environments.
This could be within school grounds, a park or community green space.
A forest school does not have to take place in a forest or woodland as such, although many do. A natural environment with only a few trees can still support forest school principles.
A study of forest schools in Wales discovered that the most successful projects took time to prepare and establish a site where all forest school sessions could be delivered.
This helps children to become familiar with the site, so they are able to notice any natural changes that take place through the seasons.
Forest schools should also be sited in areas with safe and reliable transport links, which are easily accessible.
Settings should also be framed by safety routines and established boundaries which still provide the flexibility and freedom needed for child-initiated learning. 

What are the benefits of forest school?

Forest schools focus on each individual learner, providing opportunities for growth and skills development.
These opportunities are in the form of direct, hands-on experiences driven by the learner’s specific needs.
As with other forms of outdoor learning, there are a number of benefits associated with forest school activities.
Rather than being focused on the acquisition of knowledge, forest schools aim to give children the time and space to build their confidence and independence.
Social skills and communication skills have been shown to improve in a forest skills environment, as participants enjoy sensory tasks, learn to share tools and work together as a team.
Physical skills as well as motivation and stamina are enhanced and there is a positive effect on the way children relate to each other and the world around them.
Forest schools support risk taking in a managed way, building on a learner’s positive attitude and interests.

What equipment is needed for forest school?

Forest school aims to build resilient, confident, independent and creative learners so the type of resources favoured by practitioners can be quite varied.
They can range from a ball of string to a forest school shelter or canopy, such as the Forest Story House
In the first instance, appropriate footwear, waterproofs and warm clothing is essential as well as a first aid kit and water. Tools and art materials are also popular. 
As forest schools take place over an extended period of time, more permanent pieces of equipment can add value to a site. This may be natural seating such as the Block Seat or Standard Bench, arranged for group activities.
Outdoor musical instruments are a good way to tap into creative skills, encouraging young people to explore sound and rhythm in the freedom of the outdoors.
Holey Poles can support den making while the Minibeast HQ or Mud Kitchen invite children to take a closer look at their surroundings.
The team at Hand Made Places is experienced in designing outdoor areas which embrace the forest school philosophy.
Get in touch with our advisers or fill out our contact form for a call back and chat to us about creating a forest school setting for transformative learning experiences.