Forest School is a holistic learning process which aims to raise self-awareness and self-esteem in participants. Sessions take place regularly in a woodland or any outdoor environment. It is inclusive of all age groups and abilities and can be linked to the National Curriculum and Ealy Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
Forest school is child-initiated.
Forest School Leaders may plan activites around children's interests but it is the children who lead us and show us what they want learn and experience. We learn through playing outside in a woodland or other outdoor environment. The Forest School Leader is the facilitator, offering guidance, and helping children to manage risks, such as tree climbing or using tools. Anything that can be learnt indoors can be adapted for outdoors with a little creativity and imagination. Why use paint when you can use mud paint instead? Why use gym equipment when you can use trees and rope swings. Who needs a home corner when you can build your own den!
What does a typical session look like?
Forest school begins with our welcome, some safety rules and finding out what the children might want to do. While it's still cold (Feb 2017), things tend to be a little more structured to keep everyone moving and warm, so we might go for a walk around the site and do a treasure hunt or play some games to begin. Then the children are free to dip in to the activities they are interested in such as the mud kitchen, den building and mud painting, etc.
Sometimes there may be a theme to the session such as spring, or even dinosaurs, but there is no set objective and activities would come from the children's initatives and ideas. For example, the mud kitchen might become for that session, a place to dig for dinosaur bones or even create them!
There is usually at least one planned "focus activity" which is optional, for example making bird feeders or bushcraft, but it's your child's choice whether they choose to participate. The focus activity may be generated from ideas from the previous session such as a child wanting to learn how to make bows and arrows and therefore the Forest School Leader would help the children manage the risks with using tools to achieve this.
Before the session ends, we stop for a snack and a hot cuppa, perhaps share a story and talk about things we enjoyed and reflect on the session. This gives me, as the Forest School Leader, the opportunity to plan for the following week, using the ideas generated by the children. Then there is time for a little more play before we say our goodbyes.
Forest school is not a play group. You will therefore not find conventional plastic toys and a structured environment.
It is not a badge that schools can collect like Eco-schools or Healthy Schools and it is not something that should be dipped in to and out of every so often. Forest School is not a drop- in with other children that might never see each other again.
Children benefit most from weekly sessions, lasting between 1.5-2 hours minimum; usually in blocks of six weeks, which is why a six week block of sessions is offered.