Exploring Forest Schools

As the world becomes more environmentally conscious and parents learn more about the benefits of homeschooling, many families have adopted more mindful and self-paced approaches to their children’s education. This has led to an increased trend in forest schooling. If you are wondering “what are forest schools” then you have come to the right place. 

In this article, we will explore the concept of forest schools in more detail. We will give more information on what activities are encouraged at forest schools, what curricula are available and the benefits of enrolling a child in this type of schooling model. 

What are forest schools?

Wikipedia.com defines forest schools as “an outdoor education delivery model in which students visit natural spaces to learn personal, social and technical skills.” Forest schooling has been defined as an inspirational process that offers children regular opportunities to experiment and explore the world around them through hands-on learning in a natural environment.

Forest schools offer an outdoor education system that is learner-led. It allows children the opportunity to learn and develop through inquisition, exploration, experimentation, problem-solving and self-discovery. The principles of Forest Schools are based on the belief that learning should be more than knowledge-gathering. Learning should help children develop socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually.

A hybrid learning environment

Many parents who are considering alternative approaches to education have concerns about homeschooling and socialisation. Forest schools provide a hybrid learning environment, which means that children enjoy the freedom and flexibility of self-paced learning, combined with facilitated support and the benefits of studying alongside a group of peers. 

Key features of Forest School learning:

  • A natural environment: Forest schooling takes place in a woodland or natural environment. 
  • An alternative schooling solution: Forest schools provide lessons and activities just like a regular school, the key difference is that most of the learning takes place in a natural classroom, with hands-on experiences as opposed to a chalkboard and four walls. 
  • Learner-led self-development: Forest schooling offers children the opportunity to safely explore and manage their risk-taking through learner-led activities.
  • A holistic approach: Forest schooling follows a holistic, learner-centric approach by encouraging children to think about their actions, how things work and how they are connected.
  • Trained forest school facilitators: Forest schools are run by qualified practitioners with a focus on well-being. Facilitators encourage learners to be resilient, independent and creative.

Forest schools are inspired largely by Scandinavian educational practices. The Forest School Association (FSA) was formally established in 2012 and provides a governing body and framework for forest schools to follow. 

Forest Schools aim to inspire a deep and meaningful connection to the world and an understanding of how man fits into it. The encouraging approach helps learners expand on their abilities by solving real-world issues, and building self-belief and resilience, thereby becoming, healthy, resilient, creative and independent learners.

Benefits of a forest school

Advocates of a forest schooling approach to education believe that children:

  • Develop better social skills: Forest schools have a positive effect on children's social relationships including sharing, turn-taking, teamwork, discussing and constructing collective meanings. This leads to fewer conflicts and helps the children to work together, follow rules and negotiate.
  • Improved attention and concentration: In an outdoor environment children are more attentive, have better memory and tend to concentrate on activities for longer periods. Nature's diversity gives the opportunity for various sensory experiences and can stimulate children's desire to investigate and experiment. 
  • Better general health: Being active develops vital muscle tone and increases weight-controlling hormones. Nature and being outdoors also alleviates stress. Children who attend forest schools are reported to have fewer days off school. 
  • Improved language development: Nature provides varied experiences that encourage conversation, questioning and answering. Children who spend their time in nature learn new concepts and thereby learn more complex language and communication skills. 
  • Develop vital life skills: By taking risks, challenges and being in a more ‘free’ environment children learn how to take care of themselves and others. It teaches them how to solve problems and be resilient.
  • Instil a love for learning: Children learn better when they want to learn, when they have an active interest in the subject matter and when the teaching methods are personalised to their unique learning needs.

What curriculum is taught at a forest school? 

Every school is different and may offer a different curriculum based on the country in which they reside. For example, a forest school in the United Kingdom may offer an international British or Cambridge curriculum whereas a forest school in South Africa may offer the CAPS curriculum. When researching forest schooling options in your area, it is advisable to also find out which curriculum is being followed. 

Forest Schooling focuses more on the process of learning rather than the curriculum set. Whilst they usually follow a basic structure and schedule, students are encouraged to steer their own learning journeys and have the freedom to explore, and apply their knowledge and skills in practical scenarios.

Forest School examples

There are many examples of forest schools around the world and the forest schooling model is growing more popular internationally. Freerange Education, a CambriLearn education partner, is a community-run, self-directed learning hub located in White River, South Africa. 

The facility was started to assist working families in the area that homeschool their children. The philosophy of Freerange Education is to create a learning environment that inspires and empowers students to self-direct their education and future. 

Founder, Finnish-born Sanna Atherton, says, “Our group spends a lot of time discussing things, sharing and reflecting. It is all part of creating an intentional culture and forming a coherent learning community. At parents’ evenings, we do the same. We play games to learn about each other and to learn about learning. It is important that the whole family feels a part of this community. We all need each other to learn new skills, cross-pollinate ideas and be there for emotional support.”

Forest schools are a great alternative for families who are seeking a more personalised approach to schooling. Many parents want to homeschool their children but are not physically able to due to time or work restraints. Forest schooling provides children with a safe and secure, forward-thinking alternative to traditional schooling.    

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