Forest School - the past, the present and the future
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
I haven't written for a while but this is a post I have been thinking about for the last few months. As part of my Forest School training, I have been asked to explore the history of Forest School and it's possible future. It evolved into a bit of an outlet for my frustration at the school system which isn't exactly where I thought it would go before I started writing! But there we go...
Forest School - The Past
In the early 90s, a group of nursery practitioner students from Bridgewater College in England travelled to Denmark to observe and learn from the Danish approach to learning in the early years. It is no secret that the Scandinavians embrace the outdoor lifestyle. After all, it was where the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” originated from (I highly recommend this book by the way - There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids). In fact, there is a word in Swedish – “friluftsliv” (please don’t ask me to pronounce this word!) which translates as ‘open-air living’. Infants in Scandinavia are often bundled up and taken outside to have their naps! When my son was 6 months old and I was visiting Scotland from Australia where we lived and where my son was born, I did just that and I believe the fresh air did him the world of good. His naps were longer (hooray!) and he slept much better at night (double hooray!) The Danes also have a unique word, Hygge, pronounced ‘hue-guh’ which is used when describing something as cosy, charming or special. This word is used during the winter months and accompanies cold, dark days or evenings seeking warmth and comfort by a fire or under some blankets playing games or watching movies with friends or family. Aaahhhh I can hear the fire crackling now…
Anyway, I digress! What the nursery practitioners saw was the young Danish nursery children absolutely embracing the great outdoors and the fresh air. The children spent most of their time outside, whatever the weather! These practitioners were so enthused by this, they came back to the UK and set about applying this philosophy in their own nursery. This was essentially the first Forest School in the UK. A couple of years later, the college developed a vocational qualification in Forest School. Over the next 10 years, the Forest School approach grew and spread throughout England and Wales. In 2002 the official definition was developed: “An inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve, develop confidence and self esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a local woodland environment.” (https://forestschoolassociation.org/history-of-forest-school/)
The Forest School approach has now grown so much that programs have been created and run for people of all ages and from many walks of life – babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, primary school children, secondary school children, vulnerable adults, adults with substance mis-use or addiction issues. The list really could go on. In fact, I can’t really think of a group of people that wouldn’t benefit from a Forest School program.
Forest School - The Present
Can you think of a living being who does thrive in confinement? Hang on, isn’t confinement used as a form of punishment in contexts other than school?!