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What is Forest School?

Updated: Jan 25, 2021



In a nutshell


"Forest school is a programme which takes place in a natural environment, typically woodland, to help kids (and adults) build skills such as confidence and resilience through risk-taking types of activities they may not otherwise get the opportunity to do such as using tools and lighting fires"

I was catching up with a friend recently over text, I was telling her I was doing my Forest School leader training and she asked me, what’s a forest school? I wanted to say something quickly and simply to convey what a forest school was in a nutshell. So I said, a forest school is a programme which takes place in a natural environment, typically woodland, to help kids (and adults) build skills such as confidence and resilience through risk-taking types of activities they may not otherwise get the opportunity to do such as using tools and lighting fires, it can be especially beneficial for vulnerable people. She said, wow I love the sound of forest school! And although simply put, I felt satisfied that I had answered her question and summed it up, enough for the context of our quick conversation anyway.


"Not feeling pressured allows us freedom to follow what specifically interests us."

However we can dive much more deeply into this question if we want to, and dive as deep as we want to too! Which is the beauty of the Forest School Ethos. What I am finding with my forest school training is that I am experiencing myself how it feels to be part of a forest school programme. Feeling supported but not pressured. Feeling encouraged to follow aspects of the philosophy that resonate specifically to us as learners. It’s such a refreshing approach, and so beneficial. Not feeling pressured allows us freedom to follow what specifically interests us. And that is exactly what happens with all participants of forest school programmes. Nothing is forced, participation in activities happens if and when participants feel safe to do so, opting in or opting out is always accepted.


When the balance is right that magical things can happen

In our first lesson our tutor said that the Forest School Ethos was based on 6 principles which can be used like ingredients in a recipe. That we can use different amounts of each ingredient based on our own philosophies and our own unique groups. She also told us that when the balance is right that magical things can happen. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about this! After my first day in the forest as part of our course, I could see what she meant.


So let me run through the 6 principles of the Forest School Ethos and how they perfectly interconnect.


The first of the principles states that Forest School is a long term process, as opposed to a one-off visit, and the planning of such a programme should encompass observing, reviewing and adapting. Principle 2 tells us the programme should take place in a woodland environment to “support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world”. This principle relies on Principle 1 as development, synonymous with growth, must take place over a period of time. Principles 3 and 4 focus on the skills learnt and developed by the learners such as resilience, confidence, independence, creativity (Principle 3) and supporting the ability to take risks (Principle 4). Again, developing skills takes time and so Principles 3 and 4 are irrefutably linked to Principles 1 and 2. Principle 5 incorporates the important role of the Forest School Practitioner who too should be seen as a learner. Forest School differs from the traditional idea of teaching in that the practitioner and the participants work inter-connectedly through observing (on the practitioners part) of learner-centred processes taking place in the participants. This links us nicely to the final principle, Principle 6 which states that Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for development and learning.


Thank you for taking the time to read this first blog post from Nature's Little Wonders. I can't wait to share as much of the Forest School magic as I can with you!


Nature's Little Wonders