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What are forest schools like?

You would certainly see a huge range of activities across just two or three different forest schools. You would almost certainly see children working in groups, on their own and with varying amounts of adult support and intervention.  You may see magnificent woodland or a small patch of trees.  The activities, the venue, may have things in common but it is underneath this where you will find the true commonalities.  It is the way we ‘do’ forest school that is of most importance and it is in this that you will find every Forest school has common threads.


You will find that:


  • Everyone is valued and his or her uniqueness is recognised and celebrated.
  • Regardless of age or other factors the participants will be trusted to explore and discover without interference or the assumption that they need adult ‘help’.
  • There will be an appropriate level of challenge and risk for the group.  Adults will facilitate risk taking by assessing risk themselves and aiding the children in developing their own ability to assess risks and to take them.  
  • The approach is learner centred.  This can take time to establish and develop but even in a fledgling forest school, the lead practitioner (and other facilitators) will be watching and establishing what the children want to do next and experiences which may be beneficial for individuals and the whole group. This will inform what happens in their next session.  This observation may lead to the introduction of games which help to develop certain skills (patience, perseverance) or skills like knots to help children who are creating and expressed a need or desire to learn how to join objects.
  • There will be regular reviews of what has happened, what the group wants to do next.  The adults will respond carefully to the needs of the children, giving support when it is asked for, they will be flexible and follow the children’s lead.  Where there are more adult directed activities e.g. introduce new material, skill or tool use the adults will watch carefully for indicators that the children are ready for the adult to step back. 
  • All of the adults will work towards providing a community where there is time for individuals to explore and investigate at their own pace, in their own way, building trust and enabling success. 
  • The adults will interact with the children in a positive way, even when there are problems.  Adults will model ways to solve problems, help children to mediate and facilitate discussions that lead to a consensus rather than simply imposing a rule or ‘telling off’ a child.
  • It will be outdoors, whatever the weather.  Playing outdoors provides a huge range of opportunities for children and for young children movement is very directly related to learning.
  •  Play and the freedom to move and discover will be an integral part of any forest school.