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What is forest school?

 Forest school, is not what the name suggests, it is not a school in a forest.  Rather it is the application of a certain set of principles and way of working with people in an outdoor area.  It is the ethos established by the practitioners and the use of the guiding principles that create a ‘forest school’, not the site.


The key principles are:

  1. Forest School happens regularly over time.
  2. Forest school happens in a different place to usual, in a natural environment.
  3. Forest school is learner led, fun and often play based.
  4. Forest school engages and develops the ‘whole’ learner in a community of trust, support and success.
  5. Forest school learners are able take risks.  
  6. A qualified Forest School practitioner runs Forest school.


A Potted History.

The idea of a forest school approach is not one that originated within the UK and it is relatively new. In 1993, after a group of nursery nurses from Bridgewater college in Somerset visited Denmark to look at their preschool system, we can find the start of the Forest School in the UK.  Frulitsliv (outdoor or open air culture) permeates Scandinavian culture and is pretty much a way of life.  This influenced their early years provision which is largely play based and child centred in its pedagogy. It offers children an opportunity to take risks and to develop a meaningful relationship with nature and respect for their environment.

After seeing the inspiring Danish practice, the college started their own ‘Forest School’ with the children attending the college crèche.  Their observations of the impact on the children had a huge impact.  In 1995 the college developed a BTech to enable practitioners to gain a robust understanding of the ethos behind forest school and a formal qualification.  This built upon the UK’s history of outdoor learning and now forest schools are becoming more common and are popular within a range of settings.