The U.K. Forest School Movement: What it is and How to Use it

forest school

Imagine your child spending their school days doing mathematics in a sunny forest, reading literature under the shade of trees, and learning language lessons while sitting on benches they crafted themselves. Idyllic and almost too romantic to be true? In the U.K., the Forest School movement is making this a reality.

According to The Forest School Association, a Forest School is focused on creating an inspirational learning atmosphere for the child, to support holistic growth and foster play, exploration, and risk-taking. By taking children literally into the woods with hands-on experience, the school develops self-esteem, confidence, and a meaningful connection to their world and their own place within it.

Forest School Guiding Principles

There are several guiding principles for the Forest School philosophy. The philosophy includes:

  1. Consistent long-term visits to a wooded natural environment to encourage a relationship with the natural world: monitoring ecological impact and using natural resources.
  2. Fostering holistic development and resilient, confident, and creative learners. Children are encouraged to take supported risks with a high adult/child ratio by qualified adults.
  3. Play and choice are emphasized and integral, and all pedagogy is individualized and mindfully created. If you wish more reasons why being outside as much as possible is extremely beneficial for a child, check out our recent article on a Michigan mom, Ginny Yurich, and her famous 1,000 Hours Outside challenge.

forest school

How to use Forest Schooling at Home

How can parents include some of the benefits of Forest School in their own home life?

  1. Prioritize consistent, lengthy outdoor time. Create a routine: perhaps when everyone gets back from school, take the afternoon snack outside. Maybe every weekend, visit a park or nature trail for several hours. After dinner, go for a walk or play a game outside.
  2. Create access to a variety of natural resources in your backyard. Sticks to play or build with, sand and dirt to dig and create, a rock pit to collect and organize, plants to water, bugs to observe, birds to feed can all become learning tools. You don’t need a forest to get the benefits of Forest School. You just need to create access to several natural resources (and ideally have a few trees!).
  3. Demonstrate ways to play with natural resources to your child. Build stick structures or tiny cabins, make bricks out of mud, make a castle and moat with sand, collect and identify rocks, learn how to identify safe plants (like dandelions) for teas or salads, search for animal tracks, give crumbs to ants, offer them the responsibility to fill bird feeders, follow honeybees as they collect pollen, set up a water table, etc. It’s not bad to have outside plastic or wood toys. But it’s important to model playing and creating with natural resources as well.
  4. If you don’t have a yard, go to local parks and exemplify playing and creating with what’s there!
  5. Prioritize opportunities for your child to have free, unstructured play outside.
  6. Practice observation and mindfulness: learn your child’s interests and create activities outside that cater to them. Does your child love Legos? Introduce structures you can build with sticks and mud. Does your child love art? Make paint out of fruit or veggies and paint your fence or collect and paint rocks.

During COVID-19 especially, it’s never been more important to spend time outside. Besides the vast positive benefits for your child, it’s also one of the few places that are stress-free and safe. Enjoy bringing some of the Forest School into your own home!