Ayrshire Forest Schools
What is Forest School and the ethos behind it?
of Forest School is based on a fundamental respect for children and young
people and for their capacity
to instigate, test and maintain curiosity in the world around them. It believes in children's right to play; the right to access
the outdoors (and in particular a woodland environment); the right to access risk and the vibrant reality of the natural world;
and the right to experience a healthy range of emotions, through all the challenges of social interaction, to build a resilience
that will enable continued and creative engagement with their peers and their potential.
Forest School is based more on the process of learning than it is on the content - more on the 'how' than the 'what'. This means
that genuine Forest School practice steps boldly out of the shadow and limitation of 'planned activities' and ventures
collaboratively into the realms of the unplanned, unexpected and ultimately unlimited. Children and young people are given
encouragement to direct their own learning - this often requires catalysing on the part of the Forest School leader either
through stimulating play in the outdoors or through 'scaffolding' a child's learning, but mostly through simply observing how
children are in the outdoors.
Significantly, and on many levels, a woodland environment is central in supporting this very dynamic approach to learning:
the passage of time, from the changing of the seasons, to the contemplation of an ancient tree; the dynamic nature of an
outdoor environment - an infinite source of smells, textures, sounds and tastes; a range of visual stimuli from near to far,
high to low, very big to very small; and the infinite layers of historical, cultural, spiritual and mythological significance
that speak of our deep relationship with trees and woodland through the ages.
Forest school is
about careful observation and supporting the child or individual to achieve.
It is to guide individuals towards
success and facilitate this by the careful observation and gentle guidance. In some cases, with more pressing learning needs,
this observation can happen on an intensive 1 to 1 basis. It is not about getting a task completed, it is about the process of the
activity and all the mental and physical development that the journey entails, in a safe, respectful manner.
The Origins of Forest School
British Forest Schools
have been developed and adapted from the original concept implemented in Sweden
in the 1950s
and developed throughout other Scandinavian and European Countries. The Forest Schools concept established in Denmark
for pre-school children (under seven years) in the 1980s stemmed from their småbørnspædagogik or Early Years Education
and, in the mid 1990s was visited by nursery nurses from Somerset and independently by representatives from other early
years professionals from the UK.
Denmark has a similar
climate to ours in the UK and it is becoming increasingly recognised that
this outdoor approach to
play and learning can have a huge impact on the normal development of children.
A 13 month long study
carried out in Sweden on children from similar backgrounds found that children
school kindergartens in the countryside environment are far happier than children in kindergartens located in the urban
environment. The study concluded that children in the forest school are more balanced with greater socially capability,
they have fewer days off sick; are more able to concentrate and have better co-ordination than the city kindergarten children.
The result showed
the children attending the forest school to be markedly better at concentrating
than the city Kindergarten
children. It appeared that the principle reason was due to the greater range of opportunities present for play in nature,
children played for longer at a time, with less annoyance or interruption of each other compared to the children in the city
kindergarten. The study observed that when children in the city kindergarten were interrupted, they became irritable,
their stress levels rose significantly, and their ability to concentrate fell. When they could not concentrate there was a
clear tendency to selfish and inconsiderate behaviour and aggression. The forest school children were much more considerate
towards each other.
The study also showed
that the forest school children had 25% fewer sick days than the city children.
One reason for this is
that the air is nearly always better outside than indoors because outside a child is less likely to be exposed to virus and
bacteria and not so likely to be infected by other children. Another reason may be that, since stress has been shown to have
a negative effect on the immune system, high stress levels may be having a weakening effect on the ability for the city children
to resist infection.
The forest school
children, on the other hand are in a pleasant, natural, fun and less stressful
As a consequence of this, children attending Forest School kindergartens were arriving at school with stronger social skills,
greater ability to work in groups, and generally children had high self-esteem and confidence in their own capabilities.
All these attributes proved to be an effective foundation that raised academic achievements. Since its introduction Forest
Schools has developed opportunities in an outdoor setting for children and adults of all ages to develop a variety of life
skills: altruism, independence, self awareness and social communication skills, all of which assist individuals to grow in
self-esteem and confidence.
Participants gain confidence in their own ability. Kinaesthetic learners [learning by doing] are particularly suited to learning
in this woodland outdoor environment
(Information referenced from an external website:www.WaterproofWorld.co.uk)
Background to Forest School in the UK
is not a cheap course to attend, neither is it an easy course to complete.
The level 3 training costs in the region
of £1000m per place and is easily a full years commitment to complete all the assessments, portfolio and other work.
It is the
equivalent to an 'A' level and as such, this shows the difference between
Forest School and other environmental awards
such as John Muir & Duke of Edinburgh. Forest School is much much more in terms of commitment, work & outcomes.
History of Forest Schools in Ayrshire
sessions have been run before in Ayrshire, several years ago but unfortunately
was a one off, not done
through the FEI cluster and not sustainable. There have been some individuals that have taken part in the training,
some have successfully completed, others haven't and it is fair to say that Ayrshire has been quite slow in terms of
Forest School development.
Recent training and Forest School development
development planning probably started about 4 years ago. Discussions within
the Ayrshire FEI group
led to the forming of a Forest School sub group, in which we agreed to pursue funding to run Forest School training
within Ayrshire for the first time. We had to establish the interest in the development from both existing and potential
new members to try and ensure that we ran the courses that people wanted to take part in and that, wherever possible,
the places would be filled by people living and / or working in Ayrshire.
importance was that any future development was to involve people from East,
North & South Ayrshire, together
with Arran and it would be sustainable, with more and more people getting involved in the training for the future, ideally
to include parents, teachers, group leaders and others.
the development and training far and wide, with regular updates in our FEI
newsletters, together with
repeated emails concerning training opportunities and places available. These were sent to as many people in Ayrshire &
Arran as we could possibly think of including individuals, conservation groups, ranger services and work contacts.
Word of mouth was also very useful and we had many enquiries from further afield.
FEI cluster members quickly committed to the training at level 3 and we were
very pleased with the level of
initial interest shown by local schools towards level 1. With this, we had the confidence to go ahead and arrange the courses.
It is also
important to recognise that Forest School also brings important skills and
a way of working that will keep the child
safe, when increasing use of tools is involved. No tools are introduced until careful observation has been carried out, over a
period. Forest school is not a case of providing a task and handing out tools to complete the task, confidence, observation,
self esteem, capability levels, behavioural awareness, evaluation & discussion will dictate what is appropriate to introduce &
raises important questions about insurance and health and safety. Site, daily
& dynamic risk assessments are of paramount
importance. Forest school training prepares the individual to look at activities and tasks in a different way to allow sessions to
be learner led. It is as important for the development of the leader as well as the individual.
Curriculum for excellence, targets, outcomes & values
Government has recognised the importance of Forest School in child development.
The NHS has also recognised
this importance with local support of the development of Forest Schools too.
environmental education and awards such as John Muir & Duke of Edinburgh
are extremely valuable, none
come close to the complexity of Forest School. They are there to be complimentary to Forest School.
involves close observation of behavioural patterns of individuals, it is not
about simply giving a group a task to
It is about careful evaluation of behaviour, interaction and mental and physical needs. Mental and physical wellbeing are of
high importance within Forest School, which is why most sessions run for at least 6 weeks to give the opportunity to observe, note
and evaluate personality changes.
It is about
teamworking, problem solving, creativity, mental stimulation, respect and
much more but not for a one off session with
is a way of working with people, using the outdoors, to develop self confidence,
resilience and social/soft skills.
The process is considered to be more important than the outcome and the experiences are often learner led.
They should be flexible and subject to change and adapt as and when required.
are extremely important. Forest School develops a way of working that gives
opportunities for these mental, physical
social and curriculum outcomes to be met in a way that traditional environmental education rarely does.
Forest School is long term and learner led, Environmental Education is generally short term and task led.
Even a half
day Forest School session can involve 2 - 3 days per week in the planning,
risk assessments, discussion, evaluation &
group, session & individual reports. Once the group session is complete, there is still much work to be done for the leader.
** A comprehensive
handbook has to be produced for each seperate Forest School, in great detail
with great importance upon
site, risk assessments, potential activities & health & safety, it also involves management plans for the site, environmental impact
assessments, species guides, emergency procedures and governing policies**.
FINAL REPORT March
2006 Forest School Evaluation p.14
Table 1-2: A summary of the key Forest School outcomes
Forest School summaries
Quote and summaries from recent participants will appear here.
have learnt a great deal since starting our forest school sessions with p6.
I feel as though the children teach me new things about myself each session and I am delivering in a
different way now. It makes you really aware of the fact that simplicity can have a greater, more
successful result and its nothing to do with lecturing but it's all to do with encouraging, mentoring
then seeing a child's confidence soar through their own achievement.
We are there to guide....oh and of course to have fun."
Forest School Level 3 participant
have found that Forest School has altered my way of thinking about education
entirely. I was sceptical
when I first learned of Forest School but when I started really looking into the mental and physical
development and the learner led structure it became clear how different and valuable it was to mainstream
environmental education. You definitely learn to look at every aspect differently both before, during &
after a session and this quickly becomes second nature in other aspects of education work"
Forest School Level 3 participant
Further information and contacts
Penny Martin, Forest School co-ordinator Scotland: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Brady, Forest School trainer: email@example.com
Bonnie Maggio, Forest Education Initiative Scotland co-ordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in a Forest School?
numerous experienced members who are fully qualified level 3 Forest School
throughout Ayrshire and Arran due to the network that we have created. This means that it is likely
that wherever you are based, there will be a suitable site and qualified leader available.
of course costs applicable to Forest School, it is not just a general education
a learning process. We will give advice or help if required to find funding to meet these costs if
Contact us for further information for Forest Schools within Ayrshire