Although Forest School is as old as the woods and children have been learning in woodland for centuries, across continents, to motivate, learn, engage and inspire, it has had a more recent resurgence as it’s values have been recognised and needed in a time of greater segregation between the outer and inner.
Re-discovered at the end of the 1990’s, the Forest School developed six principles, which were agreed by the UK Forest School community in 2011. These and the history are described on the Forest School Association’s web site.
Principles and criteria for good practice
Principle 1: Forest School is a long-term process of frequent and regular sessions in a woodland or natural environment, rather than a one-off visit. Planning, adaptation, observations and reviewing are integral elements of Forest School.
• Forest School takes place regularly, ideally at least every other week, with the same group of learners, over an extended period of time, if practicable encompassing the seasons.
• A Forest School programme has a structure which is based on the observations and collaborative work between learners and practitioners. This structure should clearly demonstrate progression of learning.
• The initial sessions of any programme establish physical and behavioural boundaries as well as making initial observations on which to base future programme development.
Principle 2: Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural wooded environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
• Whilst woodland is the ideal environment for Forest School, many other sites, some with only a few trees, are able to support good Forest School practice.
• The woodland is ideally suited to match the needs of the programme and the learners, providing them with the space and environment in which to explore and discover.
• A Forest School programme constantly monitors its ecological impact and works within a sustainable site management plan agreed between the landowner/ manager, the forest school practitioner and the learners.
• Forest School aims to foster a relationship with nature through regular personal experiences in order to develop long-term, environmentally sustainable attitudes and practices in staff, learners and the wider community.
• Forest School uses natural resources for inspiration, to enable ideas and to encourage intrinsic motivation.
Principle 3: Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners
• Where appropriate, the Forest School leader will aim to link experiences at Forest School to home, work and /or school education
• Forest School programmes aim to develop, where appropriate, the physical, social, cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of the learner.
Principle 4: Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.
• Forest School opportunities are designed to build on an individual’s innate motivation, positive attitudes and/or interests.
• Forest School uses tools and fires only where deemed appropriate to the learners, and dependent on completion of a baseline risk assessment.
• Any Forest School experience follows a Risk–Benefit process managed jointly by the practitioner and learner that is tailored to the developmental stage of the learner.
5. Forest School is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.
• Forest School is led by qualified Forest School practitioners, who are required to hold a minimum of an accredited Level 3 Forest School qualification. Find more information on Forest School qualifications here.
• There is a high ratio of practitioner/adults to learners.
• Practitioners and adults regularly helping at Forest School are subject to relevant checks into their suitability to have prolonged contact with children, young people and vulnerable people.
• Practitioners need to hold an up-to-date first aid qualification, which includes paediatric (if appropriate) and outdoor elements.
• Forest School is backed by relevant working documents, which contain all the policies and procedures required for running Forest School and which establish the roles and responsibilities of staff and volunteers.
• The Forest School leader is a reflective practitioner and sees themselves, therefore, as a learner too.
6. Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for development and learning
• A learner-centred pedagogical approach is employed by Forest School that is responsive to the needs and interests of learners.
• The Practitioner models the pedagogy, which they promote during their programmes through careful planning, appropriate dialogue and relationship building.
• Play and choice are an integral part of the Forest School learning process, and play is recognised as vital to learning and development at Forest School.
• Forest School provides a stimulus for all learning preferences and dispositions.
• Reflective practice is a feature of each session to ensure learners and practitioners can understand their achievements, develop emotional intelligence and plan for the future.
• Practitioner observation is an important element of Forest School pedagogy. Observations feed into ‘scaffolding’ and tailoring experiences to learning and development at Forest School.