Recently more schools throughout the country have taken steps to earn the ‘Forest School’ status as Forest Schools have been increasing in popularity due to their fresh approach to hands on learning. With attitudes towards environmental awareness constantly being highlighted it is certainly a step in the right direction as far as education is concerned to see more of these forest schools popping up throughout the country.
What are Forest Schools?
Forest Schools are schools that offer equal learning experiences for all children in order to help them to develop key life skills such as self-esteem and confidence in public speaking and acting. These are established through hands-on learning activities that occur in a natural forest or woodland environment which also helps to teach children about the local environment while at the same time helping them to build on these key life skills.
What Happens in a Forest School?
As well as providing a stimulating and engaging environment in which the children can learn, a forest school needs to meet a certain criteria of basic needs for all children enrolled in these schools. Warmth and appropriate clothing must be provided for the children as well as a secure learning environment in which the children can feel safe at all times. Children must also be provided with clean water and hot drinks as well as healthy snacks and meals where necessary.
The school site is often explored and in an introductory session is established to agree on both physical and behavioural boundaries during sessions. Children are taught to familiarise themselves with the local area and the route taken to reach that area either on foot or by bus.
A fully constructed site shelter is needed to provide security for children during cold, windy or wet days and the site can include a variety of features depending on what sort of activities and lessons you would like to cover with the children. Forest Schools can range from the bare minimum to a fully constructed shelter with a cosy, covered area complete with fire pit and wooden benches for the pupils to sit around.
In some cases it can be beneficial to get the pupils involved in building a suitable shelter for their lessons. You start to build on teamwork in group exercises and can also educate pupils on how to build an appropriate shelter in a wooded area while at the same time providing useful information about the local plants and wildlife in a realistic and engaging environment.
How can a School apply to become a Forest School?
In order to successfully set up a Forest School, the school must have a Qualified Practitioner which can be achieved by any teacher willing to complete the training process and consolidation as set out by the Forest Schools Website. With the help of a Forest Schools Practitioner you can then start setting up the Forest School.
You will also need an appropriate site in which to run the forest school. Generally on the school’s own grounds is acceptable but if you can work out a deal with a local woodland or forest group this could also be a good idea.
You can also obtain funding for your new Forest School from local authorities and local councils if you are having trouble with creating an acceptable shelter and gathering materials for the Forest School. Applying for funding can be a tedious process but if it provides you with the supplies you need to create an exciting environment for children it will be well worth the effort.
What does the Future Hold for Forest Schools?
As Forest Schools are flexible, providing an exciting new insight into how children and pupils of all abilities grow and learn, Forest Schools may be the way to go within the new few years. We are forever learning more and more about how to properly provide for our youth and it is becoming more apparent that a single learning style is not suited to all children.
Forest Schools provide an opportunity to improve life skills such as teamwork, working in a group and working in a new and sometimes challenging environment. Plus by applying lessons to a new environment and a new set of challenges, children can start to view problems in a different light and could pick things up quicker than in a generic classroom environment.
All in all Forest Schools are a welcome change to everyday classroom lessons, tests, homework assignments and schedules. By incorporating wildlife and an engaging setting into learning and teaching, children could be more motivated and inspired to explore their imaginative, creative and innovative sides, giving children more opportunities to grow as individuals while at the same time gaining important life and educational skills.
As a mother of a young family, Alana Burton is very interested in the wider range of educational options available for different types of schooling and lessons. She writes about her finds and interests for Bloo House, an independent school in Esher, Surrey offering an altogether unique learning environment.