What is Forest School?

Forest School is an inspirational process that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees. Forest School is a specialized learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland education.

Forest School is based on a fundamental respect for children and young people and their capacity to investigate 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; the right to experience a healthy range of emotions, through all the challenges of social interaction, to build resilience that will enable continued and creative engagement with their peers and their potential.

Forest Schools nurture the seeds of connection that are in every person from birth: connection to self, others, nature and ancestral skills and knowledge. Forest Schools are 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.

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, stimulating yet grounding and calming 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 many layers of historical, cultural, spiritual and mythological significance that speak of our deep relationship with trees, woodland and nature through the ages.

Research suggests that young children learn best from experience, by using their senses actively rather than passively, and it’s via these experiences that the learning remains with us unto adulthood. Providing varied outdoor experiences can help with this development. Free play gives children space and independence and a chance to imagine and learn social skills, while adult-guided activities such as tool use build new skills, vocabulary and the ability to manage risk, creating a positive self-identity and laying foundations to be a successful lifelong learner.

Outdoor educational learning aims to maximize social, emotional and developmental potential by allowing learners to manage risk, have more independence, in guiding their own learning, achieve goals, be active and play and learn through direct experience with nature.  Within this context, Forest School leaders assess each learner’s interest and learning styles and engage with them to facilitate their full learning ability.

Quality Forest School programs utilize compassion-scaffolded programming, where leaders guide and mentor learners towards the continuation of being respectful, mindful, aware and empathetic towards all of nature’s living beings.

Forest School learners are encouraged to see, feel, taste, smell and hear nature. Outside the confines of four walls, without the distractions of electronic devices and excessive supervision, learners can move, explore and discover at their own pace, connecting to the natural world- a place not created by man, that had deep spiritual meaning for our ancestors.


Forest Schools are distinguished by their commitment to 100% outdoor time and complete nature immersion, unstructured flow learning, child inspired emergent curriculum, place-based focus, inquiry-based teaching style and authentic play. Nature immersion is defined as “Unstructured free time in nature resulting in an intimate, deep and personal connection to the natural world.”

This approach draws on, in addition to the Scandinavian outdoor model of friluftsliv (“free open-air life,”) the learning theories and playful child-centered pedagogy of thinkers such as Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori and on the nature-based education activities of Kurt Han and the British Scouting and Woodcraft Folk movements, among other influences. Forest Schools have existed since the 1950’s in Scandinavian and other European countries and have proven to provide many, many benefits to all who participate.

Why is it needed?

Who do you think gets to spend more time outside? Free-range chickens, prisoners or kids?

The answer is free range chickens get to spend the most time outside, followed by prisoners who are mandated to have 2 hours a day of outdoor time. The sad truth is that most kids these days get less than 1 hour outside and the side effects are pretty scary- including ADHD, social anxiety, depression and even suicide in today’s youth, according to Gever Tulley the founder of the Brightworks School and Tinkering School. Not to mention that the lack of outdoor time for kids leads to a substantial decrease in confidence, creativity, problem solving skills, independence and grit- all skills needed to succeed as adults.

So why is it so important to get kids outside?

Nature is both calming + stimulating at the same time:

Many of us experience and recognize the calming effects of nature. Biologist, Edward Olson may have explained it best in his biophilia theory— that humans are innately drawn to connect and commune with nature. Just being in a natural environment makes us feel centered, at ease and at home. Studies also show that being in nature, or even viewing nature scenes, can reduce negative emotions like anger and fear while increasing positive feelings.

Natural environments not only soothe and center, they stimulate. Outdoor classrooms present learners with captivating sights, smells and textures, stimulating all of the senses. Sensory engagement could not be more critical to early learning—the more kids engage their senses, the more they increase their capacity to take in and turn new information into knowledge.

Benefits of Forest School

Forest School is suited to all ages and abilities. The aim of Forest school is to develop the learner holistically and at their own pace. The benefits of this holistic, learner-led approach can be transferred to the classroom where learners are found to be more motivated and able to concentrate more effectively.

Learners are more physically active

During forest school sessions, both boys and girls are significantly more physically active than they are at regular school, and their activity is both more intense and more prolonged. Physical activity from outdoor play can in turn contribute to healthier lifestylesand better motor skills.

They play more imaginatively

Nature is the perfect setting for dramatic play and abounds with open-ended play materials like pine cones, rocks, sticks, logs, sand and leaves that encourage children’s imaginations to run wild. These creative skills are essential for problem-solving and succeeding at school and life later. Also, natural spaces are not gender coded, which encourages boys and girls to play together and helps promote gender equity.

They don’t fidget

At forest school, active children are easily able to burn off excess energy, which can be particularly beneficial to children with ADHD. Researchers have also found that nature has a soothing, restorative effect that makes it easier for children to focus in a natural area or after spending time in one. And the more natural the area, the stronger the effect.

They become better at judging risk

Children who are allowed to take risks in nature, for example by climbing trees, using tools and being near fire, naturally learn how to manage those risks. Risky play is also believed to nurture adventurousness and cultivate resilience and self-reliance, both traits that can help children overcome challenges.

They develop a desire to protect nature

Children who spend time in nature have a better understanding of how it works and become emotionally attached to it. Several researchers have showed that this makes them more likely to want to protect nature later in life.