St John's C of E Primary School, Caterham

St Johns Caterham

St John's C of E Primary School, Caterham images

Forest School Approach

Forest School is a unique educational experience and process that offers children the opportunity to succeed and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland environment.

Children engage in motivating and achievable tasks and activities throughout the year and in almost all weathers, with the appropriate footwear and clothing. Children will work with tools, play, learn and begin to understand the boundaries of behaviour, both physical and social. They will grow in confidence, self- esteem and motivation whilst developing an understanding of the natural world.

The Forest School concept originates in Denmark, originally aimed at pre-school children, where it was found that children who had attended forest school then arrived at school with strong social and communication skills, having the ability to work in groups effectively, generally had high self-esteem and a confidence in their own abilities. These foundations helped them to raise their academic achievements.

A Forest School encourages children to:

  • develop personal and social skills
  • work through practical problems and challenges
  • use tools to create, build or manage
  • discover how they learn best
  • pursue knowledge that interests them
  • learn how to manage failures
  • build confidence in decision making and evaluating risk
  • develop practical skills
  • understand the benefits of a balanced and healthy lifestyle
  • explore connections between humans, wildlife and the earth
  • regularly experience achievement and success
  • reflect on learning and experiences
  • develop their language and communication skills
  • improve physical motor skills
  • become more motivated
  • improve their concentration skills
  • improve their communication
  • and explore the world through all the senses available to them

What Happens At Forest School

Typically, small groups of individuals (depending on child/adult ratio) take part in Forest School sessions which involve practical hands-on activities aimed to build up participants’ skills, abilities and confidence week by week.

Forest School strongly encourages participant–led learning, so as the weeks progress, learners are given opportunities and responsibility to explore their interests and therefore initiate and direct their own learning. The process of transition from adult directed activities to children leading and controlling their own learning is developed over 4 stages:

Acclimatisation and Discovery

Learners become familiar with the site, the leader and the various routines. Safety is a key theme and learners discover that they are safe at Forest School physically, mentally and emotionally. Relationships and trust are built between the group and adults. Learners’ confidence grows as they become familiar with systems. Much of the time in this stage is adult directed or modelled.

Scaffolding and Modelling

With repetitive contact with the natural world learners start observing changes and begin questioning and investigating. The practitioner harnesses these questions and interests into a meaningful learning experience through selective introduction of skills, knowledge, ideas and resources. The time in this stage is a balance between child led and adult directed. The adults need to observe the children’s interests and existing levels of development and then scaffold learning for individuals by directing certain skills and knowledge.

Consolidation and Independence

Learners are confident enough to undertake their own projects and are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to undertake these projects independently. Children trust adults enough to ask for support if required, but the time is predominately child-led.


The holistic skills, understanding and experiences developed through a Forest School experience are transferable to the rest of a learner’s life. Improved confidence, self-esteem, problem solving, social, emotional skills and independence are particularly relevant lifelong skills. Forest School also transfers to the wider community. Once children enjoy playing in natural places this enthusiasm spreads to their family increasing visits to wild places and encouraging them to use gardens more frequently and widely. The wider community and local landowners also may become involved in Forest School.

Content of Forest School Programmes

Every Forest School is unique and depends on the learners, site, practitioner and length of programme. Forest School sessions usually will have a routine which can be split into the following categories:

Meet and Greet – Practitioner greets group and assesses needs.

Health and Safety – Practitioner shares any specific hazards from daily risk assessment with group. At the beginning of a programme certain procedures may need to be practiced through games e.g. behaviour around fire area.

Idea ‘seeds’ – Practitioner gives an introduction to the session using a story, song, game, activity, special item, puppets, characters etc., to ‘seed’ ideas in the children. The specific ‘seed’ would be selected based on observations from previous sessions.

Free Choice – Children choose which activities they would like to engage in, adults may model certain ideas and skills to support learning.

Circle time – Time at the end of a session to reflect and share.

Closing – A song, action, story, activity that takes place to signify the end of the session.

Within a Forest School:

  • Learners have a choice in what activities they undertake.
  • Practitioners observe learners carefully in order to plan for next steps.
  • Practitioners introduce relevant skills, knowledge and resources based on what the learners are interested in and need to develop.
  • Practitioners set up learners to achieve by breaking tasks into small achievable chunks.
  • Practitioners focus on process rather than product.
  • Tasks are open – no right or wrong way of doing things

The types of outdoor activities learners undertake within a Forest School may include the following, and countless more. Activities selected will depend on the learner’s age, stage of development and interests:

  • Field Studies Activities – minibeast hunts, pond dipping, tree identification, bird watching, life cycle games
  • Sensory Activities – games to do with colour, smell, sound, touch, blindfold games
  • Bushcraft – shelter building, knot use, fire lighting and cooking, cordage making, wild foods, whittling
  • Woodland crafts – willow crafts, natural jewellery, weaving, natural dyes, traditional crafts
  • Teambuilding and trust games – blindfold games, circle games, problem solving activities, team games
  • Wildlife conservation – tree planting, nest box construction, coppicing, fence/path building
  • Imaginative activities – story telling, drama, role play, songs
  • Physical play – tree climbing, balancing, log dragging, digging
  • Construction – shelter building, rafts, rope swings, tree houses, pulleys

The Benefits of Forest School

Forest School is suited to all ages and abilities. The aim of Forest School is to develop the person as a whole. It is particularly suited to people who have a low sense of self-worth and who struggle for various reasons to learn in a traditional classroom setting.

Completing small achievable tasks, coupled with genuine praise from Leaders, helps to boost confidence and self-esteem.

For children at school, attitudes to learning are improved as they find that learning can be fun and enjoyable. This new positive outlook is then transferred to the classroom where they are found to be more motivated and able to concentrate better.

Forest School can also:

  • Develop physical abilities and help participants to stay active and healthy.
  • Heighten self-awareness and improve emotional and social skills.
  • Encourage intellectual development and curiosity
  • Promote co-operative and group working.
  • Encourage participants to take care of themselves and others.
  • Foster care, appreciation and respect for wildlife and wild places.
  • Broaden knowledge and understanding of the natural world.
  • Develop an awareness of risk
  • Support mental health by being outdoors in green spaces

Ecological Impact

Whilst using the Forest School site, any harm is minimised to local plant species and wildlife. During the Forest School sessions, the children shall be encouraged to be more responsible for the protection of plants and wildlife.  Work is also undertaken to improve the site by adding bug hotels and hedgehog houses to encourage further wildlife and the planting of new trees. The Countryside Code as well as The Forest School Rules is followed. 

Full principles and criteria for good practice

The Forest School ethos has six principles, which were agreed by the UK Forest School community in 2011. The six guiding principles of Forest School are given below. Criteria for good practice relating to each are listed directly underneath

Forest School is a long term, repetitive learning process that uses a natural outdoor space

It is a specific ethos of learning that focuses on processes rather than products and allows learners time and space to develop at their own rate. Learners develop a strong sense of space through repeated contact with the natural world (ideally woodland, but not always) throughout the year and in all weathers.

Forest School empowers children and young people to take responsibility for their own learning and development.

The ethos encourages child-led learning and learning through play. Choice increases enjoyment, participation and motivation. Children are set up to achieve and supported to take appropriate risks through developing trust in themselves and in others.

Forest School promotes holistic, individualised learning and development.

It is for all ages and abilities and its ethos is fully inclusive. It is most effective in smaller than class size groups (12-16 mainstream children, fewer for those with specific needs) with a high adult to child ratio. The natural environment provides stimulus for all senses, all areas of development and all learning styles; visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

Forest School encourages emotional growth, self-esteem, confidence and independence.

It gives learners the time and space to be themselves, find peace and communicate with others in a safe and caring environment. Emotional literacy is actively practiced by adults and children within a Forest School.

Forest School is facilitated by qualified Level 3 Forest School Practitioners. Receiving a nationally recognised level 3 qualification in Forest School is essential for practitioners to link theory to practice and create the Forest School ethos. Training ensures practitioners provide safe, skilled and appropriate learning experiences. Practitioners build a trusting relationship and make careful observations of the group to then provide well planned, individualised support for each learner.

Forest School instils a deep respect and awareness for the natural world and reconnects participants to their environment.

The repetitive ethos builds a deep, instinctual connection to the natural space and reconnects all to their ancient heritage. Being in nature allows learners to observe real life, witness cause and effect and consider our roles and responsibilities towards it.