There's been quite a bit of buzz around Forest School in the past decade, but don't let that put you off. Once you get into the woods and start to explore and play, all of the trends and yuppie notions are stripped away, and it's really rather down to earth. Essentially, Forest School aims to enable children and young people to achieve personal, social and emotional life skills through play and learning within a group of their peers in a natural environment.
Forest school as a concept stems from Scandinavia, where it has been widely used since the 1950's. It really took off here in the UK in 1993 when a pioneering College in Bridgewater visited Denmark and radically changed their teaching practise on return to the UK to reflect all they had experienced. Since then it has grown quickly as a movement across the UK, with forest schools, training centers and a Forest Schools Association being setup, Today there are thousands of Forest School Practitioners working around the UK in a whole variety of settings.
The UK Forest School model which exists today combines the Scandinavian model and builds on this with the experience now gleaned from practitioners in the UK in understanding the neurological benefits of play and learning in the outdoors. As the model develops, our research and understanding is catching up. As research develops year on year we gain a better understanding of how and why an interaction with the outdoor environment benefits children and young people. It is generally understood here in the UK that engaging with nature is 'good for you', but there is now a whole wealth of evidence being gathered to understand the complexities of this, and how we can make use of it. This report from the Forestry Commission summarizes some of the benefits.
You may have heard of children 'doing' Forest School as a class at school, or as an after school or summer club. Some nurseries and preschools run forest school every day of the year and are as such 'Forest Schools'. It can be run in almost any weather, with the right considerations made. It is beneficial for any age group and can be done in a variety of settings from the local copse in the suburbs of a town to the deep dark ancient woodlands of a wilderness. It can run for anything from 6 weeks to over a year.
Here at the Wild City Collective, we like to blend a mix of 'Forest Schools' with 'Outdoor Play' and whole load of other things, based on the evidence around child development.
If you are looking for a straight cut purist approach to Forest Schools, that's not our deal.
We like to be open to children using the space to play and explore freely. But we also recognise that play materials such as rice, Pikler triangles, pots and pans and art materials are key to their development, not available to all, and easy for us to provide and we actively use them in our space.
We hope to inspire children to connect with nature, be curious and creative and develop holistically through their play and we don't mind if that means a non purist approach.
Day to day, our Forest School 'activities' on offer might include;
Such as painting with spices and flowers or fruits, hapa zome or mud printing,
Such as teaching about the lifecycle of a frog at spawning season or
Learning about the importance of Elder flowers and usefulness of its bark in May,
Such as cooking pitta pizzas together over the fire such or
Apple pressing apples together on our own press to understand origins of apple juice
To encourage imaginative creative thinking and a love of stories which is foundational
for child development and a key indicator of future outcomes for children.
Swings, hammocks, ropes for climbing up muddy mounds, wheelbarrows
pallets for stacking and balancing on, cardboard boxes and planks
Threading onto string to make a bird feeder, mud pie making, palm drills,
potato peelers, bow saws, pencils, paint brushing and gardening tools
Understanding the importance of caring for our natural environment, the cycles
and rhythms in our natural world. Digging, planting, seed sowing and harvesting
We offer activities in a open ended, free flow space to allow children to think creatively and plan their play independently. As their play time is child led, they will be drawn to the area they are most curious to explore and will learn better than if we had structured that play for them.
Often as children get more comfortable and confident in the space they no longer engage with formal props, and their play will change as they mature and develop.