Forest School came to Britain in the mid-1990s following a visit to a Forest Pre-School in Denmark by a group of Early Years professionals from Bridgewater College in Somerset. They were inspired by how the children they observed in the woodland environment seemed to grow in confidence, take responsibility for their own learning and show a greater appreciation for the natural world. They took their ideas back and established the Early Excellence Centre, the UK’s first forest school.
As Forest School has grown and spread throughout the UK, the initial concept of working with very young children has also expanded to include groups of older children.
European studies have found that children who experienced Forest School activities from an early age were happier, healthier and more able to concentrate with better coordination.
A principal reason for children’s concentration levels being better was the greater range of opportunities for play in a natural environment, resulting in them being able to focus for an extended amount of time with less annoyance or interruption from each other. Children became more considerate towards each other and were less stressed.
At Forest School children are encouraged to participate in engaging, motivating and achievable activities. They regularly visit the same local woodland or outdoor area and learn about the natural environment, how to solve problems and how to handle risks. There is a focus on play and allowing time for exploration and child initiated learning whilst also teaching new skills, such as safe tool use.
A Forest School programme aims to develop confidence, self-esteem, independence, empathy, social skills and intrinsic motivation. Through visiting the woods in all weathers and taking part in adventurous activities in a new environment, children learn to be more self-aware and they develop vital skills in assessing risk and self-regulation.