what is forest school?

what is Forest School?

Forest School combines holistic development, child-led learning and the great outdoors resulting in creative, independent and resilient life-long learners. 

At our Forest School, we apply the Forest School principles to the tropical environment and mix in our own passion for environmental education and wellbeing. Holistic development, the wonder of nature and emotional wealth are at the heart of the ethos and our programmes. Through observation, questioning, and reflection we build an understanding of the needs and interests of our participants. We use this information and our knowledge to inspire the experiences we will provide for our time spent in nature.  We encourage active learning, where the learner questions and thinks out loud, develops their own tracks of inquiry and is a direct participant in their experiences. Each Forest School session has constant elements which help to define our time at Forest School, however, a session can evolve and change and be spontaneous depending on the interests of the learners and the conditions of the setting. We judge the success of our programmes by considering participation levels, engagement and enthusiasm, the amount of conversations, the generation of ideas and the development of relationships. 

Through the investment of time, we build a strong community for learning which extends the Forest School experience beyond the time spent at Forest School. By participating in our long-term Forest School programme our learners  build character, resilience and empathy and a greater connection with our world and its future. 

"Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul"

Friedrich Froebel, 1782-1852

What defines Forest School?
 

“Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.”

William Wordsworth "The Tables Turned" 1798

There are six core principles which we apply to our own tropical setting::

FS is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning and preparation, observation, reflection and review, and adaptation links each session.

FS offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.

FS uses a range of learner-centred and learner-led processes to create a community for being, development and learning.

FS takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.

FS promotes the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.

FS is run by qualified practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.

What happens at Forest School?
 

At Forest School the programme develops based on the needs of the participants as opposed to a pre-set curriculum and off-the-shelf lesson plans. Group sizes are kept small and the programme is flexible, often going wth the energy, joy and flow of the session as it happens. Programmes may have an ongoing theme for deeper exploration, however, any theme is set based on the interests of the learners and can evolve throughout. 

 

What we do is largely learner-led and adult supported, depending on the abilities of the participants. We revisit the activities that made our learners shine and view videos and photographs of our best experiences because we place a high value upon learning through reflection. Here is a snapshot of what we do at Forest School:

The Role of the Forest School Leader
 

“Teaching, in my estimation, is a vastly overrated function.... I see the facilitation of learning as the aim of education". 

― Carl Rogers, 'Freedom to Learn', 1969

A Wildlings' Forest School leader has completed endless hours of study, gained significant practical experience, passed a rigorous practical assessment to demonstrate their competency and completed 20 hours of first aid training before being able to plan and lead your Forest School session. 

The role of the Forest School Leader is complex, they:

  • Protect the authenticity of the Forest School ethos, delivering a 'Full Fat' Forest School experience as opposed to an 'Ultra Lite' version (a description helpfully put forward by Mark Sackville-Ford in Critical Issues in Forest Schools (2019). 

  • Help accompanying adults to immerse themselves in the Forest School experience and model the behaviour we are seeking from our younger learners. 

  • Embody the role of a life-long learner, unafraid to fail and learn, try new things which may or may not work,  reflect on experiences and improve for the future, and ultimately find the learning points throughout this continuous journey. 

  • Introduce new experiences to help participants in a Forest School session find the things that interest them and that they love to do, and build on these interests throughout the Forest School experience. 

  • Observe all of the learners and reflect on each session, consult with parents and build a picture of each learner's needs. These are then taken into consideration when session planning, and each session evolves week by week in response to these ever changing needs. 

  • Offer each learner compassion, understanding, and friendship, acting to fill the hearts of each child through kindness, positive messages, instilling a growth-mindset, supporting them to build confidence and challenge them to develop resilience, emotional intelligence and to master new things. 

  • Go as far as possible to ensure that people are safe during their Forest School sessions. This is undertaken through a process of risk assessments, risk management actions, and regular awareness raising, following procedures and adhering to policies. 

  • Source and manage most of the gear that is needed for the Forest School experiences they would like to offer in each session. This is especially difficult in the environments in Singapore, where the Forest School leader is restricted by law in the use of the nature materials all around them. 

As well as listing what the Forest School Leader is, it is equally important to list what the Forest School leader is not, or not able to do:

  • Guarantee safety 100%. We use managed natural environments for our sessions and these are ever changing and include an element of unpredictability. 

  • Be with your child 100% of the time. A Forest School Leader may have 10 children and 10 accompanying adults in your session and their time and attention will be split amongst many tasks at any one time. 

  • Plan a session purely to meet your child's needs. All sessions take into account the needs of the whole group, however, certain activities will be designed to help a specific identified need, this will also be relevant and enjoyable for the rest of the group. 

  • Keep you and / or your children entertained throughout a whole session. The Leader will introduce one or two experiences each session, the rest of the time is for a nature walk, chatting and socialising, exploration and free play with nature and the items that your Leader has bought along. Bored children soon learn how to entertain themselves and think creatively. 

  • Forest School is Learner-centred, play-based, long-term and within a wooded area, your Leader can not compromise these key elements that define Forest School in any way. 

''The facilitator recognises the various signals given by the students indicating when and which way they want to go. The facilitator then creates the opportunity that enables them to go that way'  

- David Charlton c.1980, 'Adventure Education'

 
The benefits of Forest School
Forest School is good for the body

 

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health (and also, by the way, in our own).” 

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

  • Forest School is an antidote to the trend of 'containerising children'  - a term developed by Jane Clarke, University of Maryland professor of kinesiology. Children spend more and more time in car seats, high chairs, and even baby seats for watching TV. At Forest School children are free to move and have a multitude of opportunities to do so. 

  • A Scottish study found activity levels were 2.2 times higher in a typical Forest School day than during a school day that included PE lessons. Forest School occurs in a classroom without walls, inspiring exploration. 

  • Studies have highlighted a multitude of health benefits to being outside -sunlight and soil microorganisms boost the body’s levels of serotonin, the chemical linked to feelings of wellbeing, while vitamin D, which is essential for bone and muscle health, is also provided by the sun’s rays. Children need hours of outdoor time every single day. 

  • Children – and adults – sleep more deeply after either playing outside or going for a long walk, and mood lifts just from breathing in a few lungfuls of fresh air. After Forest School participants are often tired in the best kind of way. 

Forest School is good for the Spirit

 

"In our bones we need the natural curves of hills, the scent of chapparal, the whisper of pines, the possibility of wildness. We require these patches of nature for our mental health and our spiritual resilience.” 

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

  • Today’s children are experiencing increased stress caused by a range of pressures, from school exams to social media. Mental-health professionals acknowledge that maintaining a relationship with nature can be very helpful in supporting children’s emotional and mental wellbeing.

  • The natural world is a place not created by man. Without the distractions from the busy world we live in, and without excessive adult direction, children can move in, explore and discover the natural world which had deep spiritual meaning for our ancestors.

Forest School builds emotional intelligence

 

“Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; [the Lakota] knew that a lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too".

—Luther Standing Bear (C. 1868–1939)

  • "An appreciation of the wonder of life and nature builds and internal strength that lasts a life time". Rachel Carson, author of 'Silent Spring'.  

  • Caring for living things develops empathy, a character trait which has benefits for oneself as well as for others. 

  • Children develop emotional maturity from managed exposure to risk. They learn how to take care of themselves, make better choices, and how to help others. 

Forest School Inspires a growth mind-set

 

“If no one ever tried anything, even what some folks say is impossible, no one would ever learn anything. So you just keep on trying and maybe some day you’ll try something that will work.” 

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

  • Research suggests young children learn best from experience, by using their senses actively rather than passively, and it’s via these experiences that learning remains into adulthood.. At Forest School learning is very much hands-on and through authentic experiences. At Forest School we build; resources, friendships, ideas, community. Creating is the journey. 

  • Failure is seen as an essential part of learning. We value the effort and the process. At Forest School we search for ways to challenge, at the right level, for each participant. 

 
Our Recent Adventures
What is Holistic Development?
 

The benefits of Forest School are achieved through the combination of time spent outdoors in a natural setting, child-led learning and holistic development. We don't believe that learners can regularly reach the state where they are shining with the brilliance of their discoveries and achievements unless, for example, they are full of self esteem and socially comfortable. Time spent at Forest School is so valuable because of its multiple benefits, more so then activities which focus on gaining knowledge, or proficiency in one thing. 

SOCIAL

Every session is a social occasion with activities included which foster the development of meaningful relationships

EMOTIONAL

Our participants develop consciousness, self-control, motivation, and empathy within our community and with real friends

PHYSICAL

We walk, run, jump, climb, balance, hide, and move our bodies in a the multitude of ways provided by natural environments

SPIRITUAL

We spend time being mindful. We express our gratitude. We look for the wonder in life and nature

INTELLECTUAL

We ask inquiry questions, provide open ended materials and design activities that invite exploration and ignite the imagination

CREATIVE

Participants are given opportunities to problem solve independently and rise to the next challenge. Nature arts and crafts are popular activities

COMMUNICATION

We build literacy into our sessions. Participants are talked to respectfully, listened to, and encouraged to speak up. 

CULTURAL

We learn about people, place and culture. Different cultures, celebrations, ethnobotany and history inspire many of our sessions

Example, how Forest Schools leads to physical development

“The physical exercise and emotional stretching that children enjoy in unorganized play is more varied and less time-bound than is found in organized sports. Playtime—especially unstructured, imaginative, exploratory play—is increasingly recognized as an essential component of wholesome child development.” 

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

 

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