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Forest School and children’s wellbeing

Written by Isabel Lincoln

Forest school nurtures children and allows them to live in harmony with nature. It also helps with their learning and building relationships. This article shares some of the day to day life in forest school.

‘Forest School is a child-centered inspirational learning process that offers opportunities for holistic growth through regular sessions. It is a long-term program that supports play, exploration and supported risk taking. It develops confidence and self-esteem through learner inspired, hands-on experiences in a natural setting.’ (1)

It is a Monday morning in February 2022. The oaks and hornbeams of Highgate Woods are bare, their leaves have fallen and are covered in snow. The holly leaves are dark green and glossy, and the robins are active and flit from tree to tree. 3 adults and 12 toddlers wake up early and pull on a merino wool base layer. Then trackies, a fleece, a waterproof, and over the top of that, a puddle suit and wellies. They meet at Fairie Arch camp in Highgate Woods, and start walking. They play in the slushy snow and they climb trees and they throw stones into icy puddles and learn about the shapes that are made when they break the ice. They ask to go sledding and so we do. The children start off clinging to a grown-up and then grow brave and slide down the hills on their own. These 3 adults and 12 toddlers set up a ground tarp to sit on and a sky tarp above their heads to keep them dry and sit in the snowy woods to eat their lunch. This is Forest School.

Forest School is an alternative educational model. ‘Its roots reach back to the open-air culture, friluftsliv, or free air life, seen as a way of life in Scandinavia where Forest School began. It arrived in the UK in 1993 and has grown from strength to strength since then’ (1). Forest School is based on several guiding principles. It is the adherence to these principles that makes something ‘Forest School’, as opposed to more general outdoor education. The first principle is that it is a long-term process. Ideally, children will spend an entire year in the woods, observing and experiencing the transformation of the forest throughout all of the seasons. The second principle is that Forest School takes place in a woodland environment. Many Forest Schools across the world take place in a different form of natural environment; beaches, copses, parks, even school playgrounds. What matters is that there is an opportunity for children to interact with the natural world. Other principles include: the learning is child-led; the learning is holistic; the learning is supported by Forest School trained practitioners. The final, and perhaps most crucial principle, is that at Forest School ‘risk taking in a safe context is encouraged, enabling learners to move into their learning zones where they can manage their own risks, be they emotional, physical, cognitive or social’ (2).

Isabel Lincoln is a qualified Forest School Leader and a trained horticulturist. She has worked in the Early Years for the past decade, and in the woods for the past five. She currently specialises in working with children with additional needs in the outdoors. Recently she has worked as a Forest School Leader with the London Wildlife Trust, and currently works for Into the Woods Outdoor Nursery as an Early Years Forest School Practitioner and Special Educational Needs Coordinator. She is a community gardener, novice forager and advocate for giving children the time and freedom to guide their own education. When not in the woods she can be found in her garden, drying herbs, and making potions.

Isabel Lincoln

Isabel Lincoln is a qualified Forest School Leader and a trained horticulturist. She has worked in the Early Years for the past decade, and in the woods for the past five. She currently specialises in working with children with additional needs in the outdoors. Recently she has worked as a Forest School Leader with the London Wildlife Trust, and currently works for Into the Woods Outdoor Nursery as an Early Years Forest School Practitioner and Special Educational Needs Coordinator. She is a community gardener, novice forager and advocate for giving children the time and freedom to guide their own education. When not in the woods she can be found in her garden, drying herbs, and making potions.

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