Thursday, May 18, 2017


I first heard about Forest Schools several months ago. The topic has come up in several other conversations so I wanted to learn more about it. You might be interested as well because its popularity seems to be growing. I think it represents a swing to balance technology and the academic push with real and natural experiences. I embrace the idea of more hands-on outdoor learning, but I’m not sure it is in harmony with our data driven curriculum. I tend to be a middle of the road person, but let me share what I’ve found out and you can make your own decisions.
Forest schools originated in Scandinavia and became popular in Denmark in the 1980’s because of lack of space for preschool children. With increased urbanization and “nature deficit disorder” the popularity of these schools has grown from Sweden, to Denmark, to Germany, to the United Kingdom and now the United States.

Most forest schools are for ages three to six and are held almost exclusively outdoors – regardless of the weather. Children are encouraged to dress appropriately (waterproof clothing, warm layers) and play and learn in a natural setting. Woodlands, meadows, and beaches can all provide the learning environment, but no commercial toys or materials are used.
Forest schools seem to have a positive impact on children’s physical and emotional development. See the chart below for how the outdoor activities benefit development.

Developmental benefit
Playing imaginative games using whatever resources and ideas come to mind
This helps children to explore their own thoughts without the guidance of a toy designer
Role play
Shared imagination, drama, teamwork, recollection of models of behaviour
Building shelters or other large structures from branches, with the help of other children and adults
This requires goal definition, planning, engineering, teamwork and perseverance
Counting objects or looking for mathematical patterns
Mathematics, visual recognition
Memory games using naturally available objects
Memory, naming objects
Listening to stories; singing songs and rhymes
Art, drama, concentration
Arranging items to make a picture, or building a toy
Drawing scenes
Art, creativity, accurate inspection and copying
Climbing trees and exploring the forest
Improves strength, balance and physical awareness
Playing hide-and-seek with others
Develops children's theory of mind by rewarding accurate anticipation of the thoughts and actions of others
Walking to the woodland, from the building.
Improves strength and stamina; preparation (e.g., route selection) improves planning and communication skills
Exploring or reflecting alone
Aids self-awareness and character development
Aids consolidation of memories and facilitates activities later in the day

I think we would all agree that children need to spend more time outdoors. Forest schools sound “lovely,” but how can you judge children by a standardized test when they are building forts and making mud pies?

One compromise I read about was a school that spent one day a week in nature. Another school schedules one hour a day outdoor for each class. One other teacher reported doing hour-long nature hikes one day a week. Yes, but what if you don't have a woodland or meadow near your school?  
I would love to hear from any of you who are doing more “outdoor learning.” 

I’ll be sharing some outdoor activities over the next few days, but it’s basically taking academics outdoors. I think at the heart of forest schools is the belief that children should have freedom to explore, create, and learn on their own.  Balance, balance, balance!!!