Forest School

Hackney New Primary School: Forest School Provision

January 2015


Forest School is defined as

an inspirational process that offers children and young people regular opportunities to achieve, develop confidence and self esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a local woodland environment’.

It is a child-centered outdoor learning approach which is gaining momentum in the UK, but which is already well-established in Scandinavian countries where it is seen as a way of life and firmly embedded into early years offerings. Children are able to access all areas of the Early  Years Foundation Stage curriculum within a Forest School provision. From the beginning, Forest School has formed an important part of the outdoor provision for HNPS.

Outdoor classroom

Forest School offers a range of child-centred individualised learning opportunities that cover all seven key areas of learning and development within the EYFS curriculum, not just physical development. There is also much opportunity for free play, socialisation and communication: e.g. taking it in turns to climb a tree, collaborating when carrying a large stick, building a den or digging a hole. Forest School also meets the need to focus on thinking skills, e.g. learning about boundaries and safety; enabling children to manage, sustain and monitor their own learning. This approach builds a child’s confidence and resilience.

Forest School fits very well with HNPS’ music focus: there are many opportunities for music-making in the outdoor classroom including making sounds (e.g. hitting sticks together, playings drums on natural materials, crunching leaves, listening to the wind and bird song.) Together, music and Forest School provision make a very strong contribution to children’s wellbeing.

Children with SEND, Gifted and Talented, and those who struggle with behaviour are all well-supported within the Forest School setting. Its focus on each child as an individual benefits everyone.

Parents are encouraged to come along and support sessions in order to give confidence with exploring and learning in the great outdoors. Through these opportunities and termly workshops, we also give parents insight into how well this outdoor learning supports the curriculum in school and wider child development.

The children attend Forest School come rain, shine or snow, and the school provides waterproof overalls, jackets and wellingtons to ensure their enjoyment. Forest School is only cancelled in the event of strong winds or lightning. The children’s safety is always of paramount importance.

In summary, Forest School offers meaningful learning, fresh air, and an opportunity for free play and exploration of the outdoor world, in a safe, risk-assessed setting.

Appendix A: 6 guiding principles of Forest School (taken from the Forest School Association website)

Principle 1: Forest School is a long-term process of frequent and regular sessions in a woodland or natural environment, rather than a one-off visit. Planning, adaptation, observations and reviewing are integral elements of Forest School.

  • Forest School takes place regularly, ideally at least every other week, with the same group of learners, over an extended period of time, if practicable encompassing the seasons.
  • A Forest School programme has a structure which is based on the observations and collaborative work between learners and practitioners. This structure should clearly demonstrate progression of learning.
  • The initial sessions of any programme establish physical and behavioural boundaries as well as making initial observations on which to base future programme development.

Principle 2: Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural wooded environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.

  • Whilst woodland is the ideal environment for Forest School, many other sites, some with only a few trees, are able to support good Forest School practice.
  • The woodland is ideally suited to match the needs of the programme and the learners, providing them with the space and environment in which to explore and discover.
  • A Forest School programme constantly monitors its ecological impact and works within a sustainable site management plan agreed between the landowner/ manager, the forest school practitioner and the learners.
  • Forest School aims to foster a relationship with nature through regular personal experiences in order to develop long-term, environmentally sustainable attitudes and practices in staff, learners and the wider community.
  • Forest School uses natural resources for inspiration, to enable ideas and to encourage intrinsic motivation.

Principle 3: Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners

  • Where appropriate, the Forest School leader will aim to link experiences at Forest School to home, work and /or school education
  • Forest School programmes aim to develop, where appropriate, the physical, social, cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of the learner.

Principle 4: Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.

  • Forest School opportunities are designed to build on an individual’s innate motivation, positive attitudes and/or interests.
  • Forest School uses tools and fires only where deemed appropriate to the learners, and dependent on completion of a baseline risk assessment.
  • Any Forest School experience follows a Risk–Benefit process managed jointly by the practitioner and learner that is tailored to the developmental stage of the learner.
  1. Forest School is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.
  • Forest School is led by qualified Forest School practitioners, who are required to hold a minimum of an accredited Level 3 Forest School qualification. Find more information on Forest School qualifications here.
  • There is a high ratio of practitioner/adults to learners.
  • Practitioners and adults regularly helping at Forest School are subject to relevant checks into their suitability to have prolonged contact with children, young people and vulnerable people.
  • Practitioners need to hold an up-to-date first aid qualification, which includes paediatric (if appropriate) and outdoor elements.
  • Forest School is backed by relevant working documents, which contain all the policies and procedures required for running Forest School and which establish the roles and responsibilities of staff and volunteers.
  • The Forest School leader is a reflective practitioner and sees themselves, therefore, as a learner too.
  1. Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for development and learning
  • A learner-centred pedagogical approach is employed by Forest School that is responsive to the needs and interests of learners.
  • The Practitioner models the pedagogy, which they promote during their programmes through careful planning, appropriate dialogue and relationship building.
  • Play and choice are an integral part of the Forest School learning process, and play is recognised as vital to learning and development at Forest School.
  • Forest School provides a stimulus for all learning preferences and dispositions.
  • Reflective practice is a feature of each session to ensure learners and practitioners can understand their achievements, develop emotional intelligence and plan for the future.
  • Practitioner observation is an important element of Forest School pedagogy. Observations feed into ‘scaffolding’ and tailoring experiences to learning and development at Forest School.