“Forest School is an inspirational process that offers all learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.”
Forest School Association
The practice of immersing children in nature from an early age has long been popular in Scandinavian countries, where preschool children spend most of their day outside, every day, regardless of the weather. Unlike most other preschools, the focus of this type of early education is not to teach academic facts, but to give kids the opportunity to play freely in nature.
Forest schools offer an opportunity to build important physical, social, cognitive and life skills, whilst integrating academic knowledge and experiential application.
In Finland, the comprehensive school system has sat at the top of Europe’s rankings for the past 16 years. Official guidance emphasises the importance in preschool of the ‘joy of learning’, language enrichment, communication and physical activity. Carefully organised play helps develop qualities such as attention span, perseverance, self-motivation and problem solving. Strong predictors of academic success – children become powerful learners.
“The better the quality of preschool, the better the outcomes, both emotionally and socially and in terms of academic achievement” says David Whitebread, director of the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & Learning at the University of Cambridge.
Children learn to assess, appreciate and take informed risks, making sensible, knowledgeable decisions about how to tackle the activities and experiences they encounter.
They learn how to be self-sufficient and take care of themselves, which boosts their confidence and self-esteem.
Through trial and error they are able to deal with failure and develop the resilience to keep trying.
Children improve their team building skills, empathise and cooperate, and become empowered to use their own initiative to solve individual challenges.
“Outside, in real life, is where humans learn best,” writes Anders Szczepanski, a Swedish outdoor learning expert. “That’s where we make use of all of our senses by seeing, listening, feeling, smelling, tasting and discerning. It fosters curiosity, creativity and cooperation, engages our emotions and makes us care about our environment, as well as our natural and cultural history.”
Letting children learn primarily in nature also makes perfect sense when you consider the many benefits of outdoor play that are backed by science. Specifically, studies have found that children who are enrolled in forest schools: