Introduction to Forest School

What is 'Forest School' and Why is it Important?

The term 'Forest School' describes a particular pedagogy (theory of learning), with it's roots in Scandinavian nature kindergartens and the Steiner education movement, among other influences. Whilst 'Forest School' has only been developing in the UK for the past 30 years, it is based on something humans have been doing throughout history: learning and growing through playing, taking risks and exploring in nature, surrounded by a familiar and protective community. 

By regularly spending time at Forest School, children (and adults) can develop a lifelong love and understanding of the natural environment, whilst also developing important skills like self-esteem, confidence and social skills. At Forest School we aim to encourage and inspire individuals (of any age, background or ability), through opportunities to try new things, guide their own learning, be creative and develop important problem solving skills. Regular attendance means that sessions can be planned around the needs and interests of the individuals in the group, to ensure that everyone is valued and able to thrive.

Why is it always outside?

The natural woodland setting is also important. Spending time in nature has been linked to numerous benefits (in adults AND children) including improved mental health, reduced stress levels, enhanced cognitive function, increased physical activity, and a greater sense of well-being. Helping people to feel more 'at home' in natural environments gives them a sense of 'belonging'; and this, combined with the new challenges that such an environment brings, helps them to grow in confidence and independence, so that they are able to develop a true and lasting sense of self-worth. Fostering a connection to nature encourages our children and young people to become stewards of the environment, promoting conservation efforts and sustainability for future generations. 

The Six Key Principles of Forest School

In order to be accurately defined as 'Forest School', each programme must meet the 6 Key principles as specified by the UK Forest School Association (FSA).

The Long-Term Principle

Forest School is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than one-off or infrequent visits, with each session linked by planning, observation, adaptation and review.

The Nature Principle

Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural wooded area to help participants build a lifelong bond with the natural world.

The Community Principle

Forest School creates a community where participants can grow, learn, and develop through various opportunities tailored to their needs.

The Holistic Learning Principle

Forest School aims to help everyone involved grow in ALL aspects; physically, socially, cognitively, linguistically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The Risk Principle

Forest School provides opportunities for participants to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.

The Leadership Principle

Forest School is led by qualified Forest School practitioners, who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice

We live in an era marked by climate uncertainty, loss of biodiversity, unprecedented levels of mental health problems (particularly among children), health crises (caused in part by unnatural diets, lack of exercise, and stress); Forest School is one of the many ways in which we can help the next generation to develop the skills they will need to thrive, and the motivation to improve things.

"No one will protect what they don't care about, 

and no one will care about what they have never experienced." 

Sir David Attenborough

What is NOT 'Forest School'?

Outdoor provision for children and young people has become more and more widespread over the past decade or so, in lots of different settings and in various forms. All this time outdoors can only be a good thing for our children, and for the planet as a whole. 

the term 'Forest School' is often used loosely to describe many kinds of outdoor experience, but Forest School is a specific educational approach, with a defined set of principles governing it. While group activities such as bushcraft, adventure sports, or outdoor playgroups offer vast benefits in their own right, they are sometimes falsely advertised as 'Forest School', when they may not align with the principles of Forest School, such as qualified staff, child led provision, opportunities for risk or long term progression. 

We believe that parents and participants have the right to make an informed decision about what they want for themselves or their children, so for that reason we have tried to be clear about which of our sessions meet all the requirements of 'Forest School' and which do not. Sessions which are booked on a one-off basis, or which are aimed to provide a specific skill or experience (such as bushcraft sessions or birthday parties) are not described by us as 'Forest School'. We hope this means that you will always be clear of exactly what you are getting when you book onto a session at The Log Circle.

Why is it so Expensive?

We are often asked why our 'Forest School' sessions are so expensive. it is true that we are often able to price our 'non' forest school sessions considerably lower, as do many other 'outdoor' sessions offered elsewhere. In order to explain the higher costs I will go back to those 6 key principles of Forest School:

The Long-Term Principle

The weekly process of planning, adapting, observation and review requires a higher level of professional competence, skill and experience from our staff, not to mention more time outside the session.

The Nature Principle

To be granted access to beautiful and ancient woodland such as Middleton Woods, we have to provide the council with evidence of professional qualifications, comprehensive insurance, detailed site risk assessments, and paid membership to the local professional body 'The Bradford Forest School Network',.

The Community Principle

We strive to offer a fully inclusive provision where we can meet the needs of participants with widely varying needs and challenges, both within the sessions and beyond. We do whatever we can to keep children and vulnerable adults safe, and to that end we pay for all our staff to be DBS checked and undergo training in safeguarding & child protection as a minimum. In time we hope to be able to offer free or subsidised places to support low income families and other vulnerable groups.

The Holistic Learning Principle 

Both our session leaders are fully qualified teachers with a wealth of professional experience to draw on when 'using a range of learner-centred processes'. In order for us to 'create a community for development and learning' we must constantly strive to adapt, improve and seek excellence in our practice. All of this takes time, creativity and commitment from every member of our team. Our staff pay close attention to the emotional and psychological wellbeing of all our participants as well as to their learning and skill development. 

The Risk Principle

In order to carry out many of our activities safely we must have comprehensive (and costly) insurance in place and invest heavily in expensive quality kit such as ropes, swings, hammocks and tools, all of which suffers intense wear and tear in the forest environment. Of course, with risk comes hazards so we also spend extra time putting in place detailed risk assessments and invest in specialised first aid training and equipment, just in case!

The Leadership Principle

 All our 'Forest School' sessions are led by highly trained and L3 qualified Forest School practitioners. This is an in-depth, year long course, usually with a high initial outlay. We are aiming to get every one of our practitioners 'forest school trained' to L1 or L2 as soon as we can. In addition, all of our staff (and even our volunteers!) take part in continuous professional training in order to carry out their roles effectively.

I hope that this goes some way to explaining why your 'couple of hours playing in the woods' is such an investment. One day we hope to be able to access funding to be able to subsidise the cost to you, our customers, but for now; this is what it costs us to run. I hope that you feel it is worth it.