There's been quite a bit of buzz around Forest School in the past decade, but don't let that put you off. Once you get into the woods and start to explore and play, all of the trends and yuppie notions are stripped away, and it's really rather down to earth. Essentially, Forest School aims to enable children and young people to achieve personal, social and emotional life skills through play and learning within a group of their peers in a natural environment.
Forest school as a concept stems from Scandinavia, where it has been widely used since the 1950's. It really took off here in the UK in 1993 when a pioneering College in Bridgewater visited Denmark and radically changed their teaching practise on return to the UK to reflect all they had experienced. Since then it has grown quickly as a movement across the UK, with forest schools, training centers and a Forest Schools Association being setup, Today there are thousands of Forest School Practitioners working around the UK in a whole variety of settings.
The UK Forest School model which exists today combines the Scandinavian model and builds on this with the experience now gleaned from practitioners in the UK in understanding the neurological benefits of play and learning in the outdoors. As the model develops, our research and understanding is catching up. As research develops year on year we gain a better understanding of how and why an interaction with the outdoor environment benefits children and young people. It is generally understood here in the UK that engaging with nature is 'good for you', but there is now a whole wealth of evidence being gathered to understand the complexities of this, and how we can make use of it. This report from the Forestry Commission summarizes some of the benefits.
You may have heard of children 'doing' Forest School as a class at school, or as an after school or summer club. Some nurseries and preschools run forest school every day of the year and are as such 'Forest Schools'. It can be run in almost any weather, with the right considerations made. It is beneficial for any age group and can be done in a variety of settings from the local copse in the suburbs of a town to the deep dark ancient woodlands of a wilderness. It can run for anything from 6 weeks to over a year.