What is Forest School?

History of Forest School

The ethos of Forest School began in Europe, emerging from the ruins of the second world war. The need for communities to reinvent themselves and reconnect was a rich environment for natural philosophies to emerge. One place, which is credited with a significant influence on the Forest School ethos, is Reggio Emilia, a province in Northern Italy, in the tiny village of Villa Cella.

In a school built by the village from rubble, children were encouraged to pursue their own projects and to use materials from nature as they played. With proven mental and physical health benefits, the Reggio schools have now grown into a very strong movement, found all over the world.

Post war teaching practice in the Scandanavian countries also heavily influenced the Forest School ethos. With Limited space to accommodate the number of children, teachers took to using the outdoors as an extended classroom. Educationalists soon realised the benefits that this outdoor stimulation had on the children and teachers.

In the meantime, the humanistic philosophy of Steiner, the play based learning of Maria Montessori, the outdoor education of Baden Powell, and the kindergarten movement based on Froebel’s philosophy added academic weight to a growing Forest School movement and allowed those early centres to flourish, expand, and more importantly, to be recognised as models of outdoor learning.

These plus many other influential educators such as Dewy and Piaget, have all contributed to a growing awareness of how we can learn from Nature and of our need to connect with the natural world.

The Forest School movement spread to the United Kingdom in 1993. A group of UK Nursery nurses from the Bridgewater College ( see www.bridgewater.ac.uk/forestschool )were inspired by their visit to Danish outdoor nurseries, and implemented some of what they had seen in Denmark, back in their own UK nurseries. From this humble beginning, the Forest School ethos first took hold in the Scandinavian countries, then in England, Wales, Scotland, Germany, the US, Japan, and now, Australia and New Zealand.

So, what is Forest School?

Known as Skogsmulle (Sweden), Friluftsliv (Norway), Waldkindergarten (Germany, and Naturbørnehaven (Denmark).

Forest School is an engaging learning process, that gives all learners the opportunity to develop stronger social skills, greater self esteem and confidence, through regular learning sessions, planned and run by trained practitioners, in a forest or natural outdoor setting, preferably with trees.

Children are allowed the time and the opportunity to learn life skills using real tools, to take managed risks, to solve problems, and to engage in team work, as they play and learn outdoors, in most weather and all seasons.

Along the way, children learn to respect nature, trust themselves and others as well as enjoy times of solitude and reflection.

There is a growing recognition worldwide of the benefits of nature play, particularly in the early years, and Bush Kindy is one unique Australian term for Forest School.