We often think that when it comes to education the Scandinavians can teach us a thing or two and the Forest Schools approach, an innovative way of teaching individuals using the outdoors as a “classroom” to enrich their learning experience, is one such example. Since it was first pioneered, in the UK in 1994 by Bridgwater College in Somerset, taking the lead from Scandinavia, the forest school ethos has gained momentum and is fast becoming accepted as part of mainstream education. It’s not about outdoor education in the traditional sense, but about delivering the whole broad curriculum – maths, English, science, history and all – within a woodland setting.
The philosophy of Forest Schools is to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through positive outdoor experiences. And the positive experiences include encouraging them to take risks. Lead by qualified leaders the sessions might include learning how to use a bow saw or whittle a piece of wood with a potato peeler, whilst learning about the Romans and how they lived and found food.
One school to embrace the approach is Hartpury Primary School. They are fortunate to have extensive grounds in which to run Forest School sessions in, and also a local wood a short walk away. The are also lucky to have to the talents of Leigh Sladen as their Forest Schools Co-ordinator, rated as Outstanding by Ofsted. The children get really absorbed in their tasks and learn skills that help boost their self-esteem, which in turn helps in their learning in other areas.
I think the approach has a lot going for it and offers so many possibilities – not just learning about nature or geography but the ability to inspire ideas from environmental art to story telling.