How many parents regularly grumble about the fact their children seem to have lost sight of the simple enjoyment of playing outdoors? This comes as a direct result of over reliance on electronic devices and the overwhelming temptation to join the groups of primary school children who are already embracing social media. We are in danger of raising a generation whose leisure time is restricted to communicating via a TV, tablet or mobile phone, depriving them of all the critical social skills required in life.
However, persuading children to spend more time in the great outdoors, as opposed to the virtual world is not just good for the soul. It also provides unique learning opportunities and a chance for children to shine and thrive in a totally different environment: helping them to learn how to assess risk for themselves, improving both their physical and emotional confidence.
Barrow Hills, a prep school in Surrey, has always focused on the importance of providing a school setting that encourages children to be, first and foremost, happy. The school takes pride in offering an education which does not lose sight of the need for children to enjoy a carefree childhood for as long as possible. This founding principle allowed the school to acknowledge the value of a ‘Forest School’ and incorporate this style of learning into the weekly schedule for all children from year 3 upwards.
Forest School is essentially an outdoor learning concept that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to succeed and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment. It is a specialised learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and environmental education and represents an ethos that is shared by thousands of trained practitioners across the UK and beyond (the Forest School programme was first pioneered in Scandinavia).
Children come to Forest School to enjoy exploring the natural world. As well as having tremendous fun and breaking free from the traditional classroom setting, teachers are also able to explore a wealth of technical methods to help them understand the basic requirements for survival, i.e. warmth, shelter and sustenance. One of the greatest attractions of Forest School is that, unlike timetabled lessons, teachers are often able to adapt their plans to suit the mood or conditions. As a result, the children can, to a degree, influence the activities that are undertaken, all of which offer subliminal learning, which will equip the children with important skills that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Forest School is the very essence of holistic, whole body learning. Rather than simply developing academic prowess children are also able to develop ’emotional intelligence’, which helps to hone important social / practical skills like reliance and the ability to bounce back from challenges and setbacks. Every day spent in Forest School is different. The children’s hunger for learning in this environment is unique, whether they are working out where and how to safely build a fire, building dens (from simple sticks lent against trees to more complex structures) or gaining confidence in how to forage safely and enjoy nature’s ‘larder’ (including understanding the steps to be taken to enjoy natural spring water). Enjoyment is at the heart of everything they do.
Disclosure: This is a collaborative post