Forest School encourages learners to challenge themselves through learning new skills, making choices, working co-operatively and taking supported risks.
This helps them to believe in their own ability to learn and change, develop resilience and independence, make their own decisions and becoming willing to make mistakes in order to learn.
It allows them time and space to explore their thoughts, feelings and relationships as well as to explore and learn about different habitats and interactions between species at their own site, the changing seasons and the wider natural environment.
Forest School and wildlife
The second Principle of Forest School is particularly relevant to wildlife, and here are the criteria set by the UK Forest School community:
• Whilst woodland is the ideal environment for Forest School, many other sites,
some with only a few trees, are able to support good Forest School practice.
• The woodland is ideally suited to match the needs of the programme and the
learners, providing them with the space and environment in which to explore
• A Forest School programme constantly monitors its ecological impact and works
within a sustainable site management plan agreed between the landowner/
manager, the forest school practitioner and the learners.
• Forest School aims to foster a relationship with nature through regular personal
experiences in order to develop long-term, environmentally sustainable
attitudes and practices in staff, learners and the wider community.
• Forest School uses natural resources for inspiration, to enable ideas and to
encourage intrinsic motivation.
Many Forest School practitioners come to the role because they already have an interest in wildlife as well as in education. As part of their training, Forest School leaders learn about woodland ecology and the history and current practices of sustainable woodland management in their own area. They spend time identifying flora and fauna and consider how to introduce this skill and knowledge to their learners in informal and engaging ways which fit in with the learner-led approach.
Before starting to run their own sessions they take a close look at the site they will be using and, with guidance, assess the ecological impact of running the programme on the site. From this, they develop a three-year management plan for the sustainable use of their site. They also plan how their Forest School learners can become involved in managing the site sustainably, in ways that are appropriate to their age and abilities. So any trained Forest School leader comes to an existing or new site understanding how their activities might impact the wildlife on the site, positively or negatively. They will monitor over time and adapt their plans to enhance the site for wildlife and minimise any damage.
When a school or childcare provider starts Forest School in its own grounds, it usually involves developing a specific area. This could be a corner of the playing fields or a patch of “waste” ground which hasn’t been managed in recent times. Simply stopping mowing the grass can allow a surprising variety of wildflowers and grasses to grow, which in turn provides a wider range of habitats for invertebrates. Adding tree stumps for the fire circle and a log pile soon bring in more species, and children love seeing what’s under the log they are sitting on. Trees such as hazel, willow and dogwood are often planted as they can be used for crafts.