Forest School: Is it just for children?

Over the years we have worked with children, it is very clear to me that there are numerous benefits of the Forest School approach to childhood development and emotional well being.  

It has been a challenge moving from being a primary school teacher to a Forest school leader, but a very exciting and rewarding challenge at that! Unfortunately in these times, despite it going against beliefs in what education should be, teachers are driven by targets instead of what is needed by the children they desire to support. The Forest School ethos of child led learning and play has opened my eyes as to what can be achieved by the child who is left to explore and my role as an adult to observe and facilitate. 

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As a teacher and a parent myself we are often in a rush to get things done, tasks complete and ready to move onto the next thing. However Forest School has forced me to slow down and take the time to not worry about the outcome, but what is learnt in the process.  

As an adult, I know I will not be alone when I say I often struggle trying something new, despite the enjoyment and satisfaction that it may bring. During my Forest School training, we carried out several creative activities and I often found myself saying things like, “Mine’s not very good,” or, “I’m not very good at this.” I also remember being in staff INSETs where similar things would be uttered. Recently I have been listening to The Forest School Podcast which made me reflect on these vocalisations. Do we really think we are not good at these things or are we looking for reassurance or a get out clause if others do not think our work or ideas are any good? How does this impact on the children we work with? Are we being good role models of learning? 

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Through our parent and toddler classes and our sessions in schools, we often see parents, teachers and teaching assistants getting caught up (through nothing but wanting the best for the children) in the idea that things need to be done in a certain way, “Am I doing it right?” or, “How do I do it?” We are so conditioned into the idea that something has to be right that we are not always great models of learning when these thoughts are shared about our own work in front of the children. It is not the product but the process that is important and so I take great joy in replying, “There is no right or wrong on this task. You have the freedom to choose how you solve the problem or create.” It feels very refreshing. 

Of course, we are there to support the child in learning new skills when they desire them and are ready to use them, but this approach is very refreshing for me. 

This leads me on to what Forest School means for adults. 

I love what Forest School has given me in terms of improving my mental health and well-being. Being in the big outdoors has given me peace, calm, confidence, new challenges, excitement, joy and friendship. Taking time to slow down and notice small changes in the environment as it moves through the seasons is very satisfying. 

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So is Forest School just for children? I don’t think so. 

When our parents attend sessions, it is not like other stay and play sessions or toddler groups. I feel we offer so much more. Being a parent to a young child or several young children is emotionally and physically draining. Sometimes it is so hard to get out of the house, but when you do, it usually feels good. At our groups, new parents often start off thinking it is all about their child; they have to get their child to sit and listen and join in. But Forest School is not this. We offer the chance for children to explore and for parents to take time out of their day to slow down and enjoy being outside. So as the course runs on, parents often start to realise they can get just as much benefit from the sessions as their child and they should not feel guilty about this! I know Forest School has helped me. 

So embrace your inner child, take time to slow down and allow yourself to enjoy a bit of woodland craft, cooking around the fire and observing nature. Listen to the birds and breathe in the fresh air. And most importantly don’t make excuses for what you do or enjoy. We are all fabulous and to have fun is a great privilege and a right we all deserve.