The Benefits of Forest School

In this blog, the many benefits to children that can be gained by forest school and outdoor play shall be discussed and analysed. The Early Years Foundation Stage appreciates how important outdoor play is to a child's development as it states in effective practice: outdoor learning that,

“It is vital that early years settings maximise children’s opportunities to be outdoors: for some it may be their only opportunity to play freely and safely outside.”

(EYFS, 2014).
This is due to adults increasing fears of safety, the modern technological age and in some areas a lack of green spaces for children to play in. By playing and exploring in the forest school or outdoors Freddie is learning about nature, to respect it and how to care for it, this can help to ensure that there are green spaces and nature for future generations.

“Nature is not indestructible. By improving knowledge about nature and understanding of the interrelationships in nature, this can changes people’s attitudes."
(Robertson. 2008:5).

Children who have the experiences of forest school are learning valuable life skills and how to care and nurture the world around them

All children should have the opportunity to access the outdoor environment or forest school provision where possible.
‘Outside play is an entitlement for all children in the foundation stage.’

(Featherstone 2001:1).

It can be seen in practice that outdoor play and forest schools have a positive impact on children’s development and understanding of the natural world, practice knowledge shows that being outdoors inspires children to ask questions.

Freddie gains a lot of benefits from taking part in forest school, and also hits all the seven areas of the EYFS Development matters learning goals, more importantly the Characteristics of Effective Learning (CoEL) are in full flow while he is exploring and playing in the forest area. This can be seen in the observation of Freddie’s journey published on 11/10/15. The Observation shows how engaged Freddie is during his playing and exploring.

These areas do not require lots of expensive resources as nature has its own resources in abundance, these are referred to as affordances by Gibson. (1979). Forest school offers Freddie many affordances, this is where one item offers many learning opportunities to individual children, as explained by Gibson (1979).
“Affordances refer to what the environment offers, what it provides for the child. They are opportunities that arise from the physical properties of the environment and the interests, ideas and intent of the individual.”                                                             
    (Warden. 2010:93).

individual children will find their own affordances, as a stick could become a wand to one child but be a telephone or walking stick to another child, the affordance used depends on what the individual child chooses to with the resource.
Some of the affordances that Freddie might discover in forest school include;
  • Sticks.
    These can be used for writing in the mud, as a wand or sword, building a den or making a fire.
Writing in the mud, with a stick.
  • Fallen trees.
    These make good balancing beams to walk along, space to hide in and using the trunk for art (such as rubbing pictures). There is also an opportunity for children to see and learn about tree roots and how they grow.
 Balancing on a tree branch.
  • Leaves, sticks and stones.

    Mud Boggits.
    These can be used to make forest art, making letters and spelling words, decorating a den and excellent decorations for boggits.     
Collecting resources, size and comparison.

  • Mud.
    Mud glorious mud, playing with mud is a very sensory experience for children, by adding water to the mud it creates a different consistency for children to explore, it can also be an opportunity to offer new words and meanings to the children like gloopy, squishy and oozing.
    Digging in the mud. “It’s cold and squishy.”
    Characteristics of Effective Learning achieved from the above photographed activities include;

                          Playing and Exploring
Using senses to explore the world around them.
Pretending objects are things from their experience.
Active Learning –
Maintaining focus on their activity for a period of time
Creating and Thinking Critically
Finding new ways to do things.
Testing their ideas.                                                        
  Development matters (2014:6-7).
From some of the learning opportunities listed above you can see how some of the areas of the characteristics of effective learning can be achieved. Forest school helps to spark children's curiosity.

              The outdoors is “a rich context for curiosity, wonder, mystery and what if thinking.”
(Tovey, 2007:38).

This shows that there are many opportunities for children to satisfy their curiosity and interest.
Children's outdoor spaces can be seen as too sterile and over designed in the modern day and age for example a typical children's playground is very clean and organised.

A typical park with bright colours.

As you can see from the pictures above, the parks are very organised, with special flooring which takes away a sensory experience from the children.

This can have a detrimental effect on the children using these spaces.

"If the physical environment is over-designed and organised it limits the very play it is trying to encourage."
(Warden, 2010:93).
Whereas forest school offers a natural and unorganised environment that the children can have an effect on
“It is not a static predetermined layout to which children have to adapt”
(Tovey, 2007:54).

Children change it by planting or weeding, moving bracken and leaves or building dens to suit their needs and ideas.
 Freddie and his friend in the den.
Froebel (1782 – 1852) was keen on children investigating and exploring the outdoor environment, making their own discoveries thus encouraging creativity and independence, as discussed by Constable (2012).
One could assume that this helps children to recognise that their influence in the environment can change it, for example growing and caring for plants or flowers.
As well as their own effect children can also see and experience the effects of seasons in the forest.
“An outdoor environment for young children is a dynamic living place.”
(Tovey, 2007:54). 
Steiner (1861 – 1925) also provided children with spaces as natural as possible in the outdoor environment which he encouraged all children to explore and discover. Areas of shade and shelter were also provided so that the children can explore the outdoors in all weathers and seasons, as discussed by Constable (2012).

           “Steiner education emphasises the provision of natural outdoor areas for play in all weathers.”
(Drummond and Jenkinson, 2009).

By playing outside and exploring in all weathers children have the opportunity to learn about the scope of the outdoor environment and factors affecting the changes.

Freddie with his fruit
Freddie may learn valuable social skills by being in the forest school. He can learn how to listen and work with others, as well as making new friendships with children who have similar interests. His cognitive skills should also be tested as he works out how to move or put resources together to make something else. This is apparent in Freddie’s journeys as he has worked and played with other children and had the confidence to talk to the practitioner. There are plenty of challenges for Freddie and his learning, as he becomes more confident with what he can do. This can be seen in Freddie’s journey, as he learns to build and eventually light a fire. This can also be seen in the risk and challenge section of the blog.

These benefits can be divided into two sections, the benefits to children’s learning and the benefits to their play. Forest school can be considered to aid holistic development as it helps children to develop in all areas of learning, for example practice knowledge shows that a child cannot learn to write unless they have developed the muscles and motor skills to hold a pencil.
“Outdoor play is a whole body, multi-sensory experience.”
(Tovey, 2007:37).
By building dens and moving logs children are developing the arm muscles and movements required to be able to hold a pencil.
Using tools to build muscles.

Counting sticks and leaves

In conclusion it is apparent that Forest School carries many benefits to children’s learning and development and can have a positive impact on their play despite having little to no resources usually, except of course the ones provided by nature. As observed by Robinson (2008) children attending an outdoor Forest School in Sweden had much more imaginative play than children who attended an indoor setting.
Forest school would appear to be the prefect place for children to explore, invent and discover the world around them, in turn they are learning how to care for and nurture our green spaces. While attending a Forest School children get to put all their skills to the test as they use gross and fine motor skills, communicating and listening as they work with others and may develop new interests.

In closing, offered is some food for thought and would like to ask you the reader,
how do you value outdoor play in your setting?
If you had access to a forest school would you take the children, considering the benefits they could gain? and lastly,
do you feel that children's outdoor play has diminished in recent years?

Author Victoria Cocks


  1. An Early Years Practitioner writes on Facebook- Very interesting reading, well done! We are members of the Forest Childcare Association. Our parents support our efforts to include environmental learning and appreciate the weekly visits to the local community garden where we have a growing plot. We always invite parents to join us, so far none have taken up the offer. However when we took the nursery on an organised Wildlife Trust session in our local forest we had 13 adults & 22 children attend! We are wondering how can we engage parents more successfully?

  2. Forest school can be an excellent opportunity to include parents and get them involved.
    "It is imperative that the parents support the opportunities their child will have"
    Constable (2014:84).
    In order for parents to support their child's learning they need to understand how and why the children are learning.
    Set tasks that need to be done such as cutting back brambles or building resources (could display a sign up sheet on notice board) and organise an open weekend for the parents to come and help, or try a hide-and-seek /game day in the Forest school and invite them along.
    Another suggestion would be to run a parents only session in the Forest School area to show them how the children play without the children present. For example to view the Forest School through the eyes of a child. This will help to reassure them about what their children are doing.
    I hope this gives you some ideas to help incorporate parents into your Forest School.

    Kind regards,


  3. How can this school provide for a wheelchair bound child ?? Will the child be safe at all times? Will they have an opportunity to get as involved as other children?

  4. if this area is such an area of heritage how come I have not heard of this before ??

    1. Dear Cherice,
      Thank you for your comment. Please could we direct you to the History of Forest School page in order to answer your question. You will see on this page that though outdoor learning has existed for millennia, it was only in 1993 that the first British practitioners observed this idea, and they in turn only began to share it in the year 2000. Therefore, Forest Schools, as an educational practice is in its infancy, though it is currently at the top of many schools agendas. We hope this has answered your question,
      Kind regards,

  5. Dear Cherice, you raise an interesting and valid point with regards to Forest Schools and children with special educational needs, Are Forest School accessible to everyone?

    From an inclusive perspective a risk assessment should be carried out in full to 'assess opportunities' rather then focus on what a child cannot do, practitioners should instead observe what the child can do. Risks can be easily managed and simple environmental adjustments made to the site in order to be inclusive, like clearing a path for a wheelchair. Provision should be made for all children to have support where required, but not to interfere with their learning.

    "Be open to the possibility - talk to the participants and the adults that know them to work out how you can make it happen."
    (Knight. 2011:126).

    All children can benefit from forest school, even those with difficulties given the right level of support.

    Many thanks,



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