Current Research.

Current Research around Forest School
Forest schools within the UK are currently becoming more common and implemented within settings of schools, nurseries and preschools. Joyce (2012) states that:

“Forest school is an important manifestation of contemporary outdoor learning”
However are forest school practitioners of the UK really understanding the true meaning that signifies outdoor learning? Joyce (2012) continues to suggest that:
“The Scandinavians are also a less industrialized and urbanized culture which has retained its closeness to nature”
Implying that in the UK our connection with nature is slowly being demolished, as we continue to build upon what seems to be very few natural areas that are here still. Do you agree that in the UK, our natural environment is potentially being taken from us and that the future for our children will be a world away from ours?
In Scandinavia, where forest schools were first established, the purpose of the movement was to take on a ‘child centred’ approach to develop and challenge children. The ethos included many principles that Froebel had devised and amongst them was that:
“the focus is on letting children develop their own learning agenda, pursuing their own interests, and going at the pace suitable for them”
                                                                                                      (Bruce, 2012)
and within Scandinavian practices, the aspect of being child-centred is still followed today. This is gradually being introduced into the forest schools of the UK and Rowlatt (2013) visited a college to inform her of an example of current practice that is implemented in the UK today. She noticed that:
It’s picturesque, and surprisingly purposeful. The staff hover nearby, supporting rather than controlling the children’s play”.
This approach holds more benefits for children, promoting independence rather than creating structured play that is adult initiated and requires adult support throughout. In contrast to this, an interesting comment made by Tovey (2007) is that:
“the UK appears to place more emphasis on identifying curriculum potential outdoors”
Instead of recognizing children’s competence to explore, be independent and imaginative, showing that overall in the UK, it is the minority who take on children’s interests when outdoors.
Tovey continues by describing how Norway has an emphasis on “imaginative, creative and collaborative play.” This demonstrates that children are capable of working together to create an experience that they can learn from. Perhaps the practitioners of the UK should acknowledge the benefits and lifelong education that unstructured forest schools offer for their children. This approach could be more utilized for learning as it would work alongside the children’s interests, rather than a ‘curriculum based’ way of teaching them about the outdoor environment.
Louv (2008) describes how children’s:
“physical contact, their intimacy with nature on a day to day basis is fading”.
This comment is sustainable for the way in which technology plays a huge factor in the lives of adults and children today. Many sources of information or education can now be located in some sort of technical device, which essentially prevents children from experiencing real life situations that could guide them further. In contrast, Waite (2011) looks at technology as an advantage to outdoor learning and states that it can:
“encourage creative thought, interpretation and questioning” when it is combined with science which will “allow for extended activities that can develop a more holistic understanding”.
Maybe technology should be considered within the outdoors to aid learning and encourage questioning of the world around us.
In regards to the preceding point, a report conducted by the U.S Forest Service (2008) found that the reason why:
“diverse populations do not participate in outdoor activities more often is simply lack of interest, followed closely by a lack of time”.

What does this hold for our future generation? It is alarming that the adults of today do not make the time or effort to explore and gain real life experiences outdoors, which could provide such quality learning. The learning is important to the children of the next generation as it enables us to instil and convey the skills that we have developed. Demonstrating that the outdoor environment is so valuable to their development, understanding and curiosity from such a young age.
To evaluate and conclude, the current research on forest schools today is wide spread, proving different in international perspectives. The common standpoint in the UK seems to be using a more structured approach to maintain curriculum based learning, rather than free exploration that is child-centred for each individual, such as the practice in countries like Norway and Scandinavia. It is important to consider the places that Forest School was established and understand their practices, in order to offer great quality education in the outdoors, centred around children's interests and needs. The issue with the current generation in the UK and the lack of natural environments has been highlighted within this post, in order to get you thinking about the future for our children. If Forest Schools are going to continue to be developed within this country, then we must review our surroundings and find ways to overcome the issue of natural land being built upon and the decrease in children going outdoors.

Post by Gemma Nield


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