The Government? On Forest School/Outdoor Learning.

The following post is going to consider whether Forest School is governed within current legislation for Early Years or whether it is a brand which is taken from the requirements of outdoor learning. It will look at government initiatives which may support the Forest School movement and will conclude with a question.

(FSA, 2015)
Forest Schools are not current regulated within any government policies or have any legislative requirements. To become a Forest School leader or practitioner is a choice, there is no requirements to gain the level three qualification it is just desired for professionals to have (Forest School Association, 2015) so they fully understand and appreciate the benefits, risks and challenges of Forest School sessions for children (see Risk and Challenge in Forest School).

Research on Forest Schools offer a vast amount of links with regards to the current Early Years curriculum (Early Education, 2014) and the correlation between the advantages of Forest School and how each Forest School session can cover every area of development, such as self-confidence and self-awareness, physical skills, knowledge and understanding of the world, social skills and language and communication skills (Knight, 2009). However, all of the above development areas within the Early Years curriculum (Early Education, 2014) can be achieved within an outdoor environment which is not branded as ‘Forest School’ (Leather, 2015:13).

Forest School is a brand which was first coined in Scandinavia (see history of Forest School) and is about offering children opportunities to explore the outdoor environment based in a forest/forestry area, however the suggestion is that the enthusiasm for outdoor learning has been lost because of what Forest School are offering and rather than focusing on the outdoor environment opportunities it is commercialising, capturing and exciting practitioners  offering qualifications and continual professional development (Leather, 2015:13). From this the suggestion would be that Forest School may just be a term which has been ‘lost in translation’ (Leather, 2015:12).

(Change4Life, 2011)
But, when considering the benefits the outdoor environment and Forest School has on children’s development (see Benefits of Forest School) it is difficult to concur with what Leather (2015) is suggesting. Knowing that the government have initiatives in place to care for children’s health and well-being, such as Change4Life (2015), and the National Health Service offering advice with regards to children holistic development and mainly their physical health, any new and exciting notion or idea to get children engaged within the outdoor environment is a must. According to the National Health Service (2015) Children under five who can walk unaided should be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (three hours), spread throughout the day, indoors or out.” Therefore, it is imperative that Early Year settings understand the importance of children being physically active and Forest School and outdoor learning offers this in large quantities, as well as the education requirements underpinned by Department for Education (2014).

However, the difference between Forest School and outdoor learning is the training desired for practitioners to have, this is not governed and so if settings wish to establish a Forest School area within their environment then this is acceptable, the advice is to have someone with at least a level three Forest School qualification, again this is only advice and not essential (FSA, 2015).

Social Reformers: Robert Owen (1771–1858)
(Dalton, 2015)
(Pelcowitz, 2012)
Moving on to theory, Robert Owen (1771-1858) believed that children should be ‘equipped to make ration judgements’ and stressed the importance of ‘informal learning’ whereby children should not be confined to four walls but experience different environments outside the classroom and educational trips (Giardiello, 2014:38). This is further support by Susan Isaacs (1885 – 1948) who’s theory emphasized the importance of the choice for the children and allowing them freedom to exercise their expertise (Giardiello, 2014:102). Both theorists impacted upon early education and learning, especially when considering the benefits the outdoor environment has to offer, yet Forest School was not present when they were conducting their research and analysing the benefits of the outdoor learning environment for children. The outdoor environment has been present for many years and the theories which support this coincide with Forest School, but they do not theories it in its entirety (Leather, 2015:14).

So, is Forest School a necessity or is it another way in which practitioners can gain knowledge and expertise which will enable children further befits of the outdoor environment and wider world?

To conclude there is very limited regulations with regards to Forest Schools. The benefits for children when learning within their outdoor environment is extraordinary whether this is through Forest School or not. This could be a consideration for the future or maybe Forest School should stay as an optional choice for continual professional development, but something which is so beneficial to children may inform the government further in making decisions with regards to early education for children, especially when the requirements for children to be physically active at least three hours a day. Again the arguments lies between the outdoor environment and Forest School and whether these can be amalgamated in order for all children, settings and practitioners to benefit from what both have to offer without considering the finical expense involved when participating in a Forest School qualification.

Forest School, Outdoor Learning or Both?

Have your say in the comments box below.
Written By: Emily


  1. Sounds like a great idea, I worry that our kids are more interested in their tech and they are not getting to experience touching, smelling and seeing. Getting muddy was all we did and I can't remember ever being bored. Climbing trees, covering yourself in mud and picking up bugs and insects a perfect way to spend you days....wish I could do it now :-)

  2. Thank you for your comment. I totally agree. There is such little emphasis on the importance of outdoor learning and the outdoor environment and what it offers to children's holistic development. Sue Palmer (2006) Toxic Childood, is a fascinating, scary, yet empowering book which I would recommend you read as it delves deeper into the concerns you've raised. I do hope that Forest School excites practitioners and children to get out and explore the outdoors, just like we did when we were children.

    Kind Regards.

  3. This article fails to highlight the powerful impact on self esteem, confidence and mental health, at the heart of any true forest school programme. It is this way of interacting with participants that a good quality forest school trainer will get across to a practitioner during training.

  4. Thank you for your comment, this particular post is just highlighting whether there is a need for legalisation to fully support practitioners to implement Forest School.

    I'd like to bring your attention to further posts on this blog, mainly the impact of Forest School on children's learning,

    I hope this helps you to understand that, as a team, we are exploring all areas of Forest School and highlighting whether there is a need for change or not, or whether outdoor learning is substantial enough to fulfil all developmental needs of children.

    Kind Regards,


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