Forest School

Forest School is a child-centred inspirational learning process, offering opportunities for holistic growth through regular sessions. It is a long-term program that supports play, exploration and supported risk taking. It develops confidence and self-esteem through learner inspired, hands-on experiences in a natural setting.

The process helps and facilitates more than knowledge-gathering, it helps learners develop socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically and intellectually. It creates a safe, non-judgemental nurturing environment for learners to try stuff out and take risks. Forest School inspires a deep and meaningful connection to the world and an understanding of how a learner fits within it. This approach to risk means that learners constantly expand on their abilities by solving real-world issues, building self-belief and resilience. 

Although continuing to grow in the UK today, it is based on a rich heritage of outdoor learning going back at least to the 19th century. In the 1950’s, the outdoor pedagogical practice was established in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway. In 1993 a group of nursery nurses at Bridgwater College, Somerset, visited Denmark to look at the pre-school system. The open-air culture (‘friluftsliv’) is seen as a way of life in Scandinavia and permeates early years education.  The Bridgewater nursery nurses returned enthused by the largely outdoor, child-centred/play-based approach employed by the Danish pre-school and started their own ‘Forest School’ with children attending the college creche.  

Philosophers, naturalists and educators in Europe and the UK such as Wordsworth, Ruskin, Baden Powell, Leslie Paul, Kurt Hahn, Susan Isaacs and the Macmillan sisters all laid the foundations for what is known as Forest School today. 

The ethos of Forest School has 6 core principles which were agreed by the UK Forest School community in 2011. These are;

Principle 1: Forest School is a long-term process of frequent and regular sessions in a woodland or natural environment, rather than a one-off visit. Planning, adaptation, observations and reviewing are integral elements of Forest School.


Principle 2: Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural wooded environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.

Principle 3: Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners

Principle 4: Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.

Principle 5: Forest School is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.

Principle 6: Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for development and learning