Updated: Jun 24
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach us more than we can ever learn from books.”
Nature based learning, also known as Forest Schools, operate under a philosophy that aims to help children develop confidence, independence, creativity, and self-esteem through experiences in a natural environment. Nature based learning should stimulate the imagination and encourage connecting to the natural world. Unlike in brick and mortar schools, children are encouraged to free-play, collaborate, discover and be guided by their own curiosity.
For growing children, learning is not limited to the classroom. Learning is ongoing and extends beyond a curriculum, books and structure. Every moment your child interacts with the environment, important lessons are learned. Education that is limited to the classroom ignores essential hands on life-skills that can only be taught through interacting with their environment. Children learn independence, problem-solving skills, and resilience as they play in natural environments outside of a traditional school’s four walls.
What is nature based learning?
Nature based learning, (also known under the umbrella term Forest School across the UK) is a learning approach that encourages children to have a hands-on approach with the great outdoors. The forest school approach is a holistic outdoor learning program that enhances children’s development and growth. Instead of spending all day inside sitting and focusing on indoor activities, learning extends outdoors and gives children the opportunity to enhance their understanding of the world around them. Nature based preschools offer both part-time or full-time learning with different age groups and across all seasons. Any kind of natural space is perfect for hands-on nature based learning!
A woman named Ella Flautau started the first Forest School in the early 1950s. She gathered children in a nearby forest, creating “walking kindergartens'' based on the Waldorf-Steiner approach to education. This approach favours child-led and play based models of learning. The trend continued to spread throughout Denmark in the 1950s, then later to the rest of Scandinavia before becoming Global. The movement made its way to the UK in the 1990s and has been growing rapidly since.
What activities do Forest Schools prioritise and how does learning in nature benefit children?
The nature based learning approach allows children to explore unique environments and develop important life skills that would be difficult to teach within the bounds of a typical classroom. Forest schools like to encourage children to stay active, partaking in activities that are helpful in the development of motor skills. Children are also encouraged to use their creative potential.
"We have boys who will paint with mud on trees but they won’t pick up a pen or paintbrush inside.”- Christina Dee of Forest School Learning Initiative.
Many children of our current generation spend excess time attached to computer screens in urban environments. Forest schools encourage children to step away from screens and into the real world where they can play like children used to. The forest school environment is safe and secure because there are many members of staff there to help when they are needed. Encouraging children to play in a natural, creative setting with safe boundaries helps growing minds develop a sense of confidence.
Other activities include tree climbing, building shelters, foraging, playing in the mud, using nature for arts and crafts, animal spotting or bug hunting, woodworking, and cooking.
How do Forest Schools and outdoor learning benefit my child’s wellbeing?
Nature based learning has innumerable benefits for the development of children’s wellbeing. Hands-on outdoor learning helps children co-operate and communicate with their peers. They also become encouraged and inspired by the world around them.
Nature based learning creates conscious and caring individuals motivated to preserve our planet. Children who partake in this style of learning also have a deeper sense of empathy and connection to nature.
How do I find a good quality Nature Based Learning Program ?
According to the Forest School Association (FSA), a forest school should include a series of regular outdoor sessions over a 6-10 week period. These sessions are often tailored to the individual needs of the children and are usually only 15 children maximum per session.
The Forest School Association also promotes six principles on which learning should be based, so look for somewhere that takes these into account:
FS takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
FS uses a range of learner-centered processes to create a community for being, development and learning.
FS aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
FS offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.
FS is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.