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The Great Outdoors: Benefits of Forest School in Early Years

Let’s step into the enchanting world of forest schools, where nature becomes the ultimate teacher and imagination knows no bounds.

In this fast-paced digital age, where screens dominate and outdoor play takes a backseat, forest schools offer a breath of fresh air – quite literally.

A forest school ethos is designed to immerse young children in the wonders of the great outdoors. Showing the realisation of what nature is, how to safely enjoy the outdoors and showcasing the awe and wonder that this world truly has to offer.

So, grab your backpack and leave the confines of traditional childcare behind – it's time to let nature be the teacher and watch as your child's imagination takes flight.

What is a Forest School?

At its core, a forest school is an educational approach that takes place primarily in natural outdoor settings, such as woodlands or forests. Originating in Scandinavia in the 1950s, the concept gained popularity and has since spread to various countries around the world.

The philosophy of forest schools are rooted in the belief that children learn best through direct experience and play. Just like the Early Years Foundation Stage framework we follow.

From building forts out of fallen branches to discovering hidden treasures under moss-covered rocks, forest schools provide a unique and enriching experience that inspires a lifelong love for the natural world and a deep connection with nature.

two girls using magnifying glasses to explore in a forest
Image by Freepik

The Benefits of Forest Schools in Early Years

Forest schools offer a myriad of benefits for young children, both academically and developmentally. By immersing children in natural environments, these principles and activities provide opportunities for holistic growth, fostering physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development.

One of the obvious benefits of being outdoors is the promotion of physical activity and gross motor skills development. Unlike indoor activities, outdoor play in natural settings involves running, climbing, balancing, and other physical movements that contribute to the development of coordination, strength, and overall physical fitness.

When children encounter uneven terrain, obstacles that are in their way, and challenges when building structures and dens, they are developing their cognitive skills. The natural environment offers endless opportunities for problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making.

These experiences encourage children to think creatively, adapt to new situations, and develop resilience – all essential skills for lifelong learning.

What’s more, forest schools provide a nurturing environment for emotional and social growth. Nature has a calming effect on the mind and promotes emotional well-being. Spending time in green spaces reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue, allowing children to develop a sense of calmness and inner peace.

In this supportive environment, children learn to manage and self-regulate their emotions, build self-confidence, and develop positive relationships with peers and adults.

How Forest Schools Foster Creativity and Imagination

Forest schools are renowned for their ability to foster creativity and imagination in young children. The natural world serves as a limitless canvas for children to explore, experiment, and create. Away from the constraints of traditional classrooms, children are free to let their imaginations run wild and engage in unstructured play that encourages creativity and innovation.

Being outdoors in nature, children are exposed to a wealth of sensory experiences. They can feel the texture of tree bark, listen to the rustling of leaves, smell the scent of wildflowers, and observe the vibrant colours of the natural world.

female toddler crawling on the forest floor
Image by teksomolika on Freepik

Forest schools also provide open-ended opportunities for creative play and problem-solving. Whether it's building a fort using fallen branches or designing a nature-inspired sculpture, children are encouraged to use their imagination, experiment with materials, and think outside the box.

That’s quite a lot of benefits of forest schools in early years! But these benefits and activities can also happen at home, not just at a forest school or forest school session.

Let’s take a look…

Forest School Activities for the Home

Forest school activities are designed to engage children's senses, encourage exploration, and inspire creative thinking. Here are a few examples of forest school activities that ignite imagination and foster creativity that can be done in a garden, in a park, anywhere outdoors really.

  • Nature Art: Children can use natural materials such as leaves, flowers, and twigs to create artwork. They can make collages, sculptures, or even paint with natural pigments. The possibilities are endless, and children are encouraged to express themselves freely through their creations.

  • Storytelling & Role Play: The outdoors provides the perfect backdrop for storytelling and imaginative play. Children can invent stories about the creatures that inhabit the forest or take on different roles and act out their own adventures. This activity promotes language development, creativity, and social skills.

  • Building & Construction: Using fallen branches, rocks, and other natural materials, children can build forts, bridges, and other structures. This activity encourages problem-solving, teamwork, and imaginative thinking. Children can create their own miniature worlds and engage in imaginative play within their creations.

  • Nature Scavenger Hunts: Scavenger hunts encourage children to explore their surroundings and discover hidden treasures in nature. They can search for specific items, such as different types of leaves or animal tracks, or they can create their own by collecting all the treasurses they find along their walking route. This activity promotes observation skills, critical thinking, and creativity.

 woman using natural materials to create a picture
Image by pressfoto on Freepik

Implementing Forest School Principles within a Childcare Setting

Whilst established forest school settings offer a unique and immersive experience, the principles and philosophies behind them can be applied in various settings, including homes (as mentioned above) and childcare settings.

To ensure children experience the benefits of forest school within early years at Lucky Beans Childcare, we try to incorporate forest school principles into our routine and planning.

Firstly we embrace outdoor play. We encourage children to spend more time outdoors. By providing opportunities for unstructured play, exploration, and interaction with the natural environment, children have the opportunity to engage their senses, take risks, and freely express themselves through play.

Many of our activities incorporate natural materials that the children can explore and use creatively. We also plan for nature-focused activities. In addition, we like to be outdoors, whether that is a walk to the park area or to the local shops. Or simply being in the outdoor area at our settings. Activities can include nature walks, scavenger hunts, gardening, or taking the time to observe and appreciate the natural world.

We love the outdoors. We embrace and promote learning following the forest school principles. So much so, to show our appreciation of natural spaces, we have sponsored a tree in the Norbury community garden; Maggie’s Garden.

Let us know if you see our tree (it has a Lucky Beans plaque next to it) and what you think of the new garden.


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