The Department for Children, Schools and Families aims for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the opportunities and support they require in order to;
Every Local Authority (LA) is responsible for working with their partners to establish provision for children and young people within their area to fulfil these aims and to give them more influence about the issues that affect them collectively as well as individually. Forest Schools can directly relate it`s ethos and approach to all of the key aims of Every Child Matters;
A woodland environment creates a myriad of movements which are never performed the same way twice due to the natural and ever changing surfaces which it offers. The physical demands are greater simply in walking through uneven woodland compared to a surfaced playground. In climbing a tree the tendons and muscles are used in unique combinations each time and in moulding natural resources the fine motor skills are honed by using a-symmetrical and un-balanced materials.
The excitement of a campfire and the opportunity to cook can allow learners to sample foods possibly dismissed or outside of their previous experience, but also possibly lead onto an interest in healthier eating habits.
Emotional development is an integral part of any Forest School and forms one of the underpinning themes which the practitioners observe and plan for throughout the programme. In helping to develop the whole person who understands themselves and those around them and who can meet challenges by making choices rather than by only reacting, we can reinforce those positive experiences which can inform lifelong choices, such as drug taking and issues affecting their sexual health.
Through thorough risk assessment and allowing learners to take controlled risks (that which we believe is within the developmental ability of the learners to manage), they can explore their surroundings, learning about responsibility and choices. One often neglected aspect of any injury from an accident is the emotional dimension, which, when they have been given the opportunity to overcome by having a supportive environment, is more likely to be less of an issue in the future. The bumps and grazes we have as children helped prepare us for falls in later life.
At no point are we adorned with wisdom and robustness, it is something we develop through the many slips and trips as we grow. In taking appropriate risks while young, we are able to learn quickly to predict and find alternatives for accident causes in life. The emotional content of risk taking is an important experience for learners to grasp and to be able to manage their emotions at times of challenge either psychologically or physically so that they can make decisions rather than solely rely on reactions.
The hardiness (self regulation) developed through adventurous play along with improved self worth and image can leave learners less vulnerable to bullying through their approach to challenges. In providing opportunities to take risks, it can be an outlet as a means of engaging that behaviour which might be seen as anti-social in other contexts and allows learners to explore strategies which will inform choices later in life. There are also the opportunities for learners to recognise the impacts of their own actions through the reflective process all Forest Schools sessions employ. Through this reflection learners can share their experiences and understand how their actions have effected others, how their actions have affected themselves and how there are means through which they can agree how to live and play alongside one another.
The bonding experiences developed through play and adventure with one`s peers can also create a secure and nurturing environment in which learners feel trusted, being able to count on the support of their friends at times of uncertainty and doubt.
Enjoy and achieve
Increased self worth and self confidence along with a more intimate understanding of and ability to control their emotions can give the learners the opportunity to place themselves in positions whereby they are able to understand how to recognise what is bad, what is good, and how to move from bad to good. This is done through a multitude of ways, from the initial baseline observations, through to small achievable tasks, reflection and review, praise from the FS Practitioner and peers, as well as opportunities within the “learning community” that is Forest Schools to perhaps help their peers learn those skills or to live that experience for themselves. This is always moving towards giving the learner the resources they need to adapt to the choices available to them and to also be able to where possible, create new choices for themselves and others.
Forest School experiences have been used many times as successful springboards to other learning, linking Maths lessons to den building, Science to trees and English to bird song. These lessons have been able to use the learner`s experiences to relate the topic to something which excites and engages them and can be further reinforced through the long term nature of Forest School programmes. Maths and den building are a perfect partnership through which learners have been able to explore proportions, quantity, angles and shapes informally, without any break in the flow of play, whereby the learners live the learning. This is knowledge which is absorbed without effort and it is applied and adapted freely and fluently and demonstrates how vividly outdoor learning opportunities can compliment traditional subjects and vice versa, throughout a whole educational setting.
Make a positive contribution
Through Forest Schools, learners gain experiences in how they can affect their own lives and gain skills and strategies to achieve their goals all the while developing empathy for the needs of others. It also provides for learners clear insights into how they may change things for the better through having the ability to use their own initiative, move fluidly through different roles within a group as well as recognise the stages towards success.
By the very nature of Forest Schools being about the process, rather than the product, it allows each learner`s contribution to be taken into account, bearing in mind that particular learner. There have been children whom I have worked with who`s contribution may seen small by comparison to others in their age group, but for them it is a significant development in their ability to offer forward questions and ideas.
As learners get to experience the beauty of nature in hands on fashion, it allows a relationship and a relevance to blossom, which in turn deeply affects their perceptions of nature and their relationship with it. We can lecture the next generations to look after nature, or we can inspire them through allowing them to experience it and for it to play a part in their lives.
Through ownership, what could have been introduced as externalised rules used to control the behaviour of learners can become a personal process where they feel a sense of responsibility to one another as a community, having an involvement in the rules which they choose to live by while at Forest School and a voice which is recognised and listened to where problems need to be resolved. In many instances the solutions to problems, be they physical or personal, can be fostered from the learners which in turn develops their ability to be resourceful and to take part in a community and support or alter its ways.
Being able to empathise is a skill developed over a lengthy period. It is important that learners are allowed opportunities to not only understand their own emotions (which is the foundation of empathy) but to experience other people`s emotions. It is only this opportunity to reflect on the relationships between their experiences and emotions, and those of others and seeing their similarities, which allows empathy to develop This can in turn lead to a greater understanding of the impacts of any discriminatory actions.
Achieve economic well-being
The long term support and development provided by Forest Schools can create young people with employable skills increasing the opportunity for future financial security and social mobility. These employable skills range from the ability to work alongside others and well as independently, to be a leader but also to be able to work in harmony with others and follow their lead. Self resilience and the ability to reason, apply experiences and problem sole is a skill required in all avenues of work and something which is sought highly by employers.
Through Forest School`s aim which is to develop intrinsic motivation (the joy of experiencing, experimenting and discovery itself) as well as emotional intelligence and self esteem it can help learners possibly think about further education or training upon leaving school through their ability to understand and manipulate their emotions to help them achieve their goals which are based on their own sense of ability and self worth.
Forest Schools as a wide ranging and flexible approach to holistic development which not only creates opportunities for those learners on the programmes but for them in other areas and aspects of their life and ultimately, the rest of their life.
For a more detailed exploration of Every Child Matters, please see the Outcomes Framework