Forest schools are closely entwined with the concepts of free flow play and learning from play, which is a high priority with OFSTED and is increasingly identified as a way to engage boys in learning as well as inspire girls; support mild learning problems and stimulate, at various levels, children identified as having special educational needs (SEN). Play is a crucial element in supporting children’s health, development and well-being and a means through which they experiment, develop their abilities, get creative and explore the world around them.
“Effective play enables children to explore and create rules and understandings; develop resilience; be active; be creative and imaginative; practice new skills; learn about risks; stimulate their senses and build friendships and relationships. Play can contribute immensely to children’s enjoyment of childhood, offering a place of sanctuary and also providing a therapeutic function by helping them to deal with emotional circumstances and issues that can occur in their lives.” [Lackney, JA.33 Educational Design Principles for Schools and Community Learning Centres.]
The forest school approach demands that the outside space is not seen as merely a place where children go to burn off energy. The divide between indoors and outdoors is broken and children learn in and from nature. They are given freedom to direct their own learning and enter in to a certain amount of ‘risky-play’. The rich variety of activities on offer and the sense of independence can have very positive effects on a child’s intellectual, cognitive, physical and emotional development. The benefits of outdoor learning have been identified as being those of:
•increased self-esteem and confidence
•improved social skills
•development of language and communication skills
•improved physical motor skills
•improved motivation and concentration
•increased knowledge and understanding of the environment.