Connect2Care’s Early Years Sector Lead Corinne Austin shares her thoughts on why forest schools are here to stay…

As we approach a new school term, many early years settings are – rightly so – grasping the opportunity to embrace the benefits of outdoor learning.

No longer restricted to their bubbles, children are being encouraged to learn through the great outdoors and take advantage of the summer months to expand their minds.

Forest schooling is a rapidly growing philosophical approach to early learning closely linked to sustainability and wellbeing, two current ‘hot topics’.  Although to be recognised as a Forest School, specific training and accreditation is required, any setting can embrace the philosophy of outdoor learning and the benefits it provides.

First developed in Denmark in the 1950s, forest education is an organic approach to learning which involves valuing the natural environment and getting children outdoors, whether that’s full time, or just an hour a week. 

If you have access to an outdoor space, you can get involved in outdoor learning.  

Regular access to an outdoor space encourages curiosity, exploration and risk-taking, all of which are great for developing young minds!

 

Here are FIVE forest school ideas to try:

 

  • Take ‘learning walks’ and become wildlife detectives.  Look carefully in your nursery garden, if you have one, or take a group of children to a park or a woodland area.  Encourage them to look closely and take in what they are seeing. Explore the colours, the shapes of leaves, the clues and signs of nature.  Over time, what they see will change and this helps children understand the cycle of life and stimulates critical thinking and enquiry-based learning. 

 

  • Plant seeds and grow wildlife-friendly flowers and vegetables, or make wormeries, frog houses or bug hotels. Encourage the children to get their hands dirty while developing their fine-motor skills. This will promote conversations about ecology and sustainability, and the impact they can have on the world around them.  They can eat the vegetables they grow and observe the wildlife that visits their creations.

 

  • Let them explore, dig, build and climb.  If children want to paint, but there are no paints outside, what else could they use?  Guiding them to the realisation that sticks and water will allow them to mark-make encourages them to develop their problem-solving skills.  Allowing them to use tools, or engage in rough and tumble play allows them to test boundaries (in a safe and supervised environment) and supports their risk awareness.

 

  • Stimulate their senses.  Encourage children to focus on what they can hear, smell and feel in the garden, or the park, or whatever outdoor environment you have.  Scavenger hunts are a great way to use children’s senses, as are journey sticks.  Giving them the time and space to think about – and describe – what they can feel and smell will help develop mindfulness and a greater awareness of the world around them.

 

  • Be creative. Crafting with the objects they find, using tools and cooking on campfires enhances concentration and develops trust.  Outdoor learning is about children learning in nature whilst supported by an adult who walks alongside them: being together and sharing these experiences is a valuable part of the learning experience.

 

Being in nature gently stimulates all of the senses, supports children to self-regulate and fosters a more independent child-led way of learning. Why not give it a try?

Find out more about Connect2Care Early Years Training and the different options available, including apprenticeships for those working in or with forest schools.