Its roots reach back to the open-air culture, friluftsliv, or free air life, seen as a way of life in Scandinavia where Forest School began. - FSA
The benefits of Forest School are linked to the long-term, regular sessions, and echo the holistic development aims in the six guiding principles. Research has shown that children can benefit in a multitude of ways ranging from confidence to social, emotional, intellectual, physical and language development (Murray & O’Brien, 2005).
Case studies have shown children can:
- Develop self-regulation skills
- Cope with and learn from failure
- Build resilience (the skill of coping with risk and failure)
- Gain a sense of achievement
- Increase motivation and concentration
- Improve problem solving
- Expand their vocabulary and communication skills
- Feel empowered and have new perspectives
- Build positive relationships with adults and peers
- Have overall improved wellbeing and mental health
Forest School can increase a child’s confidence and self-esteem through exploration, problem solving, and being encouraged to learn how to assess and take appropriate risks depending on their environment. The use of learner-led outcomes means information is retained better and also generally increases curiosity and motivation to learn in general. This motivation can have a positive impact on attitude to learning in school.
Previously ‘quiet’ children have been shown to improve in their confidence and communication to work with others, and children who were initially un-cooperative learnt that sharing and working together had positive consequences – and increasingly did this (Murray & O’Brien, 2005). Sessions with mixed ages or year groups can allow interactions between older and younger children that do not normally come into contact – allowing opportunities for children to learn from and teach each other.
Learners also gain a respect for nature through many small interactions and noticing changes around them through the seasons. Providing students with an opportunity to appreciate the wider, natural world encourages a responsibility for nature conservation in later life.
Crucially, many of these benefits can manifest themselves beyond the Forest School environment, known as the ‘ripple effect’ (Murray & O’Brien, 2005). Children may influence their parent’s attitude to the outdoors through their enthusiasm, knowledge and confidence gained in Forest School.
Forest School sessions can be successfully used as an intervention strategy for children and young people who are at risk or disadvantaged in social, behavioural or economic ways. Research has shown that disadvantaged pupils who attended Forest School had increased academic attainment and attendance at school in comparison to those who did not attend the sessions (McCree, 2018). Taking a child outside of their normal setting and working on a long-term basis under the Forest School principles gives the child freedom to redefine themselves and try new things.
Additionally, increased communication skills can reduce friction in other aspects of life, and an increased sense of self-awareness allows a child to understand and communicate their needs and wants effectively to others rather than using undesirable behaviour.
Benefits for Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN)
Case studies have shown that children with complex learning difficulties including autism, behavioural difficulties, speech and language difficulties and problems with hearing and vision can benefit from Forest School.
SEN children tend to respond well because of the multi-sensory and enabling environment of Forest School, where children can explore and take supported risks. Particular benefits include gaining more independence, reducing anxiety and creating a sense of belonging.