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‘Forest School in the UK may seem a fairly new movement. In reality it is based on a rich heritage of outdoor learning going back at least to the 19th century. Philosophers, naturalists and educators in Europe and the UK such as Wordsworth, Ruskin, Baden Powell, Leslie Paul (who founded the Woodcraft Folk in 1925), Kurt Hahn (who founded Gordon stone and was the inspiration for our first outdoor education centers), Susan Isaacs and the Macmillan sisters all laid the foundations for what is known as Forest School today.
During the 1970s and 80s our education system moved toward a more teacher/outcome-centered approach in an attempt to improve numeracy and literacy, in particular, and we had the introduction of the national curriculum. Somewhat in response to this, there was a growth of ‘alternative’ educational models in the 1990s and it is in this context that Forest School emerged. ’ A brief history of the development from the Forest School Association. The Forest School model originates in Scandinavia and involves participants journeying by foot (if possible) to a local woodland environment to learn outdoors on a regular sustained basis.
In 1993 a group of childcare students visiting Denmark witnessed the benefits of Forest School for themselves and brought the idea back to Bridgewater College. On returning they devised way to apply forest schools to their childcare center. Since then the idea has grown and Forest Schools are spreading throughout Britain. Margret McMillan was a socialist Christian. She was very interested in education and she fought for reforms to improve the health of young children, wrote several books on nursery education and pioneered a play-centered approach. She was very interested in how children could learn outside and how it benefitted them.
It wasn’t until after her life that her thoughts and theories were put into practice, a college was opened in her sister’s name in 1930 and in 1936 the first purpose-built outdoor center was created in memory of Margaret McMillan. Friedrich Frobel was also a pioneer of outdoor learning. Introducing and sustaining the original idea according to which nature and the natural environment had a definite and positive role in the education of children. Frobel coined the word kinder garten, which means children’s garden. Other significant contributors to the outdoor learning movement were Natalie Davis and Susan Isaacs.
Davis set up Chelsea open-air nursery in 1927, she handed it over to Isaacs, who wanted to give invigorating and healthy experiences to the children. Isaacs was a keen researcher of principals and new research appearing about how children should learn. “Today Chelsea Open Air Nursery School and Children’s Centre survives as a fitting and faithful legacy of Susan Isaacs pioneering work. Educationalists from around the world visit the school and are inspired by its wonderful setting, ethos and professional expertise. ’ Forests schools officially began in the Uk in 1993 after a group of students visited Denmark and saw forest schools in action.
This was only 20 years ago and today there are at least 25 forest school companies listed, and I dare say that not all forest school practitioners are on the association site. There is also places like Ruskin Mill, who specialise in bush craft and farming activities for young adults, and HillHolt farm in Lincolnshire, which started as an alternative for expelled children, it is now a fully fledged educational centre using many forest school activities, and teaching other outdoor skills for life, with very successful results. Many school and nursery teachers have become forest school leaders and run sessions in their schools.
No exact figure is available but I would definitely say forest schools are now becoming mainstream and it’s common place for people to be aware of what forest school is. Locally, in Lincolnshire there are 4 forest schools, and in the South Yorkshire there are another 4 registered forest schools. In Scotland (the coldest part of the UK) they’re a fully outdoor nursery/kindergarten. This embraces forest schools in an extreme way, everyday is a forest school for the children who attend “Kirsty Licence, 40, a doctor and Alastair’s mother, believes the nursery will be an antidote to Britain’s increasingly sedentary, over-protective culture.
“Childhood obesity is a big problem, and one of the things is that children spend too long inside. ” The forest education initiative was set up to basically make people more aware of how important our forests are to us and for people to understand the link between everyday product and our trees. “Our aim is to help young people understand the sustainable role that trees and timber have in our lives. ” The aims of the initiative are achieved through the work of forest schools, conservationists and groundwork, amongst others.
The initiative has supported forest schools because of the work they do which takes more and more children into our forests. Forest school can register to be recognised with the Forest Education Initiative. To have financial backing and an official body to be recognised will no doubt have had a positive effect on the uptake and growth of forests schools nationally. The forest school association exists like many other associations to provide a central point for good practice, storing and sharing information for practitioners. Also to communicate a strong clear message of what Forest School is.
They also work with other organisations with similar goals, not as competitors but as a team hoping to enlighten people about the importance of our forests. They are also the governing body for forest school qualifications, making the whole operation absolutely professional. Personally I think as time goes on that forest schools will become even more popular. As more people experience a child in the outdoors they will realise how much they flourish and learn in a natural environment. Unfortunately, though it may be a while before the government realises this, we may go to china and back first!