If you’re looking at pre-schools or nurseries, you may very well have heard the latest buzz about Forest School. The approach has come into vogue over the last few years, but what is it really about, and why is it so popular? Does it mean little your one will be asking to camp out and go trekking at every possible opportunity?
We talk to Keren Ben Ezra, founder of Ofsted Outstanding Keren’s Nursery.
Why choose a Forest School?
The process itself has proven developmental benefits, even for young children. Forest Schooling raises self-esteem, social and physical skills and promotes self-confidence, due to the element of risk taking and freedom of being outside for long periods of time. That doesn’t mean children run wild – far from it; it offers opportunities for learning that children are unable to experience in a classroom.
Forest School might run alongside traditional Early Years curriculums at “traditional” schools, Montessori schools, Steiner schools or faith schools for example, or it might be present as the core and only way of schooling. Make sure you know what’s on offer, and whether it suits your preferred learning goals for your children. In many urban settings, it’s often an add-on, and could be on offer for anywhere from one hour a week to daily.
What do Forest School lessons actually entail?
Lessons at Forest Schools are designed to be the most fun you could possibly imagine as a child and are led by qualified Forest School leaders. Every outdoor learning session is prepared for in the traditional classroom setting, so that children know what to expect and can plan for possible outcomes with their teachers before venturing outside. During the cold and wet winter months, children in Keren’s nurseries are protected from the elements in special all-in-one waterproof clothing.
Activities like sensory walks, foraging, shelter-building, mini beast hunts, tree climbing, campfire cooking, woodwork, nature art, and games like puddle- and mud-jumping are just some of the activities a Forest School session might involve. Every activity is designed to promote independence, measured risk-taking and enhanced decision-making.
Forest School is outdoor, nature-based learning that centres on the rounded development of each child. In Forest School, activities are provided, but it’s the children who choose the activities suit them, while teachers observe their progress.
With so much of our children’s childhood taken up online and in front of screens, parents and children alike just can’t get enough of outdoor, Forest School sessions. Demand has been so high that we’re opening another class in our Hampstead Garden Suburb site this year, and we run regular weekend parent and child sessions.
Getting outdoors with your children
If you don’t have a Forest School close to home, I whole-heartedly recommend getting outdoors with your children as often as possible, whatever the weather. Online resources such as Nature Detectives from The Woodland Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Watch all have incredible, downloadable activity packs to encourage children to enjoy the natural world. Use these packs on the weekend or during camping trips, and encourage children to learn as much as possible about the great outdoors by spending as much time outside as possible. From nature trails to bird spotting, puddle jumping to Pooh sticks, children of all ages can get involved.
An article by Keren Ben Ezra
About the author
Keren and her husband Assaf Ben Ezra founded the Ofsted Outstanding chain, Keren’s Nursery in 2004, now comprising three branches in Holland Park, Hampstead Garden Suburb and Belsize Park with capacity for more than 150 children.