Key principles of play and their relevance to Forest School

I consider the work of a Forest School practicioner to be one that is very closely related to that of a playworker and should, ultimately, work to a similar set of underlying principles to do with play. When I was studying for my playwork qualification in 2007, I became very familiar with Play Wales’ Playwork Principles. Underneath each principle is how I consider Forest School can work to achieve it.

1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.

Forest School provides a healthy, outdoor environment that gives innate freedom and opportunity for enquiry through play.

2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.

Forest School programmes are child-centric, with sessions that are designed by Leaders to be adaptive and responsive to a learner’s changing needs and interests.

3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.

Forest School policies, strategies and pedagogy are all linked to the requirement of practitioners to facilitate rather than direct learners in their play; to provide time, space, resource and experience (if it is asked for or overtly needed).

4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.

Forest School practitioners who are working towards learners’ holistic development recognise the importance of their play taking centre-stage and are advocates for such play through understanding risk/benefit and being able to articulate this to others. Forest School can protect the need for risky play.

5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.

Forest School does not exclude, it adapts – so do its practitioners.

6. The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.

Forest School promotes holistic development and supports the ‘whole’ child in their learning through play.

7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.

Forest School Leaders and Assistants understand the needs of different learning styles, methods and pedagogical techniques.

8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children.

Forest School practitioners observe learners at play, moving inside and out-of their comfort zones and different stages of risk (see: It is through insightful observations that Forest School practitioners are able to recognise the changing and dynamic needs and interests of a learner and offer new or deeper experiences (interventions) to help extend their play and therefore overall development. Forest School practitioners are always mindful of changing risk and benefits inherent within different opportunities.

Download the principles as a PDF:

If I were to choose a particular principle to be my chosen one it would probably be:

‘The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.’

Playwork Principle number 3

Adults, particularly those whose aim is to work with children in a play setting, should understand their position. I have worked with many adults who do not grasp the distinct nature of play, playing or playwork and have therefore resorted to type: overbearing, shouting grown-ups who are demanding that children ‘do it right’ and if they don’t then they’re ‘being naughty’ … when what they’re actually saying is that children are doing what they want to do in their play and not what the adult wants them to do – and this gets the adult frustrated because they can’t control the situation or the child to the extent that they want, primarily for an easy life.

When in Forest School

For me, Forest School is particularly relevant to protecting children’s right to play and in promoting the idea of holistic development for all learners irregardless of age, background or ability. The way Forest School programmes are designed to offer a sequential developmental environment, where a feeling of security in making mistakes, in taking new risks and finding new challenges, in creating new social groups all help to underpin the principle of ‘supporting and facilitating the play process’ with an outcome of building a vitally important relationship with nature.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.