The ethos of the Forest School approach to learning is based on placing the learner (in this case the child) at the centre of the learning experience; everything is focused towards the learner and her development with the adult(s) acting as facilitator, rather than as a teacher.
A Forest School approach is one that considers the physical, psychological, social and material needs of learners, providing a 360 degree supportive environment to learn through self-directed play. As such, Forest School sessions should be led by Forest School Practitioners who are aware of and understand the holistic nature of learning in Forest School, with at least one practitioner being at level 3.
Play is an important part of a person’s development, whether as a child or as an adult and it is play that brings all the elements of a Forest School session together towards the desired outcomes. Self-directed play allows us to get in the ‘flow’; to become absorbed into an activity. This provides the infrastructure to freely investigate the material world, to discover new ideas, make mistakes and take risks. Play should be managed by responsible adults, but only in so far as to provide an adequate environment for self-direction. By giving such support, children are able to take a sense of ownership and power over themselves thereby inducing a sense of confidence and ability that is difficult to achieve at the same rate and at the same quality than in, for example, directed formal learning.
Children should be able to develop their understanding of the natural environment through various practical and thought-provoking activities. There should be a strong element of understanding the child’s own well-being, both as an individual but also from being within part of a group. Forest School sessions should be about promoting a feeling of community, by building the self-awareness, social skills, empathy and the ability to communicate with others effectively.
A good Forest School session and programme should be reflected on and evaluated. Feedback from each session should be received and taken into account when planning future sessions. Individual learning development should be tracked and new opportunities should be provided or established ones should be adapted to fit the direction of individuals and the groups as a whole.