top of page

What is Forest School?

The Forest School Ethos


The Forest School Association has defined the Forest School Ethos as:


Forest School is an inspirational process that offers all learners regular opportunities to achieve, develop confidence and self-esteem, through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.

It is a specialised learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland learning. 


(Read the full FSA document here)

What are the benefits?


One element is the developing body. As well as nourishment, it requires air and exercise. There is fresh air outside, and it is usually cleaner and fresher in the wilder spaces. This is also true of exercise - opportunities occur happily outdoors and they are more diverse, flexible and exhilarating in uneven, irregular and diverse spaces. Developing bodies develop better bone density, heart and lung function, and better muscle tone when they are stretched and tested. Children are more likely to undertake exercise when motivated by climbing a tree or moving a log than they are by carefully planned exercise routines.


In terms of the developing mind, evidence indicates increases in the following areas when children in the UK engage in Forest School:


  • Confidence - self-confidence and self-belief from freedom, time and space to learn, grow and demonstrate independence

  • Social skills - increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on other people, and to work cooperatively.

  • Language and communication - more sophisticated language prompted by their sensory experiences at Forest School.

  • Motivation and concentration - a keenness to participate in exploratory learning and play activities, an ability to focus for extended periods of time.

  • Physical skills - improved stamina and gross motor skills through free and easy movement, fine motor skills by making things.

  • Knowledge and understanding - respect for the environment, interest in natural surroundings, observational improvement.

  • New perspectives - for adults seeing children in different settings, giving understanding and identifying learning styles.

  • Ripple effect - asking to go out at weekends and holidays, parent's interests and attitudes for Forest School and environment changing.

How does the Forest School approach support the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)?


As childminders we have a legal obligation to follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). The EYFS sets the standards that all early years providers must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well.


Forest School is ideal for supporting all aspects of the EYFS, not just physical development.


The four principles of the EYFS are:

  • Every Child is a unique child who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured;

  • Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships;

  • Children learn and develop well In enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and carers

  • Children learn and develop in different ways.




The three Prime Areas of Learning and Development are:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development;

  • Physical Development;

  • Communication and Language.


In addition, there are four specific development areas:

  • Literacy;

  • Mathematics;

  • Understanding the world;

  • Expressive Arts and Design.



Personal, Social and Emotional Development

  • Making relationships - It takes two to carry large branches and play hide and seek.

  • Self-confidence and self awareness - There is no right or wrong way to use all the open-ended resources.

  • Managing feelings and behaviour - The woodland can have a calming effect, there is lots of space and many resources which will support appropriate behaviour.


Physical Development

  • Moving and handling - Walking, running, rolling, jumping over rough terrain, slopes and logs, supports balance and coordination. Swinging from branches, digging, climbing supports upper body strength. The walk there and time spent playing can build greater stamina.

  • Health and self care - Dressing for the outdoors, learning how to keep themselves safe, how to risk assess such as road safety and testing out the strength of a branch.


Communication and Language

  • Listening and attention - Trees can absorb noisy sounds such as traffic making it easier to listening for quieter sounds such as a snap of a twig.

  • Understanding - Children need to listen carefully to instructions about how to stay safe.

  • Speaking - There are no predefined toys in the woods so children need to talk to others and explain their symbolic play such as this stick is now a wand. Children love to share what they have found and discuss what they have achieved. They love to recall their adventures in the woods.



  • Reading - There are many stories set in woodland for the children to act out.

  • Writing - Children love to make marks in mud.



  • Numbers - There are many found objects to count, tallies are easy to make on logs and in mud.

  • Space shape and measure - There are many natural resources to make pattern such as cones, stones, sticks and many reasons to sort found objects - There are many opportunities for conversations about length (sticks) height (climbing) weigh (logs).


Understanding the World

  • People and communities - Getting out and about in their local community give children opportunities to get to know and discuss what they like and dislike. It can support map making.

  • The World - Observation skills can be supported out in woodland. Seasons, growing, decay can be observed. There any many new and novel objects to comment on. Care and concern can be modelled to living things, respect for their natural environment can be promoted.

  • Technology - Magnifying glasses can be used to support observations, pulleys can easily be made.


Expressive Arts and Design

  • Exploring and using media and materials - Mixing natural resources to make mud pies. Using sticks and logs to make musical instruments.

  • Being Imaginative - The resources are all open-ended encouraging children to use their imagination such as logs to make a den, sticks to make a fishing rod.



Characteristics of Learning

  • Finding out and exploring, using all their senses.

  • Willing to have a go, lots of opportunities to risk take and risk manage.

  • Keeping trying. Promoting resilience, falling over, getting muddy.

  • Enjoying achieving what they set out to do. There is no right or wrong way to play with the open-ended resources.

  • Having their own ideas. There are no prescribed toys

  • Choosing ways to do things such as problem solving to make a structure.



(Adapted from: How Forest School supports all the areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), not just physical development, by Surrey County Council)

bottom of page