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What is a Forest School?

A forest school is a progressive, alternative education model held almost exclusively in the outdoors. It is also commonly known as forest kindergarten, outdoor nursery, or nature school. Whatever the weather, children are encouraged to play, explore, and learn in natural outdoor spaces. This provides dynamic and varied learning conditions to challenge and empower students to discover in deeper and more holistic ways than a traditional classroom environment. 

What is the history of forest school?

The first forest school was created by Ella Flautau in Denmark in the early 1950s. The idea formed as a result of her with her own children and neighbors' children gathering together in a nearby forest, an unofficial form of daycare which elicited great interest among other parents in the community. The parents formed a group and created an initiative to establish the first forest kindergarten. Around the same time in nearby Sweden an ex-military man, Goesta Frohm, created the idea of "Skogsmulle" in 1957.  This was a set of four fictional characters to teach children about nature. Forest schools based on Frohm's model were also called "Rain or Shine Schools", and transitioned from occasional activities to formal nursery schools, with the first established by Siw Linde in 1985. Forest schools, also known as Waldkindergarten or waldkitas began popping up in Germany in the 1960s, but the first Forest Kindergarten was not officially recognized as a state-supported daycare until 1993. Since then, forest kindergartens have become increasingly popular. As of 2005 there were approximately 450 forest kindergartens in Germany, some of which offer a mix of forest kindergarten and traditional daycare, spending their mornings in the forest and afternoons inside. By late 2017, the number of forest kindergartens in Germany surpassed 1500. Today, nature-based education can be found around the world and can take many other forms, such as  summer camps, scouting, Outward Bound programs, wilderness therapy. and under the broad term of "outdoor experiential education".​  It is also consistent with the modern concepts of slow parenting.

What makes forest school different?

Besides the obvious difference of being located outdoors, another distinctive feature of forest kindergartens is the emphasis on play with objects that can be found in nature, rather than commercial toys. The fact that most forest kindergartens do not provide commercial toys that have a predefined meaning or purpose supports the development of language skills, as children verbally create a common understanding of the objects used as toys in the context of their play. Forest kindergartens are also generally less noisy than closed rooms, and noise has been shown to be a factor in the stress level of children and daycare professionals. Lastly, with high adult:child ratios, children can safely experience activities that are often prohibited in other care centers, such as climbing trees or lighting fires. Children have the freedom to explore the area within the forest, this helps the child to learn to manage their own safety and move around comfortably. The adult supervision of most forest schools is meant to assist students, rather than lead. Forest schools usually provide a higher adult to child ratio than some learning styles, in order to ensure children are supported sufficiently in a higher risk environment. As such,  children learn to manage risk in a healthy way, leading to greater independence and self-sufficiency. Despite these differences, forest kindergartens are meant to fulfill the same basic purpose as other nurseries, namely, to care for, stimulate, and educate young children. 

What is the curriculum like?

Forest school students are given regular opportunities to learn personal, social and technical skills through hands-on learning in a woodland environment. Forest schools use the woods and forests as a means to emphasize SEAL skills (the social and emotional aspects of learning), through LIL (learner initiated learning).  The practitioners are trained to provide opportunities for each child to develop in areas that have been identified as requiring support (or intervention) of any kind. All of this happens within child-directed and interest-based play in mixed-age groups, with trained adults available for facilitation, guidance and support. Topics in the curriculum are typically broad in subject to include the natural environment and its relation to human culture and geography, as well as abstract concepts such as mathematics and communication. Example lessons and activities may include but are not limited to:

  • Creating toys, tools and handcrafts with found natural objects

  • Learning about the role of trees in nature and society

  • Discovering the relationship between earth and sky

  • Noticing the gradual changes of a natural landscape through the seasons

  • Exploring the complex ecosystem supported by a wilderness

  • Recognizing and identifying local flora and fauna

  • Embarking on imaginary voyages and expeditions

  • Practicing open-ended free play and memory games with loose parts

  • Playing imaginative games using role play and available resources 

  • Building shelters or other structures from branches and natural materials

  • Counting objects or looking for mathematical patterns 

  • Listening to stories; singing songs and rhymes

  • Drawing scenes or arranging natural items to create an image

  • Climbing trees and exploring the forest, playing hide-and-seek.

  • Self reflection, rest and meditation


Who is forest school for?

Forest schools are suitable for ALL learners, of any age, exceptionality, background and demographic. The program is adaptable and suitable for every student's personal ability, skill and their unique pace of learning. Preschool age learner's will benefit from creative, sensory, spatial and motor development while older children of primary school age will strengthen foundation’s for continued personal, social and educational development. The combination of freedom and responsibility has been shown to be particularly beneficial to children who suffer from low self -esteem, low motivation or whose behavior is challenging in a normal classroom setting. This includes children from non-academic backgrounds and children with additional support support needs, including ADHD and autism.​


What are the benefits of Forest School?​



  • PHYSICAL: Improved physical stamina, fine and gross motor skills, Balance and agility, safe risk-taking, sensory exploration, spatial awareness, motor development, increased strength, stamina and balance, manual dexterity, footwork coordination, tactile sensitivity, depth perception, fewer accidents and injuries

  • SOCIAL: Improved communication and social skills, Positive identity formation for individuals, families and communities, Environmentally sustainable behaviors, greater enthusiasm for teamwork, increased independence, empathy and altruism.

  • EMOTIONAL: Secure attachment and self identification, Improved confidence and self esteem, Increased motivation, Reduced stress and increased patience, self-discipline and regulation, resilience., self awareness and character development.

  • MENTAL: Ecological literacy, Improved academic achievement, Improved higher level cognitive skills, Increased attention span, Improved concentration, Improved creativity and use of imagination, problem solving, Increased curiosity, memory recall and pattern recognition, risk assessment

When and where is forest school offered?

Established forest school have been documented in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, USA, Malaysia, Switzerland, Spain, Ireland, Germany and United Kingdom. Most forest schools operate year-round, allowing children to experience all of the changing seasons and types of weather as teachable moments. It has been shown that the duration and frequency of time spent at forest school directly correlates to the increase of its associated benefits. 

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