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Background to Forest School

Forest School originated in Europe in the early 20th century as a way of teaching about the natural world. By the 1980s it became part of the Danish early years programme.

The Forest School model originates in Scandinavia and involves participants journeying by foot (if possible) to a local woodland environment to learn outdoors on a regular sustained basis. It is a long-term client/child-led, educational process that promotes, observes and explicitly supports the social, emotional and physical development of children, young people and adults in an outdoor, preferably woodland, environment.

In 1993 a group of childcare students visiting Denmark witnessed the benefits of Forest School for themselves and brought the idea back to Bridgewater College. Here, lecturers that accompanied the students considered how they could apply what they had seen to the childcare provision in their own Early Years Excellence Centre. Since then the idea has grown and Forest Schools are spreading throughout Britain.

Scotland

Forest School has grown exponentially in Scotland with Forest Education Initiative (FEI) taking the lead in the development of Forest School from 2003 when there were only about four trained Forest School Leaders in Scotland. From 2003 to 2005, four initial training programmes, supported by Forestry Commission Scotland, created a core group of trained Forest School leaders in Scotland. A small number of these people became active Level 3 Forest School practitioners and trainers, resulting in a wider range of individuals and organisations able to deliver and support training in Scotland.

More recently, there was a shift in focus to targeted Forest School training for teachers. In 2010/11, a Forest School training programme for schools was delivered in four key geographical regions across Scotland, to build on existing capacity, and funded by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Scottish Government Learning Directorate. There are now over 500 trained leaders and assistant leaders. Delivery is mainly in primary schools but is now beginning to spread from nursery to adult groups, although Forest Kindergarten is an alternative option for Early Years.

In October 2010, an FEI Forest School Scotland Co-ordinator was appointed, steered by a Forest School Working Group, to support and guide the strategic direction of Forest School. The Working Group had representatives from Forest School practitioners and trainers, FEI Scotland cluster groups and key national bodies. The minutes of these meetings are available in the Resources library of this website. This FS Coordinator post was supported by Forests For People (F4P) followed by Forest Development Programme (FDP) funding, until December 2014. Forest School web-based resources have been developed, a national database of practitioners is in place and growing, and Forest School is established as a specialised part of outdoor learning in Scotland.

The documents FEI Forest School Scotland - a context May 2013 and FEI Forest School Scotland Evaluation Framework February 2013  plus other Forest School resources are available from the Resources library of this website.

In 2014/15 FEI evolved into Outdoor & Woodland Learning (OWL) Scotland. For more information contact the OWL Scotland Manager.

Wales

Forest Education Initiative (FEI) played a lead role in developing Forest School in Wales since 2000. Forest School Leaders in Wales include woodland owners, teachers, craftspeople, early years specialists and youth workers. The resulting Forest Schools are very diverse and use a range of woodland settings to meet the needs of different client groups. The then Forestry Commission Wales, now part of Natural Resources Wales, produced a DVD in 2007 celebrating the range of different Forest Schools. Today, the Natural Resources Wales Education team supports a range of outdoor learning initiatives including Forest School.

A Forestry Commission Wales Guide to Forest School in Wales is available.
Forest School Wales (FSW) is a charity representing Forest School Leaders. FSW can be contacted at info@forestschoolwales.org.uk

England

Initially FEI England supported the development of Forest School in over 30 counties/areas from its early foundation in Somerset at Bridgewater College. However, since FEI England was dissolved in 2012, the Forest Education Network is now providing network support for wider woodland learning initiatives across England.

Northern Ireland

Forest School is still in its infancy in Northern Ireland, but there is growing interest, and good practice demonstrated by the Camphill Community in Glencraig.

Forest School UK wide

The Forest School Association is a professional membership organisation for Forest School across the UK. The organisation was launched on 7th July 2012 at Elvaston Castle Country Park, Derby, and appointed a Development Officer in November 2012. The FSA has representatives from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on its board.