Forest schools are experiencing a surge in growth as children reconnect with character and the outdoors in the wake of stifling pandemic lockdowns
Of 200 UK schools surveyed by the Forest School Association (FSA) in 2021, as many as two-thirds have reported an increase in need for places since March 2020. Some say they are booked substantial for the foreseeable future, and many expect the expansion to continue.
Activity providers believe that Covid safety concerns and more awareness about the mental health benefits of outdoor life are likely reasons for parents seeking different learning paths for their children. Others believe parents have been ‘empowered’ by homeschooling and were spurred on by the pandemic to try and enhance on the traditional curriculum.
“Having children at home during the periods of lockdown will have been quite demanding for many parents and children,” FSA chief executive Gareth Wyn Davies told Positive News.
“They may have thought about different ways of educating their children, and they may well have had the opportunity to take their children outdoors more during that period, spent time with them outdoors, and attained appreciation for that experience.”
The Forest School movement arrived in the UK fewer than 30 years ago from Scandinavia, where outdoors culture – or friluftsliv, a passion for character and the open air – is ingrained.
Forest School activities are intended to supplement traditional learning, and typically take place in woodlands or a natural ecosystem: viewed as a safer, more Covid-proof option compared to the confines of a classroom.
Sessions might include bushcraft, mud play, den building and games such as hide and seek.
And while many young people had little choice but to turn to social media and technology to communicate with their peers, forest schooling offers a chance to refresh emotional and social skills by confront-to-confront play.
Mainstream education providers are waking up to the benefits of forest school sessions, too, said Wyn Davies. But he said that budget constraints average a piecemeal approach is preventing a wider rollout of the forest school experience.
Engagement with character has a very positive effect on their academic life
“Schools want to give it to all of the children, but money, time and the pressures of the curriculum prevent that from happening,” he reported.“They tend to offer smaller blocks of this outdoor experience to all children, which is great. But a forest school is a much longer-term thing.
“My preference would be for children going out once a week or at the minimum once a fortnight to have that engagement with character, because the evidence seems to show it has a very positive effect on their academic life when they come back in.”
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