Phase 2 of the Forest School evaluation focused on three case study areas in England: Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire. The objective was to explore the benefits and impacts of Forest School on children over an extended period of time. The key features and themes of Forest School that emerged from an analysis of the data are outlined below.
The evaluation was participatory and involved workshops with key stakeholders who developed six specific positive outcomes that related to children’s self esteem, ability to work with others, motivation to learn, language development, skills and knowledge and physical skills development.
Twenty-four children were tracked over an eight-month period as they attended Forest School. Forest School Leaders and teachers used a self-appraisal template to record changes in the children focusing on the positive outcomes mentioned above.
Key features of Forest School
- The use of a woodland setting that is framed by strict safety routines and established boundaries that allows the flexibility and freedom for child-initiated learning and other innovative approaches to learning to take place in a low-risk environment.
- A high adult to pupil ratio allows for children to undertake tasks and play activities that challenge them but do not put them at undue risk of harm.
- Learning can be linked to the national curriculum and foundation stage objectives whilst setting those objectives in a different context, and it is not focused just on the natural environment.
- The freedom to explore using multiple senses is fundamental for encouraging creative, diverse and imaginative play.
- Regular contact for the children over a significant period of time at least one morning, afternoon or day per week or fortnight from two to twelve months or more.
Key evaluation themes
Themes 1 to 6 below relate to the impact of Forest School on the children studied. Themes 7 and 8 are concerned with the wider impacts of Forest School on parents and teachers.
- ConfidenceThis was characterised by self-confidence and self-belief that came from the children having the freedom, time and space, to learn, grown and demonstrate independence.
- Social skillsThe children demonstrated an increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on other people, peers and adults, and acquired a better ability to work co-operatively with others.
- Language and communicationThe children developed more sophisticated uses of both written and spoken language prompted by their visual and sensory experiences at Forest School.
- Motivation and concentrationThis was characterised by a keenness to participate in exploratory learning and play activities as well as the ability to focus on specific tasks for extended periods of time.
- Physical skillsThe children developed physical stamina and their gross motor skills through free and easy movement round the Forest School site. They developed fine motor skills by making objects and structures.
- Knowledge and understandingIncreased respect for the environment was developed as well as an interest in their natural surroundings. Observational improvements were noted as the children started to identify flora and fauna.
- New perspectivesThe teachers and practitioners gained a new perspective and understanding of the children as they observed them in a very different setting and were able to identify their individual learning styles.
- Ripple effects beyond Forest SchoolThe children brought their experience home and asked their parents to take them outdoors at the weekend or in the school holidays. Parent’s interest and attitude towards Forest School changed as they saw the impacts on their children.
The work was undertaken by the New Economics Foundation and Forest Research. For further information contact: