What is Forest School?

"forest school gets muddy"

As I take leave of my Year 2 teacher, and finish the Key Stage 1 section of my educational journey, we have reflected on the diverse learning curves I have experienced with my class over the last 11 months. From a writing crisis, to the creation of an electrical circuit, my 7 year old brain has been stretched, and Mummy has been impressed.

Photo courtesy of The Mummy Whisperer

But thinking back to last September, there was only one question on Mummy’s mind as I made the transition into Year 2: What is forest school? With this in mind, we decided to share our experiences for the benefit of families who may be wondering just how to prepare for this increasingly common educational experience in primary schools.

What is Forest School? The Facts:

  • An opportunity to learn through supervised outdoor play.
  • A mixture of structured and independent (child-led) outdoor learning.
  • Not necessarily carried out in a forest! Any outdoor setting with access to trees, bushes, plants, water, insects, or mud is fine – ours is in a tree-strewn corner of the playing field.

What do we do at Forest School?

"Living Willow Den"

  • We use tools – saws, hammers, whittling knives, cutting tools, nails (stuff Mummy would lock up at the top of a tall cupboard. School has no such compunction.) – to explore and create with the wood and plants around us.
  • Sometimes there is an objective based on a current learning theme from the curriculum in class. Other times we make whatever comes into our heads – like playground equipment, houses, beds and schools. Simple constructions, and often – in my case – for the sole use of worms. It is called Design and Technology!
  • We build fires, and learn about fire safety.
  • We play in the mud (I think this is so Mummy doesn’t have to feel guilty about not letting us get muddy at home).
  • We do tree rubbings, plant identification, bug discovery.
  • We build living willow dens, in which we consume hot chocolate with cold fingers.
  • We have fun!

Clothing for Forest School

Here is where the fun really starts! Your school will probably tell you to bring old clothes that can get muddy without anyone minding. You will need wellies. Rain does not stop play, so you would be well advised to keep waterproofs in school. Especially waterproof trousers – you do not want to know how it feels to spend the entire schoolday with a wet bottom and mud in your pants!

My advice is to leave all this kit in school at all times, as there will be days when you forget that it is forest school and turn up in uniform. This is the subject of a whole other, much funnier post; here we’re sticking to practicalities.

To begin with, everyone will relish the prospect of a casual non-uniform day as we don our baggiest track-suits and sweatshirts. We will roll around in the  mud and forget the pressures of correct behaviour. We will act like children, and be thrilled at the freedom. We will proudly bring home stick dolls, hollowed-out tree branches,  and braided grass.

Then the girls will start to notice the opportunity afforded them by the lack of uniform: we will pay attention to the colour of our t-shirts; we might wear some natty shorts or leggings – possibly a sequin or two; our hair may need increasingly complex up-dos to stay out of the mud. One day we could even come down for forest school dressed like this:

"clothes for forest school"Exactly what is forest school again?


11 thoughts on “What is Forest School?”

  1. Forest school sounds great. Much better than normal school and useful training if ever there is a zombie apocalypse.
    PS I’m sure your mum has lots of lovely outfits you can borrow if you run out of things To wear.

  2. This sounds really really good! I bet a lot of first-timers would be much less nervous of starting school around now if they knew it would be this much fun…
    and very glad to see it’s an opportunity for a best frock too – that’s my kind of place!

  3. WOW! Forest school sounds wonderful. And very similar to how “normal” schools, pre-schools, nurseries run in Norway. My three girls have been out in hail, rain and snow storms from the age of 1 when they started nursery, and their rain gear from Polarn&Pyret has been the best investment we´ve ever made. I love how they are so at ease with the outdoors now. However I sometimes feel sorry for them when they have been out for 5 hours in the rain. THey seem happy though, which is the most important thing I guess.

    • I do think that is the whole point, actually, just so that mothers everywhere can avoid having to stress about how muddy everyone is, and stay home with a hot chocolate 😉

  4. We do Forest School. Ours is year 3, so oldest has just done a year of it and youngest about to start. I think it’s brilliant such a welcome relief from being in the classroom and still very educational. Oldest did a roly-poly in a puddle the first week, nor sure youngest will do the same, he’s a little less in love with mud. Just the washing I didn’t enjoy.


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