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A Comprehensive Guide on How to Set Up a Forest School

Schools are going to benefit greatly from learning how to set up a forest school. The idea of a Forest School has emerged as a breath of fresh air—a method to reconnect kids with nature, support holistic development, and offer unique learning opportunities—in today’s technology-driven society, when screens rule and outside experiences are frequently limited. 

A Forest School is a holistic educational model that prioritises experiential learning, environmental inquiry, and immersive outdoor education. It goes beyond simply spending time outside. You’ve come to the correct place if you’re an educator hoping to use a Forest School to develop a meaningful and lasting educational experience. In this thorough guide we’ll delve into the essential ideas and practical strategies needed to properly set up and run a Forest School, ensuring a transformative and lasting impact on the lives of your students.

Understanding How To Set Up a Forest School 

At its core, a Forest School represents a paradigm shift in education—one that champions experiential learning in natural environments. It’s not merely an outdoor classroom; it’s a structured approach that nurtures curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, and a profound connection with the natural world. The guiding principles that underscore the Forest School approach are:

  • Regular Visits: A central tenet of Forest School is the concept of regular visits. These ongoing sessions allow children to develop an intimate relationship with nature over time. By immersing themselves in the same natural environment repeatedly, children forge connections with the ecosystem and and as a result, become attuned to its seasonal changes.
  • Child-Led Learning: The Forest School philosophy embraces child-led learning. Consequently, this empowering approach encourages children to take the lead in their learning journey, exploring topics that intrigue them and nurturing a sense of autonomy. Furthermore, child-led learning promotes intrinsic motivation, curiosity, and a lifelong passion for learning.
  • Risk Management: While safety is paramount, Nestlings Forest School recognises the value of managed risk-taking. In fact, engaging with calculated risks in a controlled environment empowers children to develop risk assessment skills, problem-solving abilities, and resilience. Learning how to navigate challenges in nature translates to real-world skills.
  • Holistic Development: Forest School goes beyond academics, focusing on the holistic development of children. It promotes social skills, empathy, teamwork, and emotional well-being. As a result, children learn to collaborate, communicate effectively, and develop a profound respect for the natural world.

Planning Your Forest School Session

Understanding how to set up a forest school starts with the planning phase:

  • Location Selection: The foundation of a successful Forest School program rests on selecting the right location. Therefore, opt for an outdoor area that is safe, accessible, and rich in biodiversity. Fore example, trees, plants, wildlife, and natural features are essential components of the chosen location. Furthermore, adherence to local safety guidelines ensures a secure learning environment.
  • Weather Considerations: Forest School sessions embrace all weather conditions, rain or shine. Therefore, adequate clothing and gear are essential to ensure participants’ comfort and well-being. Likewise, educators must educate students about appropriate clothing and the significance of being prepared for various weather conditions.
  • Risk Assessment: Prior to each session, conduct a thorough risk assessment of the chosen location. For example, identify potential hazards and take proactive measures to minimise risks. Consequently, this assessment not only prioritises safety but also empowers children to recognise and manage risks responsibly.
  • Session Duration: An optimal Forest School session spans several hours, offering ample time for exploration, immersive activities, and reflective moments. However, the duration should align with the age group’s attention span and energy levels. Usually, longer sessions provide deeper engagement and a more profound connection with nature.

Designing Engaging Activities

Knowing how to set up a forest school requires a good understanding of outdoor learning and activities. Including their application, learning objectives and resources required:

  • Nature Exploration: Encourage children to use all their senses to explore the natural environment. For example, identify different tree species, observe birds, insects, and other wildlife. As a result, these initial explorations spark curiosity and set the tone for the day’s learning journey.
  • Nature Crafts: Infuse creativity into Forest School sessions through nature-based crafts. For example, activities like crafting leaf collages, constructing pinecone animals, or creating natural dyes from berries not only ignite imagination but also deepen participants’ connection with the environment. As a result, these activities also provide opportunities to discuss sustainable practices and the importance of conserving natural resources.
  • Shelter Building: Learning to construct simple shelters using natural materials is a hallmark of the Forest School experience. As a result, this activity fosters teamwork, problem-solving skills, and a sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, children learn to collaborate, tap into their creativity and resourcefulness while gaining insights into architectural and design concepts.
  • Fire Safety and Cooking: For older participants, imparting fire safety principles and allowing them to responsibly build and manage fires is both educational and exciting. Likewise, cooking simple snacks like marshmallows or toast over an open fire not only refines practical skills but also delves into the historical and cultural significance of fire. Of course, educators must emphasise safety protocols at all times.
  • Nature Journals: Encourage children to maintain nature journals, where they can document their observations, sketches, and thoughts. Consequently, beyond honing language and writing skills, these journals serve as personal records of discoveries and reflections. As a result, the act of journaling fosters effective communication and the development of a keen eye for detail.

Facilitating Learning

Many of the teaching skills in the classroom are transferable for outdoor learning:

  • Observe and Facilitate: The role of an educator in a Forest School setting transforms into that of a facilitator and observer. Therefore, allow children the autonomy to lead activities and discoveries, stepping in only when guidance is required. Consequently, this approach nurtures independent thinking, problem-solving skills, and a sense of ownership over the learning process.
  • Questioning: Skilful questioning is a cornerstone of effective Forest School facilitation. For example, pose open-ended questions that stimulate critical thinking and provoke discussions. Furthermore, encourage children to reflect on their experiences and draw connections between different aspects of nature. For example, these thought-provoking questions can delve into topics like adaptation, biodiversity, and conservation, enhancing the depth of their learning.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Recognise and celebrate children’s efforts and discoveries with positive reinforcement. Furthermore, acknowledge their curiosity, teamwork, and creative problem-solving. As a result, this positive feedback not only boosts self-esteem but also motivates children to take initiative and delve deeper into their exploration of the natural world.

Reflection and Follow-Up

Just like classical teaching practices, allowing learners to reflect provides them with the opportunity to develop deeper understanding. Furthermore, it allows practitioners the opportunity to foster deeper understanding of their learner’s experiences and improve the knowledge of how to set up a forest school for better learning.

  • Circle Time: The culmination of each Forest School session should include a circle time, during which participants can share their learnings, surprises, and challenges. This practice fosters communication skills, a sense of community, and an opportunity for peer learning and insights.
  • Continuity: Consistency is vital in a Forest School program. Regularly scheduled sessions allow children to form a deep bond with nature and gain a profound understanding of the environment’s seasonal changes. As a result, this routine reinforces the concept that learning is a continuous journey, extending far beyond the confines of the traditional classroom.
  • Integration: The experiences gathered during Forest School sessions should seamlessly integrate with traditional classroom activities. Furthermore, encourage children to connect their outdoor observations with academic projects or incorporate journal entries into creative writing exercises. As a result, this integration bridges the gap between outdoor experiences and traditional academics, enriching both realms of learning.

Insurance for Your Forest School

Understanding how to set up a forest school and create a safe environment for both students and educators, requires the adherence to legal duties. Therefore, this necessitates the consideration of insurance coverage. While outdoor settings offer unique learning opportunities, they also pose certain risks. Consequently, to safeguard against unforeseen circumstances, it’s imperative to acquire appropriate insurance coverage for your Forest School program. 

Consult with insurance professionals who specialise in educational and outdoor programs to determine the extent of coverage required. For example, liability insurance, which provides protection in the event of accidents or injuries, is a fundamental component. Additionally, property insurance can cover damage or loss of equipment used during Forest School sessions. By addressing insurance needs comprehensively, you provide participants and their families with peace of mind and demonstrate a commitment to their well-being.

Funding Your Forest School

Establishing and maintaining a Forest School program involves financial considerations, from equipment and materials to instructor compensation. However, funding can come from various sources, each requiring a tailored approach:

  • School Budget: If your Forest School is part of an educational institution, consider allocating a portion of the school’s budget to support the program. For example, present a well-researched proposal detailing the program’s benefits, estimated costs, and anticipated outcomes. Please feel free to contact us at Nestlings if you require help with preparing a proposal for a forest school.
  • Grants and Sponsorships: Explore grants and sponsorships from local businesses, community organisations, and foundations. Many entities are eager to support initiatives that promote experiential learning, environmental education, and community engagement.
  • Parent Contributions: Engage parents in the Forest School journey by requesting nominal contributions. This not only demonstrates a shared commitment to the program’s success but also fosters a sense of ownership and involvement among families.
  • Fundraising Events: Organise fundraising events within the school community or local area to generate funds. For example, events such as nature-themed fairs, charity runs, or art auctions can create a sense of camaraderie while raising funds for your Forest School.
  • Collaborations: Forge partnerships with other educational institutions, outdoor centres, or environmental organisations. Ultimately, collaborative efforts can pool resources and expertise, reducing costs and broadening your program’s impact.

Qualified Instructors for Your Forest School

The success of a Forest School program hinges on the expertise and dedication of qualified instructors. These individuals play a pivotal role in facilitating learning, ensuring safety, nurturing a love for nature and expanding your knowledge of how to set up a forest school successfully. Therefore, when selecting instructors for your Forest School, consider the following:

  • Expertise: Seek individuals with backgrounds in education, environmental science, outdoor education, or related fields. An understanding of child development, outdoor safety, and experiential learning methodologies is essential.
  • Certifications: Look for instructors with relevant certifications, such as wilderness first aid or outdoor leadership training. These certifications demonstrate their commitment to safety and preparedness in outdoor settings.
  • Passion: Instructors who are genuinely passionate about nature, education, and fostering a connection between children and the environment are more likely to create impactful and memorable experiences.
  • Teaching Approach: Inquire about their teaching philosophy and approach. A child-centred, inquiry-based approach aligns well with the Forest School philosophy of child-led learning and exploration.
  • Background Checks: Conduct thorough background checks to ensure the safety of participants. Instructors working with children must pass stringent background checks and adhere to all child protection policies.
  • Professional Development: Encourage ongoing professional development for instructors. For example, attending workshops, training sessions, and conferences in relevant fields enhances their skills and keeps them updated on best practices.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts About How to Set Up A Forest School

As you set out to establish a Forest School, you’re embarking on a journey that transforms education and nurtures a deep connection between children and the natural world. Consequently, by embracing child-led learning, immersive experiences, and regular outdoor engagement, educators have the power to create a transformative educational environment that enhances and complements the traditional classroom setting. 

The key to success lies in meticulous planning, vigilant risk management, engaging and diverse activities, thoughtful facilitation, securing insurance coverage, securing funding, and selecting qualified instructors. Therefore, as you embark on the journey of establishing a Forest School, anticipate laughter, curiosity, and a new generation of nature enthusiasts who are poised to explore, learn, and grow. 

With every Forest School session, you’re sowing the seeds of lifelong appreciation for nature and nurturing an unbreakable bond between children and the natural world—one adventure at a time. Ultimately, this impact transcends the immediate experience, shaping environmentally conscious and curious individuals who are committed to creating a positive impact on the world around them. 

As the forest becomes their classroom and nature their teacher, children blossom into stewards of the environment, equipped with knowledge, empathy, and a passion for preserving the beauty of the natural world for generations to come.

Thank you for reading.

We trust that you now have a much better understanding of how to set up a forest school. However, if you want to reach out to experts in this field, then the team at Nestlings Forest School is here to help you. Please reach out to us for an informal chat today.