E T H I C A L L I V I NG E D U C AT I ON
Children attending Forest Schools are calmer, more engaged and more confident
Forest Schools Annie Davy introduces a grassroots movement that has now come of age
Nursery school education in the UK has a strong pedagogical heritage that recognises the fundamental importance of enabling young children to learn from Nature and spend extended time outdoors. Educationalists Margaret McMillan and Susan Isaacs both developed exemplar nursery school gardens with transformative pedagogy in the early part of the 20th century.
But in recent decades, childhood for the majority in the Western world has become increasingly urbanised, dominated by consumerism and computer screen-time and by organised, regulated activity in manufactured environments. Perhaps this – plus the increased prescription for and focus on attainment in the school curriculum – has triggered a kind of immune response in the educational system that has fed the phenomenal development of Forest Schools and spawned a proliferation of other projects and movements that strive to rebalance the educational offer to children.
Through what the writer Richard Louv has called the New Nature Movement there has been an international plea to stop and think about why more children are overweight and less independent or ‘risk averse’, and why basic ‘facts of life’ such as where food comes from or the names and properties of trees or animals in the neighbourhood do not have higher priority in children’s education.
I first came across the concept of Forest Schools in 1999 when visiting a children’s centre at Bridgwater College, in Somerset, where I met a man named Gordon Woodall. A bricklaying instructor by trade, Gordon had had tremendous success working with young people who had been written off by others as ‘impossible’ due to their behaviour. His own passion was hiking and mountaineering, and his secret was to get his construction students out of the classroom and into the woods before trying to ‘teach’ them anything at all.
As the young people released their high energy and stress outdoors, they were better able to relax and focus and as a result their behaviour improved significantly. Gordon offered incentives for the young lads he worked with. For example he might say: “Demonstrate to me that you have developed skills and can handle tools safely in the woods,
Resurgence & Ecologist