Initial findings suggest that engaging in a forest school can contribute to the development of collaborative learning skills by encouraging children to work with others on challenging outdoor activities, according to the researchers.
Preliminary research conducted by Dr Janine Coates of the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and Dr Helena Pimlott-Wilson of the Department of Geography in two primary schools in Nottinghamshire involved interviews with children from year 4 and from an early years foundation class about their experiences of attending a forest school.
The headteacher and forest school leader at each school were also interviewed to investigate why schools might adopt the forest school approach and what the specific aims of each forest school were.
This type of ‘experiential’ learning equips children with practical skills and an appreciation for being outdoors, which they can then transfer to family activities outside school, the authors said.
One headteacher who took part in the study said forest school gives children a ‘positive mindset’ towards school.
Dr Coates said, ‘These findings show the important role that play and outdoor learning might have for children’s development, particularly in terms of providing children with experiences and opportunities which take them out of the routine and pressures of the classroom; and give them the freedom to explore new and challenging environments.’
The researchers are planning to undertake a larger study on the subject in 2018.
Dr Pimlott-Wilson added, ‘In our research going forward, we hope to better understand how forest schools might benefit more diverse populations of children.’
Loughborough University opened its own forest school in late 2016, working with the local Westwards Nursery to establish the initiative in University-owned Holywell Wood.
The children visit the woodland three to four days per week throughout the year, where they are given the opportunity to explore the area, learn to identify flora and fauna, and make fires, build dens and climb trees.
The space makes use of sustainable resources, including a fire circle built from local wood, and bug and hedgehog ‘hotels’ made from naturally sourced materials.
Danielle Marsh, forest school leader at Westwards Nursery, said, ‘It is a fabulous opportunity for children to explore the outdoor environment, develop a connection with nature and improve a whole range of skills from personal, social and emotional, to physical development and communication.
‘They really enjoy participating in the activities and learning all about the woodland.’