At Acorn Early Years we have been delivering Forest School in our nurseries and to external providers for nearly 15 years now and it is a big part of our ethos and pedagogy. As well as delivering sessions we also provide Level 3 Forest School Leader training and aim to have at least two leaders within every setting. Our Forest School fits in with our wider ethos where one of our five values is ‘Outdoors’, meaning that the natural environment is an essential part of our provision. We encourage outdoor play in all weathers and continuous free flow between the indoors and outdoors. As part of our commitment to the outdoors we also implement green practices such as encouraging children to grow fruit and vegetables.

So why does Acorn place so much emphasis on Forest School? To answer this question, we need to look at what Forest School is. Forest School has Scandinavian roots - in the early 1990’s practitioners from Bridgewater College travelled to Denmark and witnessed their open-air culture or as it’s known in Denmark as ‘friluftsliv’. This culture runs throughout their early years education and focuses on practices that are child led, play based and largely outdoors. The Bridgewater colleagues were so enthused and inspired they helped to spread Forest Schools throughout the UK. Since the early to mid-2000’s Forest School has spread throughout the UK and has become extremely popular.

Today in the UK, Forest School can be described as a child-centred learning process that focuses on the holistic development of the child. The Forest School association believes that as part of Forest School children should have regular access to a natural area with qualified leaders who are there to facilitate and guide the children and encourage learning through play and exploration. Forest School has been shown to have many benefits for the children who participate. These can be grouped into to social, physical, intellectual, cultural and emotional to name just a few areas.

During our sessions children spend time with their peers and work together participating in tasks such as den building and tool work. These activities allow children to work together, often with children they normally would not get the chance to in a standard setting environment. During our holiday clubs we have mixed age groups from the ages of 4 to 13 years old. This allows children to socialise with each other whilst focusing on their interests, skills, and knowledge rather than just their age. As well as these social skills children can gain valuable communication skills such as negotiating, explaining ideas and learning to listen to other people’s ideas too.

During our forest school sessions children have the opportunity to try out activities which can help with their emotional development such as self-esteem, confidence and resilience. As Forest School should be long term process of regular sessions and not a one-off day trip, children have the chance to try activities again and again meaning it does not matter if the first go does not quite go to plan. Let’s look at one of the children’s favourite activities ‘fire striking’, which involves children using a synthetic flint and steel to light cotton wool. The children will not usually be able to light the cotton wool on first try, however, they are allowed time to keep trying with the support and guidance of the leader and maybe a helping hand. The children can then try this time and again until they feel they have accomplished what they want - this teaches confidence and resilience. We have also noticed that children show empathy and encouragement to each other with cheers when their friends finally light the cotton wool or encouraging ‘you can do it!’ when others are struggling.

The physical aspects of Forest School encourages both gross motor skills by climbing trees, rope swings and log balancing but also fine motor skills through tool work and knot tying.


By our Forest School leaders guiding the children using their interests rather than instructing children what to do and not to do, we are allowing the children the chance to problem solve on their own and find a way to complete what they would like to do.

One of the biggest benefits of forest school is that the environment allows children to take supported risks in a safe environment. By allowing children to take risks this offers lifelong learning and how to access risks themselves. As Kim Langstaff states in her blog “By taking risks children develop confidence, persistence, and resilience to be able to cope with challenging situations. Important life skills that we all want our children to have. They develop resilience and confidence through making their own decisions and taking risks. Children need to see that even if they fail, they can try again. In doing this, they will gain the positive self-esteem that comes with mastering a new skill”. Forest School is the perfect environment for these safe risks to take place.

By looking at these benefits that Forest School can offer children it should be clear why we place an emphasis on Forest school within all our settings and from feedback that we receive the parents agree too. Recently we asked parents what impact they feel Forest School has on their own children “They are able to get out of the house during the school holidays to a safe environment where they are able to learn and take part in activities. They are able to regulate in a safe environment. It’s given them confidence, independence, creativity. They are able to partake in risky play and have freedom and space to learn at their own pace”.

As well as all the benefits already discussed, Forest School also creates life-long experiences and memories such as having hot chocolate by a campfire, making a den with friends or using a bow saw to create a tree cookie medal.

Donna Glendenning