History and Motivation

Originally a concept developed in Sweden in the 1950s, Forest School was also adopted in Denmark where it became an embedded part of the curriculum for pre-school children (under seven years) stemming from their småbørnspædagogik, or 'Early childhood education'. Children attending Forest kindergartens were arriving at school with strong social skills, the ability to work in groups effectively, and generally children had high self-esteem and confidence in their own capabilities.

The approach moved to Wisconsin, USA in 1927 where the idea for a forest school came from Wakelin McNeel who was a 4-H leader. The first school forests in the United States were in Crandon, Laona and Wabeno which are all in Wisconsin. This ethos was introduced to the UK during the 1990s. The growth of Forest Schools has been unprecedented throughout the UK with many practitioners providing quality provision true to the original ethos.

In 1957, a Swedish man, Goesta Frohm, created the "Skogsmulle" concept to promote learning about nature, water, mountains and pollution. With an increasing focus on measurable outcomes, forest schools have gained acceptance as an educational method in their own right. In Denmark, nature schools as well as forest kindergartens are popular with both school teachers and children.

The Biophilia hypothesis argues that a love of nature is instinctive. The term nature deficit disorder was coined to recognise the erosion of this by the urbanisation of human society. Attention Restoration Theory and related psychological work has proven health benefits in reduced stress, improved concentration and improved medical outcomes from surgery. Scandinavian countries, rich in woodland, have maintained the human link more closely.

Various government and NGO agencies propose the use of woodland as part of the school educational curriculum; for example the Forest Education Initiative and the Forestry Commission. By 2006, there were approximately 140 forest schools in Britain.

The governmental agencies have in some cases been set targets for the use of their resources for education or health benefits, or are focused on the educational outcomes and see forestry as a step towards them.

Many businesses and non-profit organisations facilitate forest school activities, for example Nature's Classroom in the Eastern USA, Cedar Song Nature School in Washington state, USA, or the Green Light Trust in Britain. In Wales training and strategic oversight is provided by Forest Schools Wales and government agencies such as the Forestry Commission who have supported research and the development of practical experience for Forest Schools practitioners. In England support has been provided by the Forest Education initiative to those initiating Forest Schools provision. Such provision is provided within schools using their own trained staff or by external independent Forest School providers. External providers and businesses have vast experience. For example, Archimedes Training have been providing Urban and Rural Forest Schools programmes to a variety of client groups for 10 years and are one of the largest Forest Schools Training providers in the UK.

Other providers include colleges such as Bridgwater College in Somerset who were the pioneers of the Forest School concept in UK in 1994. Bridgwater College have since achieved many accolades for their Forest School achievements. They continue to be highly influential through their training of Forest School teaching staff and their own Forest School sessions and activities.

Some mainstream schools emphasise their forest school activities. "All the children enjoy Forest School. Children can understand some concepts more easily in the outdoor environment of Forest School than they would in the classroom. In addition it feels like a break in routine to them, yet they are still learning."

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