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Forest Schools: impact on young children in England and Wales

Children on a fungal foray with a ranger

Do Forest Schools increase young people’s self-confidence and self-esteem?

Summary

Forest Schools offer a unique educational experience using the outdoor environment of the forest as a classroom. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) evaluated two schools to highlight how they can provide learning opportunities for children who typically do not do as well in the classroom. NEF also created a self-appraisal methodology for leaders and teachers from other Forest Schools to assess their performance.

Key findings

The evaluation suggests Forest Schools make a difference in the following ways:

  • Confidence: children had the freedom, time and space to learn and demonstrate independence
  • Social skills: children gained increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on peers through team activities such as sharing tools and participating in play
  • Communication: language development was prompted by the children’s sensory experiences
  • Motivation: the woodland tended to fascinate the children and they developed a keenness to participate and the ability to concentrate over longer periods of time
  • Physical skills: these improvements were characterised by the development of physical stamina and gross and fine motor skills
  • Knowledge and understanding: the children developed an interest in the natural surroundings and respect for the environment

Recommendations

  • Using participatory evaluation with stakeholders as a useful way to learn from each other about the benefits and problems of running and evaluating Forest Schools
  • Making Forest School more widely available by giving a greater number of schools the opportunity to make this part of children’s overall education
  • Continuing evaluation and self-appraisal to track children over a longer period of time to see whether any improvements last in the long term after the child has stopped attending
  • Promoting Forest School to educationalists, environmentalists and parents to give them a better understanding of what Forest School is about, the impact it can have and how learning takes place
  • Considering school access in the creation of new woodland, exploring distance from and accessibility to local schools

Publications

Funders and partners

Commissioned and funded the Forestry Commission

The research was undertaken by the New Economics Foundation and managed by Forest Research

Status

2003-2005.

Contact

Liz O'Brien
Jake Morris