Forest School

Mountnessing Primary Forest School began in the autumn term of 2008 supported by Essex Outdoors.  The Forest School idea grew from the staff’s desire to offer a curriculum which reflected learning based in the outdoor environment.  Although the school has extensive grounds which the school already uses for a wide range of activities, it was felt that there was a need to show the children a different natural environment that would challenge them both physically and emotionally while extending their learning opportunities.  The children attending Mountnessing Primary School are able to develop a life long love and understanding of the natural environment, whilst developing confidence and social skills which will lead to a more positive outlook and the raising of self-esteem.

The Forest School happens all year, in all weathers.  Groups are warned that the Scandinavians believe that there is ‘no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!’ Children from classes 1 and 2 visit the woodland area on a regular basis throughout the school year with further opportunities to use the school site for  Forest School activities.  As the children move through the school there are still be occasions for them to visit the woodland site but not so frequently, to enable them to continue to develop areas of their personal, academic and spiritual development.

The foundation of Forest School thinking is to support and motivate individuals of any age from 3 years upwards through the acquisition of small, achievable tasks in a woodland environment; to grow in confidence and independence so that they are able to develop a sense of self-worth.  Children acquire new skills as they are ready for them so that tasks retain a degree of challenge, risk and excitement, whilst remaining safe and controlled.  The forest area allows the children the opportunity to experience and practise skills and further develop their understanding of a woodland environment.  The success of learning has been well documented and the experience has shown Forest School to be inspirational, opinion changing and challenging.  It raises outlook and develops insights into different learning styles and schemas. It is personally and socially inspiring so laying the foundations for other learning. Unlike other forms of outdoor education which generally concentrate on team-building, challenging activities or competitiveness, the Forest School embraces an entirely different approach through the nurturing, support and development of the self-esteem of those taking part.

Forest School Activities

Children are encouraged to stay within the designated boundary and to walk with care to the meeting place using an agreed access route.  The activities will take place within the woodland setting including woodcraft, den building, tree climbing, investigating and exploring, problem solving, natural art, cooking on an open fire.

History of Forest Schools

The Forest School initiative originated in Scandinavia in the 1950s, the aim was to encourage children to learn social, physical and educational skills while encouraging an appreciation and understanding of the environment. By the 1980s it had become an integral part of the Danish early years programme and was well established in all the Scandinavian countries.  Forest School now has growing prominence in the UK with Forest Schools becoming established as part of Early Years education in many counties.

Why Forest Schools?

The Forest School is run by qualified Forest School leaders working with a higher than average staff to pupil ratio for challenging activities.  Forest School provides an excellent opportunity to bring learning to life, allowing children, to explore and lead their own learning in a beneficial way.  This process increases self-confidence, self esteem, improves individuals’ ability to work co-operatively and counters a lack of motivation and negative attitude towards learning, while offering the opportunities to take risks, make choices and instigate learning for themselves.  The Forest School philosophy encourages participants to achieve through small achievable tasks.  Staff are able to make observations of individual participants, especially with respect to preferred learning styles and development of confidence, self-esteem and interpersonal skills.

Children are introduced to activities that encourage responsible risk taking and challenges. The regular and repeated participation is planned into the sessions and allows the children to build on previous achievements and skills.

What Happens at the Forest?
Forest School may take place on the school site or at a secure area of local woodland, which acts as an outdoor classroom where children can explore, investigate and discover the natural environment.  Sessions are organised and run by qualified Forest School leaders.  While the leaders will have a planned a range of potential activities, which might include shelter construction, bridge building, mapping or artwork with natural materials, it is the children that decide the range and reach of the activities.  The children are supported in their learning, encouraged to explore the outdoor environment and appreciate nature. They use tools and learn boundaries of behaviour both physical and social.  It has been found that the combination of freedom and responsibility is particularly advantageous to those who lack confidence or display challenging behaviour.  Forest Schools allow participants to grow and discover their abilities without fear of criticism or failure.

Forest School and the Curriculum
Forest Schools provides a valuable channel for delivering a wide range of curriculum subjects and is an excellent way to support and enrich the National Curriculum.  Forest Schools can help develop a range of subjects from Biology and the Sciences to Maths, Citizenship, Design and Technology, P.E, Art and English.  A non-classroom environment offers children increased stimulation and encourages a greater learning potential.  Forest School allows participants to learn and explore in a constructive way and encourages them to be active.  Forest Schools gives confidence in the outdoors and the tools to develop healthy lifestyles while providing a unique and unforgettable learning experience.


Health and Safety at the Forest

Although we want our children to have as much freedom as possible when we are at the woods, we must be mindful of the hazards they may encounter. The sessions are run by two Level Three fully qualified Forest School Leaders and one Level Two qualified Forest School Assistant who are also fully qualified Paediatric Outdoors First Aiders.

Risk assessments will be undertaken termly for both sites by the Forest School leaders, and additionally before each Forest School session to assess any dangers and the risk they may pose to the group. 



This is the best kind of classroom:
No walls, just sky and trees
This is the best kind of classroom:
No radiators, just a gentle breeze.

You can learn well here,
As the birds sing,
About your place
In the scheme of things.

You can make up poems
About woodland flowers
Why, it’s almost as interesting
As the Literacy Hour!

This is the best kind of classroom
It’s a journey through time and space
From the smallest seed to the largest tree
This is a forest and a learning place;

This is the best kind of classroom
Where the seasons don’t happen in books
Where the learning is watching and thinking and talking
And everyone notices, everyone looks.

by Ian MacMillan

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