Faye Sumner Leads the Forest School provision at Halterworth. She is passionate about her role, enabling children to explore the outdoors and to enhance their wellbeing. She is supported by Laura Hillary who is equally passionate about her role and the creative opportunities for learning that Forest School offers our children.
What is Forest School?
Forest School is an approach to learning that is centred on the child that is designed to promote holistic, whole child development, taking place in a natural setting. The origins of Forest School come from Scandinavia, and the ‘open-air’ culture of their Early Childhood education, and began to become more popular in the UK in the 1990’s. The process became formalised in the early 2000’s and the Forest School Association (FSA) was set up in 2011. Upon formation the FSA agreed upon 6 principles that ensure the effectiveness and impact of Forest School (FSA, 2022).
Principle 1: Forest School takes place regularly… with the same group of learners over an extended period of time, within a natural environment.
Principle 2: Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural wooded environment to support the develop of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
Principle 3: Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent, and creative learners.
Principle 4: Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and themselves.
Principle 5: Forest School is run to qualified practitioners who maintain and develop their professional practice.
Principle 6: Forest School uses a range of learner-centred process to create a community for development and learning.
At its heart, Forest School is an approach to learning that is playful and ultimately rooted strongly within the principles of play. Children who regularly experience play are widely considered to be more adaptable and well-prepared for the world of the future (Zosh et al., 2017). It allows them to develop their deep conceptual understanding of problems and equips them with the skills to tackle new concepts, and apply their prior knowledge to new, unpredictable problems, making connections that allow them to overcome the obstacle. Lego are one of the world’s leading researchers into the importance of play, and they work closely with UNICEF to promote play in children’s education.
They define play as an activity that is:
Meaningful – it helps to make sense of the world around us by making connections.
Joyful – the overwhelming emotion associated with play is enjoyment and pleasure.
Actively Engaging – play involves being physically, mentally and emotional involved
Iterative – it is important to try hypotheses, test them, and adapt to ensure success.
Socially Interactive - play is often about communication, creating deeper relationships.
Lego claim that good play builds, and develops 5 key skills: Physical skills, Social skills, Emotional skills, Cognitive skills and Creative skills, all of which can have positive impacts within the classroom too. Physical skills can be improved by running and jumping, but fine motor skills, like threading and moulding, can help improve finger strength and dexterity. Social skills developed outside through play, can help children to solve problems, work as a team and express their thoughts and opinions. When playing, children are naturally more in-tune with their emotions and those of others, it helps develop their sense of success, but also how to accept failure and maintain composure when faced with something that is not going their way. Solving challenges and concentrating while solving problems can develop problem-solving skills inside the classroom and help improve creativity skills as well (Lego, undated). Play is so important to children that it is included in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – a charter agreed by almost every country in the world about the rights every child should have.
‘Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities’
(UNCRC: Right 31)
Play is an important part of a child’s education because it supports holistic, or ‘whole person’ development, an idea that views all areas of growth (physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and moral) as being interconnected and interdependent. We believe that all aspects of a child’s development are important at Halterworth, not just what can be assessed through the National Curriculum. Forest School at Halterworth will therefore provide children with activities and opportunities designed to improve communication, fine and gross motor skills, teamwork, resilience, independence, curiosity, creativity and an understanding of how to assess and manage risk within their education. It is our understanding and that of others (Tebbs, 2022; & Coates & Pimlott-Wilson, 2018) that time spent outside at Forest School, or when Outdoor Learning does not detract from a child’s ability to experience and progress through the National Curriculum, but it will in fact enhance their educational experience.
Forest School at Halterworth
The intention of Forest School at Halterworth is to provide every child with the opportunity to enjoy being outside in all seasons, to experience activities they may not necessarily be exposed to within the classroom, and to provide a space away from, but alongside, the curriculum to allow children to holistically develop and mature at their own pace.
At Halterworth, the children will experience a wide range of activities, that will include fire striking and lighting, learning how to use a wide range of tools safely (saw, mallet, drill etc), den building, digging and basic campfire cooking. The children will also be involved in learning about and promoting ecology on the site, and increasing the number of animals, insects and wildlife in our environment. They will learn how to identify some of the key trees and flowers on the site, and help promote biodiversity by planting trees and seeds, and creating places for animals for live in birdboxes, hedgehog house and bug hotels.
What do I need to know?
Forest School will run in almost any weather conditions – the exception being in high wind. There are significant learning opportunities to be enjoyed in all weather conditions, including, the very wet and the very cold.
The school will provide, as a minimum, waterproof trousers for every child. Some coats are available to be used, but we ask that all children are sent to school with a waterproof coat, that will be suitable for the weather.
Forest School sessions are run with high, adult – child ratios to allow children to experience elements of ‘risky play’ and risk.
Activities with a high level of potential risk will always be conducted with a 1:1 ratio.
Forest School sessions will always be run by a fully qualified Forest School Practitioner.
All children will need to wear plenty of layers on their Forest School day as this is more effective than one thick coat.
Packing spare clothes, such as socks, is advised in case the children’s feet get wet.
Coates, J. and Pimlott-Wilson, H., 2018. Learning while playing: Children’s Forest School experiences in the United Kingdom. British Education Research Journal, 45 (1), pp. 21-40
Forest School Association, (2022) What is a Forest School? Available at: What is Forest School? | Forest School Association (Accessed 25th June 2022)
Lego Foundation (undated) Play unlocks essential skills. Available at: Play unlocks essential skills (learningthroughplay.com) (Accessed 1.11.22)
Tebbs, A. (2022), The benefits of outdoor learning in the early years. Available at: The benefits of outdoor learning in the early years | National Literacy Trust (Accessed 24.10.22)
UNICEF (2018) Learning through play: strengthening learning through play in early childhood education programmes. New York: UNICEF. Available at: UNICEF-Lego-Foundation-Learning-through-Play.pdf (Accessed 31.10.22)
Zosh, J; Hopkins, E; Jensen, H; Liu, C; Neale, D; Hirsh-Pasek, K; Lynneth Solis, S; Whitebread, D (2017) Learning through play: a review of the evidence. Available at: learning-through-play_web.pdf (learningthroughplay.com) (Accessed 31.10.22)