What are Forest Schools? | Wonderschool Resources (2023)

What are Forest Schools? | Wonderschool Resources (1)A forest school, also known asforest nursery, outdoor nursery, forest nursery, nature nursery or nature nursery, is a form of preschool education that takes place in forests or forests. The curriculum is fluid and focuses on student-led outdoor play that encourages curiosity and exploration.

Perhaps you have never heard of this form of preschool education. That's because forestry schools have a small but growing presence in the United States.


Bosschool differs from traditional outdoor education in that learning is not focused on scientific inquiry, but is instead guided in an unstructured manner by the child's own curiosity and interests. Let's take a closer look at the theory behind this type of learning and how it translates to a physical school:

Introductory Principles of Forest Schools

Forest School is both a learning theory/pedagogy and a physical unit. The theory behind the forest school explains how children learn through this type of education. The approach or physical unit explains where and how this learning takes place.

Forest school theory

Student council:Rather than present research questions, forest school instructors observe and support children in their chosen activities and play styles. This allows children to develop self-confidence and independence, as well as intrinsic motivation to learn.

What are Forest Schools? | Wonderschool Resources (2)

Becca Hackett-Levy, director of the Northeast LA Forest School, explains, "Our explorations are all based on natural curiosity. So if the kids become interested in water's ability to mix with dirt and turn into mud, explore we that Like today we do mud made You can paint with mud, make sculptures with mud, talk about what is in mud and dirt.

"Another time we started looking into replacing the magnolia leaves, so we glued them together, but when they dried, they stopped sticking. One of my students suspected it was because of the moisture from the leaves I'm just there as a guide - he figured out that the blade changed - not the glue - by following his own curiosity and without me leading him to that conclusion. He's three and a half."

Practical experiential learning:Forest schools are based on hands-on learning to promote a child's holistic development. Students build interpersonal skills such as teamwork, communication, collaboration, and problem solving. They also build on spatial and motor development. Unlike traditional indoor schools, forest schools do not have tests and assignments, but students are praised for sharing skills. Forest schools focus on the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL).

What are Forest Schools? | Wonderschool Resources (3)

Supported risk taking:Students learn to take risks with the support of an instructor. For example, students can climb trees, use metal tools and make fire. Instructors help students assess risks and benefits so their decisions are always well-informed. Forest schools have a higher ratio of teachers to students than other types of learning environments. Risk-taking builds resilience and self-esteem in young people, who will improve their judgment as they grow.

Environmental knowledge:Students learn about nature and the world around them. They gain a better understanding and appreciation of the wilderness and how we as humans can interact and live in the natural environment in a healthy way.

Here's a video from SBS Dateline showing Danish forest schools in action:

(Video) Forest schools: Lessons in outdoor education

Forest school approach

Many forest schools in Europe are located in forests around a central campfire, although this is not always a feature. Students attend the forest school in all weathers and climates (unless the weather is deemed too dangerous) to experience different thrills.

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing" - Forest school mantra

Forest schools are not always held in the forest, but they are usually in a varied and rich outdoor environment.

Some schools offer variations where students attend forest school only once a week for a certain number of weeks, but the more time they spend in the forest, the more they reap the benefits of the forest school. Ideally, teachers teach outside 100% of the time. Either way, the key is consistent time spent learning in the woods over an extended period of time.

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Where do the forest schools come from?

Wisconsin's Laona Forest School was the first "forest school" to also be used as a forest school beginning in the 1920s.

However, Scandinavia popularized forest schools as we know them from the 1950s. Forest schools started appearing in Denmark as the country struggled with a lack of indoor space for youth education centres. The trend later spread to Sweden in the 1980s. Today, forest schools can be found around the world in countries such as Germany ("Waldkindergarten"), Great Britain, Australia ("bush kindy"), New Zealand and beyond.

Tender Tracks in Fairfax, California was founded in 1996 and is the first known modern forestry school in the United States. According to the Natural Start Alliance, an alliance of educators, parents and organizations dedicated to connecting children to the environment,there are an estimated 240 natural children in the United States, although they are not operationally identical.

Forest schools are becoming increasingly popular in the United States as parents realize that it is detrimental to children to focus on passing exams instead of social and emotional development.

When kindergarten was established in Germany in the 19th century, there was an integrated outdoor play element, which has since been pushed aside in favor of academically preparing children for primary school.

Parents are now returning to the roots of early childhood education and seeking a more holistic approach that takes into account not only more "academic" types of knowledge, but also social and emotional skills.

In a deeper sense, the idea of ​​learning through play in nature is instinctive to humans. It's a form of learning as old as our species.

The 5 best forest school benefits for students

The scientific literature supports that children generally benefit from spending time outside the home. Forest School particularly benefits young learners, including in the following evidence-based ways:

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How does forest school promote emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one's own emotions – and those of others.So says researcher and psychologist Daniel Goleman, there are five main areas that make up emotional intelligence:

  • Self awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Social skills
  • Empathy
  • Motivation

In the forest school, children get the chance to challenge themselves and reflect on their experiences. This allows them to develop self-awareness and self-regulation. They work on empathy during reflective group sessions where they share and listen among their peers. Overall, forest school students gain confidence and self-esteem because they are in charge of their own learning (O'Brien & Murray 2007;Ridder 2009).

(Video) A Day at Forest School

Children who attended forest school also show increased communication and cooperation skills (O'Brien & Murray 2007;Ridder 2009). They are exposed to otherschildren of different agesin groups of different sizes and given the opportunity to resolve conflicts with careful supervision (but not always intervention) of providers.

How does forest school promote resilience?

Resilience is the ability to face and adapt to stressful or negative situations. Research has shown that simply being in nature reduces the effects of stress (Blackwell, 2015). This means that children who spend more time outside have less stress to begin with.

Children who attend forest school also become more independent because they direct their own learning process. They learn to make decisions about risks (e.g. slippery tree, circle of fire) and become resilient and self-reliant (O'Brien & Murray 2007;Ridder 2009).

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How does the forest school support holistic development?

Holistic development occurs when a learning experience engages the child's whole self at once. With holistic development you can think of the following areas:

  • Social
  • Physically
  • Intellectual
  • Announcement
  • Mentally

Skovskole tackles all five areas at once:

Social:Children at the forest school work and play together in a group or in smaller groups. They exchange ideas and stories and take turns.

Physically:Children who attend forest school have physical benefits in addition to social and emotional benefits. They show improved balance and coordination and faster development of fine motor skills (Fjortoft 2001).

Intellectual:Children practice intellectual skills such as designing and building structures, playing through imagination, decision making and problem solving while in forest school.

Announcement:Children in the forest school use communication and collaboration skills through storytelling, listening and non-verbal communication while in the forest.

Spiritual:Children attending forest schools are known to be more relaxed (Roe & Aspinall 2011). They grow an underlying appreciation for the beauty of nature.

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How does forest school help children with learning disabilities?

For children who do not do well in the classroom, forest schools encourage curiosity and motivation to learn (O'Brien & Murray 2007;Ridder 2009). Research shows that forest schools help children with ADHD learn.The theory of attention recoverysupports this finding (Taylor, Kuo en Sullivan 2001).

While children on the autistic spectrum may struggle at first if they are taken out of their familiar environment and routine,a teacher who has been leading a forest school for children with special needs for over 12 yearssays, "With carefully tailored experiences and 1:1 support from knowledgeable staff, most of the students I've worked with have been able to embrace the forest to learn a lot about themselves and their environment."

What influence does the forest school have?

Again, the freedom to direct their own learning through curiosity and inquiry allows children to learn through play. Being outdoors in a constantly changing environment arouses curiosity and provides new sensory experiences every day.

(Video) Forest School Activities | Nature Weaving

Forest school pros and cons

Advantages of forest schools

Developmental benefits for children:Forest schools have been shown to help children develop in a holistic way, including through social and emotional learning. Children who attend forest school become more resilient, more relaxed and motivated to learn and have better developed coordination and fine motor skills.

Environmental Education:Your child develops a bond with nature and gains a better understanding of the environment around them.

School Readiness:Forest school is very different from traditional kindergarten, and you may be concerned about the lack of focus on traditional academic skills. However, children who attend forest school are just as, if not better, prepared for kindergarten than their peers. Forest schools contribute to the development of motor skills, social and emotional skills such as cooperation and empathy, as well as curiosity that contributes to school readiness.

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Disadvantages of forest schools

Hard to find and vet:Forest schools are fairly new in the United States, although they have been around for decades in Europe. But with increasing demand, they are popping up in towns and cities across the United States. It can be hard to find the right one, but we've gathereda list of forestry schools in the San Francisco Bay Areato get you started. You can also check out our list of forest schools in the Wonderschool network at the bottom of this post.

Security:You may be concerned about your child's safety at forest school, where they may face risks such as learning to behave around a fire ring, climb trees, and use tools. But teaching young children how to manage risk will help them make better decisions throughout their lives. It's true that if you don't have quality instructors, your child's safety is a valid concern under these circumstances. You want to make sure you trust the instructors and feel comfortable with the program they are teaching. Usually, forest schools give parents the chance to attend a school day and see what it's like.

Forens:You may have to travel a long way to pick up and drop off your child depending on the program location and the locations may vary from day to day or week to week.

How forest schools are structured

If the school sticks to the traditional forest school pedagogy, there will be little structure in relation to the daily activities. However, some forest schools take a mixed approach and incorporate outdoor education into their daily stream.

Curriculum Forest School

Many forest schools include outdoor education in the curriculum. Forest school leaders can introduce a weekly theme and encourage children to explore the world around them through scientific exploration.

For example, the Santa Monica Forest School hosts half-day programs for children ages 3 and older. This is what the daily flow looks like:

8:00 Episode
8:15 Morning Circle
8:30 Read a story about our current theme
9:00 Learning Centers (Math, Science, Alphabet, Arts)
10:00 Snack/Bathroom
10:20 Outdoor exploration and play (bathroom breaks if needed)
11:00 Exercise/Yoga/Meditation
11:30 Story Time
11:45 Reflection on the day
12:00 Pick up

As you can see, the children in this forest school learn through many of the traditional preschool activities such as history and learning centers. But they do so while outdoors at nearby parks and beaches.

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On the other hand, there are also forest schools that are less structured than the traditional forest school approach. OnLittle Earthlings Forest Schoolin San Francisco the rhythm of the day is as follows:

8:30 a.m. The principal arrives to inspect the venue and prepare for the lesson
8:45 am. Participating parents arrive
9:00 Opening circle and announcements
9:20 Everyone goes to work/play
10:00 Ready for snack time
10:10 snack time
10:30 Walk and explore (visit the bathroom)
11:00 Destination walk
11:45 Finishcirkel
12:00 Arrive at destination for pick up (AM)
12:10 noon
12:30 Map time (select destination on map)
12:30-14:00 Navigation, reconnaissance, bathroom
14.00 Rest time, reading aloud, reflection
14:30 Walk to the pick-up point
14.45 Last lap
15.00 Gather

(Video) My Forest School Activity Area and Set Ups I Use for Teaching

Forest school activities

The activities vary per program. Here are just some of the activities you can find:

  • Yoga
  • Hiking
  • Reflection
  • Natural arts and crafts
  • Free time to explore nature
  • Hideout
  • Fire circle
  • Story time
  • Use of tools
  • Research
  • Music time

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Forest school kindergarten

Forest schools are typically for preschool age children (3-5 years). Forest School Kindergartens can accept even younger children for their programs.

Should you choose a forest school?

It's important to findtype of early childhood education that suits you and your family.While forest schools provide evidence-based benefits for children, so do many other early education philosophies. And you have to consider things like commuting and being able to find a quality program that you can trust when choosing a program.

Forest school prices

You may be wondering how much does a forest school cost?

The cost to send your child to forest school depends on whether they are on a half day or full day program and how many days a week they attend school. Forest schools in the Wonderschool network cost about the same as their indoor childcare counterparts. For a full day, five days a week program, you're probably looking at $1000-$2000/month for a quality program.

What are Forest Schools? | Wonderschool Resources (11)

Locations of forest schools

Check out the following options in the Wonderschool network:

Los Angeles, California

  • Forest school Little Macacos
  • Aventura's forest school
  • Small Finke Forest School

SF Bay Area, California

  • Little Earthlings Forest School
  • Emerging Sprouts Forest School
  • Peninsula Forest and Beach School
  • Chickadee Bos Preschool
  • The forest school
  • Bay Area Bugs Forest School
  • My little school in the Spanish forest school


  • Brooklyn trails

What do you think of forest schools?

After diving deep into the world of forest schools, I'm basically ready to apply! It feels like a very natural way to learn and I like the emphasis on risk taking and building resilience. I don't have children yet, but when I have them, I really want to send them to forest school.

What do you think - is this the type of preschool education you see your child thrive in, or do you think he or she would do better in an indoor program?


How to start a forest school

(Video) An Introduction to Forest School

How to Choose the Best Kindergarten for Your Child: A Checklist of Quality Indicators



What resources do you need for forest school? ›

Forest School Equipment and Resources
  • Planters.
  • Outdoors stationery.
  • Outdoors clothing.
  • Sorting trays.
  • Tuff Tray.
  • Outdoor clothing.
  • Outdoor stationery.
  • Water play.

What is the Forest School model? ›

A forest school is a progressive, alternative education model held almost exclusively in the outdoors. It is also commonly known as forest kindergarten, outdoor nursery, or nature school. Whatever the weather, children are encouraged to play, explore, and learn in natural outdoor spaces.

Why is Forest School so expensive? ›

Forest schools are expensive; they tend to have a higher staff ratio, which raises their price. Students don't usually go full-time, making them difficult to swing for working parents, and even The Free Forest School, offered once a week, requires caregiver to be present, negating the access to the working class.

What is another name for a forest school? ›

Forest school provision is also called nature schools.


1. What is Forest School? 7 Things you need to know as an Introduction to Forest School
(Forest School Lou)
2. What is Forest School
(Woodland Classroom)
3. What are Forest Schools? | Joan Whelan | TEDxCrannTreesforIreland
(TEDx Talks)
4. Outdoor Learning and Forest School - What's the difference?
(Forest School Lou)
5. School of Forest Resources
(The University of Maine)
6. Forest School Games - Stick Activities - Outdoor Numeracy, Literacy, Phonics
(Early Impact)


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