The set up and approach of different Forest Schools can vary hugely from setting to setting and will be dependent on session leader, client group and a host of other factors. All Forest School sessions though should take place in a woodland setting and be focussed on the holistic development of the children taking part.
Forest School sessions should be a safe environment for all and everyone, regardless of age or role, should be treated as an equal. Forest School will work best when the same group of children are given the opportunity to visit the same woodlands together on a regular basis.
The role of the session leader is one of a facilitator, rather than teacher, providing opportunities and encouragement for children to learn through play and exploration. Forest School sessions should be child-led and session plans should allow for flexibility with practitioners prepared for and encouraging children to deviate from planned activities. Forest school sessions should be led by trained forest school leaders who have an understanding of both practical skills and activities but also relevant learning theories and the ability to match and adapt activities to learners with different learning styles.
As well as learning about the natural environment and developing practical skills, sessions should provide opportunities for children to develop their self awareness, social and communication skills and emotional intelligence.
Forest school sessions should involve elements of reviewing and reflecting the activities and experiences that have taken place during the session. This supports confidence building and communication skills. Feedback from learners should be taken into account when planning future sessions and leaders should be flexible if that feedback requires deviation from any planned activities.
Children should be given regular opportunities to take appropriate risks, such as tool use, fire lighting and tree climbing. These opportunities will build self confidence, allow children to learn and develop their physical and mental limits and make them better equipped to handle risk.
Research continues to show that the amount of freedom children are given and the time they spend, freely and independently, playing outdoors have both decreased over the years with a significant number of children having never built a den or climbed a tree. The term Nature Deficit Disorder has been used to describe this phenomenon and draw attention to the the impact this lack of contact with the natural world is having on children and young people. Access to Forest School, or similar outdoor based opportunities, are increasingly important.