Seven benefits of Outdoor Learning and Forest School to young children
Grab your Pooh sticks, plonk on your wellies and stride forth into the fresh air, because Britain’s favourite classroom is fast becoming an outside space!
Initiated in the early 1980s in Denmark where open-air culture (“frulitsliv”) is a way of life, the Forest School concept has shaken up young children’s learning in the UK since the 1990s, when the idea was introduced over here. Now we have armies of young folk regularly and happily turning over stones, whittling sticks or peeping out of shelters made of branches.
So, what’s so great about that? Well, more and more people are convinced of the huge benefits of outside learning to children’s bodies and minds.
If there are acres and acres of wild woodland at a child’s disposal, then that’s wonderful, but for most, creating a small woodland space, where there’s lots going on can be as magical as a genuine forest. In a very tiny, leafy space, at a nursery or at home, young children can observe plants growing, insects going about their business, or appreciate the simple moment of sitting quietly under a tree. That’s why at Jabberwocky we have exciting plans to expand and improve our Forest School. From our own observations we know that our children are relaxed and happy when they are looking at, touching and working with the natural world.
Not convinced? Think being outside is wet, messy and requires endless putting on and off of footwear and coats? You may be right, but just these seven plus points of Forest School activities illustrate that for children and parents the effort has impressive rewards...
Forest School promotes inclusiveness. Sitting quietly in a shelter or just in a circle on logs, perhaps with a warm drink, sharing food, instils a sense of togetherness. This can be particularly advantageous to children who are shy or have autism, since it does not require anyone to talk or be aware of anyone’s tone of voice or body language.
The University of Colorado recently published findings that being outdoors aids concentration and well-being, making a link between the pollutants in our homes (emitted from furniture, in the chemicals we use, the high concentration of CO2 humans create) and sluggish minds.
Through play in an outside space, children are learning to value nature and are developing a sense of guardianship towards the environment. They are being encouraged to care if species survive, and ultimately whether their air is clean, our seas plastic-free.
Exposure to manageable risks — climbing, using tools, building shelters, a fire — builds confidence and independence in children.
The quiet observation of insects and their habitat promotes concentration, turn-taking and patience. It’s a non-competitive space, where everyone’s in awe of what they’re observing and using, and no one is better than anyone else.
Being outside has enormous health benefits. It instils peace, stimulates the senses, promotes better sleep. On top, climbing, trekking and building is good for balance, coordination and fitness.
The pressures on our children are great as they grow older — homework, revision, exams, social pressure, much of it based on screen-time alone in their room. Forest School introduces them to the flip-side, the outdoors, which just might be a comforting balance to stress when they need it most.
Keep an eye on Jabberwocky’s fantastic Forest School garden as it develops and grows!