Forest Schools Message Goes East!

Tuesday 28th June 2016

Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Forest Schools training course had an international flavour this week, as one student flew nearly 6,000 miles all the way from China to learn about wild play.

You get such a good feeling from playing in a natural setting and I want to pass that onto children in China...

Grace Tsai (Te-Hsin Tsai), who works at a school in Shanghai, joined 15 other students for a week of study in the woods at the Trust’s reserve at Pucks Oak Barn in Compton, near Godalming.

“It’s so important for children to discover and enjoy nature and to teach them to care about nature and the environment,” said Grace, aged 28. “But it’s very rare for children in Shanghai to get close to wildlife. It’s so hard to find green space or a park in many Chinese cities and then you’re not even allowed to go on the grass!

“Children are protected because of China’s one child policy and they’re not allowed to take risks or do many of the outdoor things children in the UK are allowed to do. Air pollution is also a big problem in the cities and there’s not much opportunity for children to go outside.”

Grace, who is originally from Taiwan, made the 14-hour flight from Shanghai to learn how to be a Forest Schools leader. She was soon building a shelter, lighting a fire with damp wood in the rain, identifying trees, inventing forest games and cooking a wild lunch.

Course tutor Susan Edwards, the Trust’s People and Wildlife Manager, explained the idea behind Forest School and stressed how rewarding it is to take the classroom outside.

“It’s never been more important for children and young adults to have a sound understanding of the environment and wildlife,” she said. 

“Research has shown that wild play vastly improves children’s wellbeing, allowing them to learn about themselves and their relationship with the world around them.

"Outdoor play helps children manage risk, interact with other people and of course keep fit and healthy. It was great to have Grace on the course and hopefully she can spread the word about Forest Schools back home.”

Forest Schools is quite a new concept in China, but Grace is already planning take her Montessori Academy students on wild camping trips – she’s earmarked a woodland site, even though it’s a two-hour drive from Shanghai.

“You get such a good feeling from playing in a natural setting and I want to pass that onto children in China – though it might take some time to explain the benefits to Chinese parents!” she added.

Forest Schools originated in Scandinavia and Surrey Wildlife Trust has been promoting the idea through its activities and by providing training for local teachers and practitioners for several years. It has a team of qualified and experienced Forest School Leaders who deliver programmes for early years, primary and secondary age children, as well as for young people with behavioural and special educational needs. The Trust currently trains up to 60 new Forest Schools leaders every year.

For further information about Forest Schools please visit

Tagged with: Outdoor learning, Volunteering, Wildlife Watch, Children, China, Education, Forest, Schools, Training, Woodland