Making a Difference

Forest Schools changes lives - and not just the children's!

Forest School is a unique educational approach that uses experiences in the natural environment to help learners develop socially, emotionally and physically. Forest School programmes must be regular, repeated, holistic, child-led, run by a qualified Forest School leader and based in a woodland setting – and it is this unique combination of principles which makes it so successful. Since being brought to the UK from Scandinavia in the 1990s, it has spread across the UK as more and more people see the immense value in the process.

We began our journey as part of Surrey Greenspace Project in 2008 and were the first official local Forest School Association recognised by the national FSA. We train Forest School Leaders and run Forest Schools for visiting groups. Children from all across Surrey come with their classes to experience the magic at Nower Wood Education Centre, near Leatherhead.

Why we love it

Over these recent years we have learnt so much about how Forest School impacts children and gives them opportunities to grow in ways which are hard to achieve in the classroom. Every one of our staff members has a story which has affected them personally about how Forest Schools has changed a life. Personally, I will never forget the day when a girl who had never spoken to her friends or teachers before felt comfortable enough to stand in front of our group and say what she had enjoyed most about the session. That is the true value of Forest School. Every child is on their own journey, with their own interests to follow and their own challenges to take on.

Through the weeks we get to know children as the individual personalities that they are, and we see where they might find the most rewarding challenges and build on this – Ben loves fire lighting and learns how to assess risks and keep himself safe, Kayleigh climbs trees and builds strength and confidence in her movement, Alex likes to look closely at things she finds through the magnifying glass and is learning about the huge diversity of tiny life we never notice and how it lives, eats, breathes, moves… The opportunities are endless! Forest School activities link to every element of the curriculum, and with the careful guidance of a qualified leader, can help children to achieve in all subjects in school. Setting up a shop buying and selling leaves and pebbles brings in maths, early economics, social and communication skills. Building dens and shelters develops physical understanding of the world, levers, materials, motor skills and risk assessing. Campfire story telling introduces broad language, the spoken word, narratives, comprehension and imagination. The list is literally endless, and the most important skills they learn aren’t even curriculum linked.

Exploring our blindfold trail

"As the programme progressed, we saw them become more confident..."

Sarah Wild, Headteacher

Social, emotional, behavioural and communication skills are arguably the most valuable for succeeding in all aspects of life. When children are building a den together they are constantly expressing, sharing and understanding ideas, and if they see a friend struggling with lighting a fire or tying a knot, they often run over to help. While an adult is always present at Forest School, we try to take as much of a hands-off approach as possible, only stepping in to ensure things are safe, to answer questions or to take opportunities that arise to take learning further. The children solve problems, help each other and learn to resolve differences without the need for adult intervention.

Limpsfield Grange, a school for girls who have difficulties with communication and interaction, gave their Year 7s, 8s and 9s Forest School experiences with us over recent years and the differences we have seen in the girls has been amazing. Sarah Wild, the headteacher, said ‘As the programme progressed, we saw them become more confident. One girl who was very nervous of the outdoors – because she didn’t like the bugs, dirt and germs – gradually became much more comfortable and is now quite happy to stroke the dogs and chickens we have at school.’

New year, new developments

It is an exciting time for Forest Schools at Nower Wood – we have just developed a brand new site specifically for enhancing the learning opportunities that come through exploring the natural environment. With a large, carefully positioned fire circle, a variety of tree species, minibeast habitats, open areas for games, and – with a child’s imagination – endless adventures waiting to happen, it is the perfect place for children to grow.

Begin your adventure with us

If you’re a teacher, group leader, youth worker or just intrigued and would like to find out more about bringing your group to experience Forest School with us, we would love to hear from you.

Call us: 01372 379509

Email: education.centres@surreywt.org.uk