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Why the Forest School Approach to Learning is So Good

Have you heard of Forest School? I hadn’t until more recently, but it’s definitely having a moment. Today I’m reviewing a book dedicated to forest school theory and approach, which overlaps with the Montessori philosophy.

Even while pregnant with our first daughter, my hubby and I were determined we’d be the kind of parents to get our children outside and enjoying nature. So each year as spring rolls around, I’m reminded of how fortunate we are that we can simply open the backdoor and be in our own little sun trap.

If you listen to the hype in the media, encouraging our little ones to play out rather than in is getting more difficult – because children are becoming as accustomed to technology as we are. More so in many cases! And naturally this is a concern because of the many issues associated with too much screen time and too little exercise, such as:

  • Obesity;
  • Irritability;
  • Poor concentration;
  • Sleep-deprivation.

However, over the past few years, I’ve had quite a lot of exposure to toddlers, and I’ve discovered something fascinating:

Children are primed to enjoy nature.

Why the Forest School approach to learning is so beneficial for children. #motessori #forestschool #learningthroughplay #sensoryplay #messyplay

By default they are full of wonder and awe for the world around them, and we simply need to promote that interest instead of stifling it into oblivion.

For both my girls and their peers, the offer of outdoor play is always welcome – come rain or shine. Sure, they have their much-loved TV shows and characters; but if mummy or daddy is prepared to take them outdoors and get their hands dirty, all the better.

'Play the Forest School Way'

Puddle splashing is one of our personal favourites; and, since I invested in the proper attire to enable us to do this, when the rains come (and they come often during summers in the UK), we make a point of going out specifically for this purpose.

Equally, Pixie and Elfin are mesmerised by the creatures they find in the garden…as well as the damn ants they kept finding in the kitchen last year! Admittedly, they take greater pleasure in insects than mummy does, but I encourage it nonetheless and I’m proud of the fact that thus far I’ve resisted passing on my fear of arachnids to them.

Forest School Theory

With all this in mind, I was intrigued when I first became aware of the concept behind Forest School, and pleased to be asked to review a book dedicated to the philosophy. If you’re not yet aware of it, these institutes are springing up all over the country, and The Forest School Association (the independent representative body for the UK) gives the following definition:

‘Forest School is an inspirational process that offers all learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.’

So often school has connotations of formal, rigid learning; certainly when I think back to my own education it seemed quite inflexible – and I adore the idea of Pixie having her creativity and imagination stretched whilst getting her hands dirty and discovering the world through touch and smell rather than through books and text. (Don’t get me wrong – I cherish my books, but even the best writer cannot capture the essence of a fragrance, colour, or texture. Literature is wonderful; second only to first-hand experience.)

One of the Best Forest School Books

Play the Forest School Way by Peter Houghton and Jane Worroll is the first book to share Forest School games, crafts, and skill-building activities. The book itself is a high quality paperback, and the cover is cleverly designed to reflect the natural theme of the ideas in the book. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the content, but I’ve not been disappointed.

'Play the Forest School Way' Book Review
Teaching how to tie different knots – something I’ve always wanted to learn myself!

The introduction says:

‘Nature offers us a sanctuary, a place where we can find peace and wonder. It is not limited by time or confined by walls, and even today we cannot control it completely. It is much larger and older than we are, and its rhythms resonate deep within us. Nature is where we are from and where we belong, and our survival is intricately linked to its existence. For children it is the greatest playground of all, with all its diverse structures, smells, textures, its creatures of all shapes and sizes, its abundant plants, some edible, others toxic. Nature offers a myriad of opportunities for risk taking, for a wealth of learning and amazement, and for freedom, separate from the adult world.’

The Forest School Approach to Learning

There’s something almost spiritual about that description of the Forest School theory and philosophy – and I like it. I’m agnostic, so a respect and reverence for nature is about as close as I will get to teaching my daughters about religion.

The book is basically a guide to the types of activities endorsed by Forest School. It’s jam-packed full of wonderfully creative ideas to encourage your child to explore their natural environment – because education through play is the optimum process for learning.

Play the Forest School Way

The book is intended for children aged 3 – 11 years, but I love that there are specific games aimed at different age groups. Having flicked through I’ve even seen one that’s suitable from two years of age – besides which I’m sure that with assistance older activities could be adapted for younger children.

Each chapter provides a game or activity, clearly illustrated and indicating required kit; ideal location; purpose of the task (what it’s designed to teach); safety aspects; and age it’s suited to.

Forest School is a way of life, with the concept being to foster practical skills, but also character-building attributes – both of which are essential in raising well-rounded, healthy little people.

I can’t wait to get started exploring the book and the great outdoors with Pixie and Elfin!

Head over to my hub round-up post for more breastfeeding, baby, and toddler reviews.


Thursday 7th of July 2016

Yes I work in early years and think it's wonderful. Something I would definitely be apart of if I could. Might be a new carer direction. So many benefits to the outdoor environment.

Rebecca Parke

Thursday 7th of July 2016

I was not aware but now I am I can't wait to find out more in my area


Thursday 7th of July 2016

I have not been away of them.

paul brown

Thursday 7th of July 2016

been on a forest school course

Kate Tunstall

Friday 8th of July 2016


Kate Tunstall

Thursday 7th of July 2016

Perfect! They seem to be pioneers with family philosophy in Scandinavia.