Forest School is an ethos, a way of working with children in nature over time, not a place or institution as the name might suggest. At Forest School children of all ages visit the same woodland or natural area on a regular basis, usually for 2-3 hours once weekly, with qualified Forest School Leaders (currently accredited by the Open College Network, Level 3). We work with the same small-sized group of people every week over a longterm basis (we aim for a minimum of ten weeks, but over a full school year has been shown to be most effective).
At Forest School we are a community of learners, as in we co-create our group agreements, we build trust, we are encouraged to learn through play, learn about nature and develop our connection to it, how to handle and assess risks and most importantly to use our own initiative to solve problems and co-operate with others.
Learners are taught to use tools safely, can immerse themselves in play, become self motivated and curious, can play with trial and error, be creative, establish and grow in confidence, self-esteem, critical thinking and learn both physical and behavioural boundaries.
Forest School programmes can run throughout the year, we go out in all weathers (except for high winds). Qualified Forest School practitioners are outdoor first aid trained, need to be Garda vetted to work with organisations and strive to have a positive impact on the woodlands and green spaces they use, including litter picking and woodland management. A Forest School Leader needs to be covered by insurance to operate and to that end Forest School Ireland is fully insured to run children’s programmes and to teach adults.
Groups range from Primary and Secondary Schools, after-schools programmes, bespoke programmes with an organisation or group e.g. home-school networks, at-risk groups or through funded projects. Sometimes a Forest School leader will be hired by an organisation or an organisation can have a certified Forest School Leader within it, for example a school can have Teachers who are trained Forest School Leaders to run programmes for the school. Forest School Ireland (formerly Earth Force Education) is run by Ciara Hinksman and she offers after-schools programmes, funded projects, adult training and can be hired by schools through the An Taisce: Heritage in Schools Scheme.
She hosted and was part of the first certified training to become a Forest School Leader in the Republic of Ireland, which took place in 2013 in Co. Wicklow. Since then we formed the Irish Forest School Association in 2016 and there are now hundreds of Forest School Leaders in Ireland.
THE SIX PRINCIPLES OF FOREST SCHOOL
There are lots of great ways to engage children and ourselves in nature; these include, but are not limited to, school gardening, tree-planting, the Scouts, citizen science projects, bird watching, sea swimming, forest therapy, nature clubs, An Taisce Green Schools, outdoor education and outdoor pursuits etc. What makes Forest School unique and recognisable are Six Principles that underpin our ethos. This version is taken directly from the IFSA website, and these were adapted from the Forest School Association UK principles, created by practitioners in 2013.
Principle 1: Regular sessions
Forest school is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than a one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session.
Principle 2: Woodland setting
Forest school takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
Principle 3: Community
Forest school uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development, and learning.
Principle 4: Holistic development
Forest school aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
Principle 5: Opportunity to take risks
Forest school offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.
Principle 6: Qualified practitioners
Forest school is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.
You can find out more about the 6 Principles and the criteria for good practice from the FSA UK website.
Feedback for our Forest School Programmes
It was a challenge for this particular child (with Autism Spectrum Disorder) to place himself into the outdoor space. He struggled for the first two weeks. But with a gentle and unpressurised approach, the leaders gradually coaxed him into group activities and he found his comfort zone. By week ten, it was staggering to see the ease and natural way this child interacted with the outdoor environment. Fantastic!2nd Class Teachers, CBS Primary, Wexford, Ireland
Forest school has brightened every Thursday up. It’s really fun and energetic. We’ve been playing a lot of games like Eagle Eye, fire in the forest, Bat and Moth, fire keeper and a lot more. I love how they taight us to make swings and forts. My favourite memory was defintly pulling up a really big branch because it showed strength, teamwork and hard working. I can’t wait to have are big feast at the end. It’s been really great experience.5th Class pupil, St. Patrick’s N.S., Diswellstown, Dublin, Ireland.
Forest school would be a brilliant experience for kids to explore Irish nature. We have learned how to light a fire how to [cook] on a fire. We have explored and found a river and built dents that a red squirrell now lives in. Me and my friend have a hole above that that you can stick your head in. It was a grandmother tree so we called it Peggy. And a rabbit lives beside it. We made birdfeeders by covering pinecones with peanut butter and then cover it in bird seed. My friend put hers on larry (which was a den) and I put mine on Peggy. We played lots of fun games.’3rd Class pupil, Crossabeg N.S., Wexford