Forest School Irelands’ Ethos

Forest School Ireland began it’s existence in 2009 trading as Earth Force Education, founded by Ciara Hinksman. Upon completing three months living off-grid immersed in bushcraft, nature awareness and sustainable living practices in Co. Kerry, Ciara wanted to be part of bringing nature connection back into our communities. Her ethos has been influenced by many incredible initiatives, individuals and organisations including: trail conservation group Mountain Meitheal; nature connection and the cultural repair movement the 8 Shields Institute founded by Jon Young and Mark Morey; The Art of Mentoring International, Marina Robb of Circle of Life Rediscovery and author, Jon Cree FSA UK Founder and author, Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and courage, bushcraft skills and sustainable living practices and many other creative visionaries.

Why Forest School? Research shows there are myriad benefits to our minds, bodies and spirit when we spend time out in nature. In fact, we have been genetically wired to connect with nature over the last 100,000 years as per E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis. However, our modern indoor lifestyles brings with it the inherent disconnection from our natural rhythms, seasonal cycles, wild foods and medicines, folklores and myths, crafts and village-style communities, and we are now the most stressed humans have been throughout history.

Physically, our sedentary, technology driven “free-time” is detrimental to our health and well-being, playing havoc with our frustrated need for real connection while inhibiting our access to the stress-busting benefits of exercise. As Amy Banks says, we are “Wired to connect“. She tells us in order to combat stress we can rewire our brains for healthier relationships and happier more fulfilling lives by improving how we connect with others, and this can be done beautifully when we are playing outside in nature with lots of freedom to play and choose our own learning. Outdoor play helps us to release our beneficial hormones for mental health like serotonin and dopamine, the formation of which are inhibited by stress hormones like cortisol. When we spend time outside in nature for just twenty minutes we can significantly reduce the levels of stress hormones in our lives.

Forest School can offer a safe space to explore the unique emotional nuances every human on the Earth experiences. Human emotions are not made of the simplistic emoji’s prevalent in our communications today, we are not bland nouns “happy” or “sad” and very young children need ways of being seen and understood non-verbally, as they often don’t have the words yet, and words often fail us, as per Lisa Feldman Barrett in her book “How emotions are made“. However, we can learn to respond and mirror back to children what we observe without judgement to enable them to integrate their experience and learn to self-regulate.

Each child is unique and can be recognised as such at Forest School. I would argue there is no “neuro-typical” person, we all have our own individual norms. Since our emotions are nuanced, as Brené Brown says, we need to “rumble” with the feelings and get curious about each others emotional landscapes, while owning our own observations, feelings, needs and boundaries.

William Glasser’s “Choice theory” tells us all behaviour arises in order to ultimately satisfy one or more of our five basic needs: Survival, Love & Belonging, Power, Freedom and Fun. A Forest School programme can meet these needs as the ethos advocates for children to have the opportunity to choose their learning pathways with us and to grow up to be whole, resilient, alive, pro-social, explorative, safe, self-directed and seen.

At Forest School we aim to provide dynamic play environments in the woods. We facilitate children learning to use adult tools safely (including saws, drills, peelers and knives) and acquire new skills when desired by the child. Children at a young age need manageable risk, often explored through play, so they can independently assess and handle more extreme risk later in life as teenagers and adults. We aim to promote self-awareness through connective communication so that individuals can increase their ability to make and act on responsible choices through their own self-awareness.

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. 

Forest School Association, UK, 2013

What People Say

“Really worthwhile, very child focused and the pace and connectedness to the forest was wonderful.”

Primary School Principal, Heritage In Schools scheme

“The ideas it gave me for working with children & giving them ‘structured freedom’ in the outdoors. What it showed me about myself & how the woods comfort me.”

Early Years provider, two-day Forest School Ethos and Principles training, Co. Wicklow

“Very enjoyable. I learned a lot, it was interactive, lots of ideas to bring back to services, songs and games.”

Early Years provider, two-day Forest School Ethos and Principles training, Co. Monaghan

Let’s get every child outside!


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