Are Forest Schools Integrating into the Mainstream?
When forest schools first came to the UK, they tended to be privately run, and were perceived by many as a niche alternative to formal education.
Since the millennium, parents, teachers, policymakers, conservationists, social workers and academics have come to respect nature as an important space for not only educating and developing, but supporting physical and mental health.
As a result, more and more primary schools have begun to engage with the practices and ethos of forest schools – demonstrated through running forest school sessions, setting up nature clubs, and the greening of school grounds.
Can Forest Schools Reconnect Children with Nature?
Nature Deficit Disorder
According to Natural England (2009), less than 10% of children regularly play in wild places – compared to 50% a generation ago. This is attributed to an overdependence upon computers, electronics, and
man-made playgrounds which have displaced more natural forms of learning.
There is consensus among teachers, doctors, social workers, and conservationists that children’s disconnect from the natural world is associated with a multitude of physical, mental, and emotional health issues. These have been grouped under the umbrella term ‘nature deficit disorder’.
In building children’s understanding of nature, and nurturing an appreciation for it, forest schools have been valued as a grassroots way to overcome nature deficit disorder and the associated ripple effects. For example, research shows that children at forest schools are less likely to come down with colds, flu, and viruses. Furthermore, with activity levels 2.7x higher than typical school days, children are much less likely to be overweight.
More broadly, in helping rekindle children’s fascination with the natural world, forest schools have been recognized as a site to engage both children and adults with ecological challenges such as climate change. This is supported by research which affirms that regular, sensory, and memorable experiences with the environment – especially during the early years – can forge a relationship with nature which is both meaningful and long-lasting.