What is a forest school?
Forest schools are full-year schools which provide outdoor education for kids of different ages, from preschool to high school. In these schools, kids spend lots of time studying and working in forests or woodlands. They also learn a wide range of practical and technical skills.
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Forest schools are sometimes called "nature schools" or "outdoor schools," given their focus on nature and environmental education. They focus a lot on outdoor activities and the wilderness.
These schools also have a unique curricular approach. This approach is children-centred and emergent. In short, the curriculum and activities is mostly driven by the interests of the kids. This is similar to the Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia approach to education. In fact, Waldorf schools (and preschools), in addition to being child-centred, focus a great deal on nature.
Forest schools encourage curiosity and exploration with all the senses. They also aim to promote spatial awareness and motor development. This is especially true of forest kindergartens.
At the elementary and secondary level, these schools promote social skills and creative learning. They also focus a lot on teamwork and problem-solving. And at the higher levels, kids learn abstract concepts, such as in math, science, and other subjects.
Who are forest schools for?
Forest schools are for learners of all ages, from primary to secondary school. Some are also geared to young adults.
These schools can be a good fit for a wide range of children. In particular, kids who aren’t doing well, or need a break from, a traditional school often thrive in one of these schools. Because of their lower teacher-to-child ratios and the calming influence of the outdoors, they can be also be a great option for children with special needs. This includes kids with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, and learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.
Several other types of students can benefit from a forest or nature school (or program). These include students who
- Struggle in school
- Struggle socially
- Have an emotional issue, such as anxiety or depression
- Are a troubled teen
- Enjoy the outdoors
- Are interested in animals, plants, or forestry
- Are curious
- Like to explore
Sometimes forest schools are used as an alternative to traditional schooling. Other times, they’re meant to support a child’s primary education or to provide a short transition back into it.
What are the benefits of forest schools?
Forest schools provide a great alternative to traditional schooling. They offer nature education, and allow children to develop a wide range of practical skills. As O’Brien and Murray put it (2008), these schools offer “children, young people, and adults regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment.”
These schools also have several other benefits. These include
- Increased confidence and self-esteem
- Improved discipline
- Therapeutic environment
- Calming influence
- Increased appreciation of nature
- Development of social skills
- Leadership opportunities
- Exploring special interests
- Lower teacher-to-student ratio
How do I choose a school?
There are lots of forest schools in Canada. This includes schools in Toronto and Windsor, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
On this page, check out our list of forest schools. Some of these schools specialize in outdoor or nature education. Others offer part-time nature programs or courses. Choose a school that's the right fit for your child and family.