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Heathfield Forest School

The Forest School Approach 

Forest school is an approach to learning that takes our children into the great outdoors to explore the natural environment. 

Children spend time outside instead of inside the classroom to learn more about nature and to develop a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Children learn through playing in the mud and the hands-on forest school approach gives them plenty of opportunities to do just that. Children are encouraged to explore and discover and these forest school activities develop confidence, self-esteem, imagination and physical ability as they are allowed to test their limits in the natural world.

Benefits of a Forest School Approach 

Forest Schools offer a unique educational experience using the outdoor environment of the forest as a classroom. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) evaluated two schools to highlight how they can provide learning opportunities for children who typically do not do as well in the classroom.  However, all children, including those of higher ability, were seen to benefit from the ability to explore concepts more openly, and to apply knowledge in a practical arena.

Key findings

The evaluation suggests Forest Schools make a difference in the following ways:

  • Confidence: children had the freedom, time and space to learn and demonstrate independence
  • Social skills: children gained increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on peers through team activities such as sharing tools and participating in play
  • Communication: language development was prompted by the children’s sensory experiences
  • Motivation: the woodland tended to fascinate the children and they developed a keenness to participate and the ability to concentrate over longer periods of time
  • Physical skills: these improvements were characterised by the development of physical stamina and gross and fine motor skills
  • Knowledge and understanding: the children developed an interest in the natural surroundings and respect for the environment

Forest School at Heathfield Preparatory

One of the features which makes Heathfield unique is our incredible setting: few schools can offer their own river – even fewer their own waterfall! We have put into place a constant programme of developments which promote outdoor learning and enhance the outdoor areas. Our outdoor music area was set up a couple of years ago, and we have added new instruments at regular intervals. We completed the Forget-Me-Not sensory garden recently, and put in place a fantastic new trim trail. Throughout the year, classes go outside, exploring  all curriculum subjects, from reading Pumpkin Soup whilst making actual pumpkin soup on the fire, to burning models of old London Town to find out more about the Great Fire; from poetry inspired by the autumn trees to the mathematics of natural shapes. The more able are challenged by complex practical challenges which require detailed working-out. For those who sometimes require more support in a given area, there is an opportunity to approach problems in a way which is not possible in a classroom setting.

We get to appreciate our immediate environment so much more by coming to a realisation of everything for which it can be used. We understand the challenges of managing the natural world, and we get to enjoy it more by understanding it more deeply.

The next phase of development promises to be hugely exciting – plans are afoot for considering outdoor  auditoria, a new classroom set up out-of-doors, and an eco-treehouse! Exciting times ahead!

Forest School