Earlier this year I completed an online course which served as an introduction to the principles of forest school. Forest school is defined by the Forest School Association as:

Forest School is a child-centred inspirational learning process, that offers opportunities for holistic growth through regular sessions. It is a long-term program that supports play, exploration and supported risk taking. It develops confidence and self-esteem through learner inspired, hands-on experiences in a natural setting.

Forest School has a developmental ethos shared by thousands of trained practitioners around the world, who are constantly developing their learning styles and skills to support new and imaginative learners. Its roots reach back to the open-air culture, friluftsliv, or free air life, seen as a way of life in Scandinavia where Forest School began. It arrived in the UK in 1993 and has grown from strength to strength since then.

As such, it offers a “back to basics” approach to education: practical learning in an outside environment. All of the above is common sense, although the word ‘friluftsliv’ needs some translation; it is a Norwegian concept about open air living.

Part of this course required me to attempt some of these activities, and so I headed off to the woods (Cann Woods near Plymouth) with a willing participant: my six year old daughter. Our intention was to attempt a variety of tasks, which can be seen in the photographs in the gallery.

The tasks included creating a fort (of which I had minimal success), collecting pine cones to use for counting, and attempting to observe different types of trees. As anyone who knows me would agree, I am completely hopeless at any physical “hands on” activities, but I managed to get the hand of a few of these.

The most enjoyable tasks were “Poetree” (a tree is selected and a short poem is created about it) and the “Jararium” (in which a mini world is created inside a small jar). On the whole, all activities were interesting, and I can see how they are used in order to help young learners develop skills: using their hands, building up patience, and developing a more risk -taking approach.

My main question in terms of taking this on the next step with older learners (post-16) is how do I utilise these principles when teaching History? My first thoughts were based on simply getting students outside the classroom to re-create significant historical moments; this would similar to the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth (which was outlined in a previous post).

This could be developed further than simply whacking one another with cardboard swords (although that is actually quite a lot of fun!). So, using the example of the Tudors module studied at A-level, we could utilise a wooded area in order to recreate over historical scenes, such as the signing of a treaty, of key characters discussing their plans with one another, or on recreating the debates that took place in the Privy Council.

There is further potential to consider more locations that are outside the classroom. A nearby beach would be appropriate for a lesson about the rise to power of Henry Tudor; he landed at Mill Bay in August 1485 before meeting his destiny at Bosworth later in the month. By standing on sand and looking out at the sea we could attempt at a greater bond of empathy with the nervous Henry Tudor of that time period. This could, ultimately, result in greater understanding of history.

So, there are a few ideas to consider and attempt in 2021-22. In the meantime I will attempt another fort with my daughter, in the hope of creating something more dramatic and historical. Wish me luck!