Scandinavia has a rich history in appreciation for nature. North mythology connected Norsemen to different gods based on their natural surroundings. For example, Norsemen believed Yggdrasil was a tree that held the whole world in its branches. People in Sweden have tales of Radanda which are tree spirits, and Skogsra, a mythical female creature of the forest.
Forest schools first developed in Denmark, established by Ella Flautau. Flautau observed neighborhood children gathering in the forest. She came up with a concept to teach children in these natural areas and also have access to a daycare. These nature centered schools by Flautau were called naturebørnehavens. Today, 10% of Danish schools are forest schools. In Sweden, a concept called “Skogsmulle school” meaning Wood Mulle was founded by Gosta Frohm (1950). Skogsmulle is a Swedish character who helps children learn how to care for nature around them. Frohm believed teaching children about nature through music, games, and hands on sensory experiences would have great educational benefits in children. Skogsmulle schools teach pre-school and kindergarten aged children.
In recent years, forest schools have been expanding across the world. In the UK, forest schools were first introduced in 1993 by students from Bridgewater College in Somerset who had recently visited Danish Forest schools. In 1995, the first forest schools were established in the UK where Bridgewater College offered courses and certifications. In 2011, a forest school in Australia by the name of Bush Kindergarten was established by Dough Fargher. The first modern forest school in the US was established in California, 1996. In 2020, there are about 585 forest schools across the United States. In Illinois, there are several forest schools. Natural Discovery Forest school in Monee, IL offers schooling from pre-k though 5th grade. They even offer different options for schooling such as co-op or attending only a couple of days of the week.
What are Forest Schools like?
Forest schools strive to teach children how to care and build a positive outlook on nature. Schools will take children outside into a forest environment where they are allowed to climb trees. They learn how to build a shelter out of tree branches and how to build fires. Children are also taught how to identify different trees and fauna. Sometimes doing activities with the fauna found in the forest.
What are the benefits of forest schools?
According to Stephanie Dean (2019), this pedagogical approach allows children to work on their self-esteem, self-confidence, and independence. Studies have also shown that Forest schools have increased physical movement, improved cognitive development, and social skills such as attention and language. Forest schools have also helped decrease obesity rates and symptoms of ADHD in children. Forest schools allow children to spend time outdoors and learn how to care for nature. Children to learn how to start fires, climb trees and make their own carving tools with pocketknives. Some parents worry that forest schools can be dangerous and put their children at risk for getting injured. Although always supervised by teachers, called pedagogues in Denmark, some cultures are not comfortable with letting their children explore such activities. This is also another aspect of forest schools to consider, they are a sociocultural construct developed in countries that see this as an extension of everyday life. Other countries might see these activities as a novelty. For example, according to Paul Varee, 2020, the United Kingdom values safety and eliminating risks. Forest schools may not work as well in areas around the world where they place high value on the security and safety of their children. As well as areas where natural environments are not as accessible. If living in an urban area, a forest school might be less accessible and require a longer commute.
Scan or click on the QR code to try a fun and easy forest school inspired activity!
Abel, K. (2014). Gosta Frohm [Photograph]. Weebly. https://forestschool507.weebly.com/forest-school-507/international-perspectives-of-forestschools
Dean, S. (2018). Seeing the forest and the trees: a historical and conceptual look at Danish forest schools. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education 6 (3), 2331-0464.
Forest School Foundation. (2020, October 9). A brief history of forest schools around the world. Growing Wild Forest School. https://www.growingwildforestschool.org/post/the-brief-history-heritage-of-forest-schools-around-the-world
MaBraS (2019). Children girls hiking [Photograph]. pixabay. https://pixabay.com/photos/children-girl-hiking-trail-4355469/
Merbt, E. (2014). Nature Walk [Photograph]. pixabay. https://pixabay.com/photos/family-outing-children-excursion-421653/
Roberts, A. (2016, February 25). Are forest kindergartners a good idea?. SBS news. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/article/are-forest-kindergartens-a-good-idea/pfyjkhs5r
R, Taira. “Benefits of Forest School.” Emerald Heart, Emerald Heart, 9 Dec. 2021, https://www.emeraldheartkids.com/post/researched-benefits-of-forest-school.
Vare, P., Scott, W. (2020). Learning, Environment, and Sustainable Development. Routledge.