So much more than the national curriculum
While outdoor learning at forest school has the potential to teach children about biology, geography and other national curriculum topics, in fact, learning outdoors provides an opportunity to teach so much more than the national curriculum. When learning outdoors, children interact differently than when in the structured and rule-based classroom. They are freer to move, to make more noise and to behave differently. The outdoor environment challenges children in different ways, so that those who do well in the classroom are not always the same as those who thrive outdoors. Personal, social and emotional development are seen as being at least as important, if not more so, than the national curriculum.
The challenge is that outdoor learning spaces are less predictable in terms of weather, resources, and how children relate to the environment and each other. The classroom model of teachers organising learning and children engaging in specific tasks changes: leaders need to be prepared to adapt their activity plans to situations and opportunities as they arise. The environment raises questions from children, and offers new opportunities for children and their teachers to explore and engage in learning. This requires a flexible approach, and forest school practitioners see their role as facilitating children’s learning by offering a choice of activities and allowing children to engage in play-led and peer-led learning.
Inspiring future environmentalists?
For environmentalists, there is a hope that through the engaging and memorable opportunities offered outdoors children will gain a deeper understanding of their environment, an attachment to place, a connection to nature, and a desire to care for the environment in the future.
Whether or not outdoor learning and forest school encourages children towards more environmental futures, for many children, and their teachers, the activities provide a welcome change from the formality of the classroom and the rigours of the national curriculum and its associated assessment pressures.