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Forest School Explained: Holistic Development

Forest School offers an ideal opportunity to take a holistic view of the development of both children and adults.

Essentially, what we mean by holistic view is the whole of an individual, focusing on the development of every aspect and not just like e.g. only math.

But to understand the whole person, we need to have a basic understanding of the different aspects that make up an individual.

The whole individual is (theoretically, according to the Forest School approach) made up of: emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, moral and physical.

Forests or woodlands are ideal places for holistic teaching as there are so many different opportunities for activities which can be organised to develop all areas of an individual.

Open-ended activities allow a learner to pick and choose which areas they develop or develop several at the same time.

The role of the practitioner in this is to 'scaffold' their learning, theorised by Vygotsky. This essentially means that the children's learning is stimulated with staff standing back and observing rather than interfering.

Practitioners should only intervene when they are either invited by the child or when they see an opportunity to support the child's learning from one stage to the next.

Let’s have a look at a few examples:


· Moving activities – climbing trees, balancing on logs, moving through the woods.

· Fine motor skills – natural crafts tying knots, building fires, using tools.

· And finally, just experiencing the natural environment.


· Tasks that require perseverance by having a go e.g. lighting fires.

· Not pressuring time restraints to enhance calmness.

· Activities with a sense of accomplishment like natural crafts.


· Working as part of a group via shelter building, collecting firewood etc.

· Creating group projects and challenges.


· Introducing discussions in group tasks like collecting firewood or building shelters.

· Giving specific objectives for creative tasks e.g. making children use materials around them.

· Encouraging reflection following an activity, discussing what we achieved and learnt.

Moral & Spiritual

· Playing different games and then allowing children to develop their own – children will have to develop rules that are fair.

· Teaching how to care for and protect nature, considering the long-term impact on future generations.

· Creating a chance for quiet meditation.

Lots of activities offer developmental opportunities for multiple aspects of an individual and hence Forest School offers more than a standard curriculum which tends to only focus on one aspect at a time.

Forest School practitioners aim to develop these via low intervention rather than instructing the children to act in a certain way.

Development is encouraged instead by measures such as raising open-ended questions, being a role model for behaviour, and allowing children to discover more about themselves and self-regulate emotions and behaviours.

This often leads to an increase in positive behaviours, confidence growing, better ability to deal with mental health issues and more!


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