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Forest School Explained: Mental Health

Creating a fun and supportive environment and providing children with exciting, achievable tasks, allows them to build confidence and self-esteem and in turn supports their mental health and well-being.

By creating a safe space, children are able to reap the benefits of nature (click here for more information), whilst learning in a way that makes them feel supported, accomplished and confident.

The Forest School Association (FSA) has produced six principles for Forest School sessions, these are:

· Forest School is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than a one-off; there are links between each session.

· Forest School takes place in a natural environment to support the relationship between the learner and the natural world.

· Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning.

· Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.

· Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.

· Forest School is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.

These principles ensure that children who struggle in the classroom environment can find it easier to excel in Forest School as it meets more of their needs e.g. plenty of space, the opportunity for movement, lack of pressure as well as the opportunity to do things in their own way.

Evidence suggests that due to this there is a boost in learning - both in children who struggle within the classroom and those who don’t.

This boost is achieved by providing a more supportive context for children: ‘greener environments may foster learning because they are calmer and quieter (which can also help to reduce anxiety), because they foster warmer relationships, and because the combination of ‘loose parts’ and relative autonomy elicits particularly beneficial forms of play’.

What’s more, is that studies suggest that Forest School can also benefit children with social and emotional difficulties as it can make children more resilient, with a strong sense of self and can-do attitude, alongside the ability to be flexible and adaptable.

This is because Forest School promotes self-regulation and self-awareness. By providing children with activities that challenge them, they are able to experience a situation that challenges their emotions, helping them to learn how to manage these.

For this to happen, however, children need to feel they are in a physically and emotionally safe environment.

Activities with options to make decisions based on their needs can help the child building a better understanding of themselves. So with this, Forest School can help equip children with essential skills to overcome mental health issues.

These benefits are not achieved easily but through a commitment to the six principles mentioned above, in time they can become apparent via this process:

1. A child attends Forest School sessions weekly during term time.

2. A child will have opportunities for group work and play.

3. Adults model good social and emotional skills in interactions.

4. A child is supported by adults in their interactions with others.

5. A child is encouraged to reflect on and internalise positive interactions and narratives.

6. A child then forms friendships at Forest School.

7. Finally, a child is able to use social and emotional skills developed at Forest School, in school and at home, therefore improving their confidence, self-esteem and emotional and physical well-being.

To summarise, Forest School is all about creating a space in which children and young people can feel safe to learn and grow.

The principles of Forest School enable practitioners to support their student's specific needs, therefore making them feel a greater sense of accomplishment/confidence and in turn, supporting their mental health and well-being in and outside of sessions.


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