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Forest School Explained: Positive Behaviours

“Forest School sessions can be successfully used as an intervention strategy for children and young people who are at risk or disadvantaged in social, behavioural or economic ways.

"Research has shown that disadvantaged pupils who attended Forest School had increased academic attainment and attendance at school in comparison to those who did not attend the sessions (McCree, 2018).

Taking a child outside of their normal setting and working on a long-term basis under the Forest School principles gives the child freedom to redefine themselves and try new things" (Gust Forest School, 2022)

In this blog post, we will explore things to consider when it comes to behavioural challenges you may encounter when teaching Forest School.

The first part of behaviour management is ensuring you create the right ethos and mission in your Forest School sessions. If you create a nurturing and safe environment, then you should see most children model positive behaviours.

Here are some things to consider when starting Forest School sessions:

1. Ethos and mission

Have a clear vision in mind of what you want the ethos to feel like. It can help to create your mission statement.

2. Modelling

Model the behaviours you are trying to foster. The impact of seeing a caring, considerate and respectful attitude modelled can be amazing. Often if you show a child the respect you are expecting they will follow suit.

3. Positive enforcement of behaviours

As well as modelling behaviours yourself, it is good to notice others showing these behaviours. A simple encouraging comment can shift the behaviours of the group and define expectations.

4. Clear rules and boundaries

At Forest School we encourage free play and exploration, however, it’s also good to set ground rules. For instance, setting a rule or boundary for safety. If you’re creating rules, get the children involved to give them a sense of ownership. Be sure to phrase rules positively where possible. Rather than using ‘don’t do this’ phrase it as ‘do this instead.

5. Fairness and consistency

If you have rules and expectations, ensure you follow them fairly and consistently. This helps children to know where they stand and start to learn the limits. If these suddenly change it can be confusing and aggregating for a child.

6. Activity planning

Think carefully about the activities you plan; ensure they are right for the age group and development level. Making an activity too easy or too difficult can lead to disruptive behaviours. Prepare materials and support options to provide children support or extended activities.

7. Self-learning

The nature of Forest School is an ideal opportunity for children to learn and challenge themselves. Allow children to learn the consequences of actions where possible, for example, if a child chooses to not put on a raincoat, they will get uncomfortable and cold, learning from their choice for next time.

Children challenging themselves will also allow them to learn self-regulation. This involves controlling or re-directing disruptive behaviours and impulses and adapting to challenging circumstances. Children who are able to do this can keep their emotions in check more effectively.

This self-management involves being able to control outbursts, calmly discussing disagreements, and avoiding activities that undermine the child like extended self-pity or panic.

The above tips can help to develop the correct attitude and behaviour you expect all participants to demonstrate. However, on occasion, you may be faced with some behavioural difficulties, here are some techniques to help!

The child’s needs

Consider the needs of the child. Usually, when a child becomes disruptive there’s a reason behind it, so identifying the issue can often resolve the issue.

In terms of theory, you can look to The Hierarchy of Needs by researcher Maslow. It explains which needs should be met in order to feel safe and comfortable. Click here for more information.

Giving them space

Often when a child has an outburst they can storm off, it’s important to give them space and time to cool off if that happens. You may find that they will re-join the group on their own but it’s important to have an additional adult on hand to keep an eye on them if they get too far away from the group.


Another technique that can help is ignoring the behaviour and drawing the child’s attention to a new activity or point of focus.


With all of these techniques, once the situation is defused it’s important to calmly discuss it. If you have an ethos, this can structure the discussion. Be sure to end this by reassuring the child that next time they will have the opportunity to start again.

Additionally, discussion leads to better communication skills which in turn can reduce friction in other aspects of the child's life. The child will be in the position to communicate their needs and wants effectively rather than using undesirable behaviours to put these across.

To summarise, it’s important to have set rules and expectations for everyone, not just the children, to treat everyone fairly and with respect.

And when behavioural challenges do arise, it’s vital to try and understand the issue and its cause, solving it calmly, over taking disciplinary action.


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