A wide range of benefits can be gained from forest school activities that cannot be achieved in a classroom environment such as sensory stimulation, movement, co-operation and discussion. An important part of this is the ability to include a variety of learning styles and multiple intelligences.
Howard Gardner (1983) identified multiple intelligences, whereby children may learn best in a variety of ways including Spatial, Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intra-personal and Naturalistic. He also included existential and moral intelligence. According to this theory children may not be able to reach their full potential in a classroom environment. Historically children have learnt by rote in a didactic manner, which for those children with kinaesthetic intelligence would inhibit their development. Forest school activities are able to meet the needs of all types of learners due to the adaptable setting and experiential opportunities.
A Swedish study that took place over 13 months with children from similar backgrounds found that children who attended forest schools in the countryside showed greater signs of happiness and reduced illness and stress taking 25% fewer sick days than those in an urban environment. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) shows that people learn best in a positive environment, and only when the basic needs are met can children achieve self actualisation.
Nina Morris (2003) identified five key ways in which exposure to the natural environment is beneficial to human health: “Enhanced personal and social communication skills; increased physical health; enhanced mental and spiritual health; enhanced spiritual, sensory, and aesthetic awareness and the ability to assert personal control and increased sensitivity to one’s own well-being.”
Through increasing physical activity, self esteem, happiness and reducing ill health and stress forest school activities are able to meet a variety of government and school targets such as the five Every Child Matters outcomes, in addition to Eco Schools and Healthy Schools agendas.
A Summary of potential benefits of forest school:
• The forest school program evolves from the needs of the child and includes the child’s interests.
• Children developed good self esteem in a climate of small achievable steps
• Provides a real context for language
• Provides the practitioner with an alternative view of the child and further insights into a child’s particular development.
• Beneficial to a child’s all round development, particularly in the areas of personal, social and emotional, language and communication.
• Underpins the principles laid down in the foundation stage guidelines.
• The forest school experience has been very well received by all those involved in it.
• Provides opportunities for the children to take risks, problem solve and use thinking skills.
• Complements learning in the classroom and can be transferred.
Forest School helps to build a strong and sustainable connection to the environment and it’s protection for young people that will enable them to make informed choices benefiting nature and combating climate change, throughout their lives.