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AIM Qualification and Assessment Group

Forest School – the boom in outdoor learning

Sue Benton, Centre Lead at AIM, looks at how swapping traditional classroom delivery for the outdoors might offer a new, therapeutic kind of classroom education for teachers and learners.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for forest school provision increased drastically. In fact, back in 2021 the Forest School Association reported that of the 200+ forest schools that were surveyed, two-thirds said that demand for their services had increased since March 2020.Sue Benton

And isn’t it any wonder? We all emerged from the pandemic, weary and exhausted, wondering what the future would hold and how best to support our learners as we returned to some form of normality. Forest Schools enabled us to establish a ‘new norm’ and new possibilities in supporting vulnerable individuals who were struggling with ‘gaps’ in their confidence, self-esteem and ability to jump back on the ‘curriculum education train’.

The Power of the Outdoors
Some of us have always been aware of the power of the outdoors; its ability to heal, empower, teach and safeguard our wellbeing, however, this has often been reserved for those that are keen ecologists, horticulturalists and outdoor advocates. The pandemic gifted us with an acute awareness that the outdoors is an element of the balance needed to manage the stresses and difficulties that life throws at us. Colleges and outdoor learning centres have provided a haven for individuals to learn, develop self-esteem and wellbeing, confidence, and in some cases, develop a career in an industry that just keeps giving.

Industry that just keeps giving
And it is this ‘keeps giving’ that I now focus on. With the government’s continuing focus and targeted funding for ‘catch up skills’ programmes for children, there is an assumption that these will focus on curriculum-led activities within schools and classrooms. Whereas the truth is that this approach will not fit all, and alternative provision is needed to support emotional, alongside academic, recovery. 

Forest School qualifications provide an alternative approach which not only supports educational achievement but provides a wealth of ‘value added’ benefits to support individuals navigate their way back to a new norm. Forest School offers courses and qualifications that recognise the teaching and learning opportunities within an outdoor setting. The ability to embed numeracy, literacy, science, history, geography and art, to name but a few, into outdoor activities. There has also been a significant increase in Beach Schools, capitalising on outdoor activities and play that significantly support an individuals’ (of any age) wellbeing. These programmes have been linked to home education alongside alternative provision, to support both the wellbeing and curriculum engagement for children; further cementing the integral role and impact an ‘outdoor’ learning environment can have for children and adults alike.

Thus, an outdoor setting provides:

  • a non-threatening environment to create and engage with teaching and learning activities without the pressure of expectation or curriculum targets.
  • the opportunity for individuals to succeed without fear of failure.
  • an opportunity to capitalise on the liberating feeling of being outdoors and in turn building confidence in communicating and interacting in small groups.
  • a non-threatening approach to reintegration into the larger educational setting.
  • an alternative to the ‘catch up’ classroom-based programmes, delivering key skills in a fun and non-threatening, stress-evoking environment.
  • activities that can be shaped to individual needs.
  • levels of accredited qualifications that can be selected to suit learners needs.
  • diverse health benefits to support reintegration into school life, socialising with others and navigating an individual’s new normal.
  • the ability and space for students to discuss and digest how they are feeling, giving the time needed to move forward.
  • benefits for mental health and overall wellbeing.
  • an opportunity to offer a wellbeing retreat for vulnerable individuals, affording the ability/choice to achieve a qualification to further enhance self-esteem and confidence.

Giving every individual the opportunity to succeed
There are multiple benefits to delivering Forest School qualifications and using outdoor spaces as an alternative provision. Moving forward requires a multi-faceted approach and one that gives every individual the opportunity to succeed, as an alternative provision to conventional environments. Forest School, Outdoor Education, and Beach School opportunities could be the answer to many issues and barriers we face, and will continue to face, in the years ahead.

Discover our suite of Forest School qualifications here.
Get in touch with our business development team to arrange a meeting to support your centre with curriculum planning and ask about AIM's Forest School qualifications.

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