providing consultancy, support & training to primary and special needs schools home

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

 —Henry David Thoreau

Forest School and the development of risk management.

Research tells us that the uncertainty and the challenge of much of children’s play is a very large part of its appeal to them but also that it enhances the development of their brains, making them more adaptable and resilient as they grow.

 -Robin Sutcliffe Chair Play Safety Forum

   Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide.

Providers [need] to address two important objectives of play provisions: providing challenge whilst offering protection from unacceptable harm.

 -Play England

   Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal requirement to eliminate risks entirely. The Health and Safety at Work Act only requires that risks are reduced as far as possible. Children need and want to take risks. They use play to test their limits and help them to deal with challenging situations. Children will adapt the way they use equipment in order to increase the challenge, excitement and sense of fun (Play England). Forest School helps to meet this need by providing a natural environment that is stimulating and challenging; by teaching tool use and fire lighting in a safe and realistic manner. It supports challenging play which helps to develop physical fitness, emotional resilience and social skills and helps children to learn how to assess and deal with risks. Forest School provides a holistic learning experience with leaders who know and understand their groups and set appropriate challenges. These allow children to be successful and in turn this leads to increased self confidence. Forest School sessions give children the time to adjust their emotional response to situations and activities and this gives children the chance to change their response to events by helping them to build coping strategies so that instead of the flight/fight response, they can develop a cognitive response. Forest School sessions involve routines and repetition and this gives a chance to reinforce the positive emotional experiences and lay down new neural pathways so that pupils can develop new skills and strategies. Forest School sessions also include the opportunity for reflection; children learn to respect other people’s point of view and in this way develop empathy for their peers.

Children are natural risk takers and if they are not provided with suitably stimulating play they will take risks in an uncontrolled way (using equipment and resources in ways it was never intended for). Forest School provides a rich and stimulating environment with activities that are carefully managed to include an element of challenge. In this way they help children to develop awareness of risks and the skills and confidence to manage them.

Education Scotland “Outdoor Learning” report found that learning outside helped pupils make connections with the real world which enabled them to develop knowledge skills and understanding in context. The rich environment provided challenges but also allowed them to pursue lines of personal enquiry which led to the development of critical thinking. It also allowed for reflection.  The multisensory element enabled knowledge and skills to be better retained, Being outside appealed to different learning styles and was therefore more motivating and led to better learning. These all led to increased self confidence and self belief, better ability to work and co-operate with others, better gross and fine motor skills (which in turn means children are better able to manage risks) and increased respect for and interest in the natural environment.

These findings are backed up by those in the SERG (Social, Education Research Group) Forest School Research ( which also stated that pupils involved in forest school sessions developed an increased awareness of the impact that their actions have on other members of the group through the team games and activities they are routinely involved in.

The findings are also underpinned by the NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) report “Engaging and Learning with the Outdoors” which found that Forest School encourages children and gives them the freedom to try new activities thereby increasing their confidence and self esteem. “Happy and confident pupils are more effective learners”. Children learn to work together in a meaningful way and this improves their co-operational skills.

As Forest School Leaders we act as positive role models and create a secure and safe environment in which children are able to develop their skills and self confidence. We support them to understand the risks and learn strategies to help them manage not only the risks encountered during the sessions but those they will experience in the wider world.