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

Change and growth take place when a person has risked themselves and dares to become involved in experimenting with their own life.

 - Herbert Otto

States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

 - UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 31


Where children are able to freely choose their play it is usually creative, open-ended and imaginative. Forest school provides a diverse array of natural resources which can be used in an open-ended and imaginative way by children.

Take for example a stick: this can vary from moment to moment and child to child starting as a person, becoming a musical instrument, changing into a tool (for writing, pegging out a tarpaulin or to cook a marshmallow), before joining with others to form a nest or shelter.

By enabling children to choose how they play and interact with the natural environment Forest School Leaders can support, develop and extend their play and learning. For example, having observed a child crawling under bushes and shrubs the Forest School Leader might provide additional plastic sheets and model how these could be used to make a shelter. Watching a child pick up insects and plants the Leader might give her a camera so that she can record what she sees without disturbing the wildlife or risking handling some inappropriate materials. These pictures can then be used to help her learn about what minibeasts can be found in the area and how to support and encourage more.

If children are allowed to explore and share their ideas they try to solve problems and develop their thinking together. Allowing one or more children to work together on problems helps them to learn more effectively.

Freely chosen play gives children the chance to ‘gather information’; they can test things out, find new ways of doing things which helps to build their self-confidence and self-esteem. They also have a chance to develop friendships by learning how to make relationships and collaborate together.

Although play may seem aimless to an observer, children are finding out what they can do with the objects and materials around them. In this way they can “personalise their learning to their own particular interests” (Playing to Learn, Di Chilvers). Forest School Leaders can learn a lot about the child’s preferred learning style and interests by observing self-directed learning. This in turn enables us to find a starting point and how to build a relationship and shared interests. This knowledge enables the Forest School Leader to develop activities which will not only build on their natural interests but also support them to develop further thus deepening their learning.

By tapping in to these interests children become more active learners; their confidence and self esteem grows; they develop better social skills; their language skills and behaviour improve. (Playing to Learn, Di Chilvers). The SEN children I work with often have particular problems with social interaction and controlling their behaviour, but those who have taken part in regular Forest School sessions, where the pressures are less intense and they are more able to follow a freely chosen line of interest, have shown great improvement in their interaction and play skills and some behaviour improvement even if this is only during the Forest School sessions.


The benefits of freely chosen play with reference to observations of play and self directed learning within the Forest School environment

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