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Forest school is underpinned by pedagogical theories of learning. The follow article examines how Accelerated Learning (Colin Rose) and Schema (Piaget, Chris Athey, Cathy Nutbrown) are relevant to Forest School.

Accelerated Learning – Colin Rose
The underlying principles of Accelerated Learning are based on Arthur Costa’s research into Learning Styles and Gardner’s research on Multiple Intelligences. Rose’s philosophy states that learners need a
Positive Learning Environment: Forest School provides this by providing learners with a stimulating, creative environment with clear boundaries not only physical but in terms of behaviour and expectations.
Total Learner Involvement: at Forest School learners are not passive but actively involved in their learning. Pupils are involved in activities that require them to take responsibility for their learning and problem solve.
Contextual: we learn better from doing work in context. Forest School supports this because pupils learn new skills in a meaningful rather than abstract/academic way. They have a chance to practice new skills in real situations e.g. using tools to create/build, learning to tie knots to fix items and put up shelters or create items for them to use.
Collaboration: Forest School is not competitive but encourages collaboration through group tasks and activities e.g. building a group shelter. It encourages social skills and interaction with others through games, songs and camp fire activities.
In Forest School pupils are actively engaged in their learning, they have a chance to practice and rehearse skills but they are also given time for reflection and contemplation.
Variety of Learning Styles.
Arthur Costa developed a philosophy that we all have a preferred way of learning. To learn effectively, pupils need to be able to use their preferred learning style. Visual learners are able to see the Forest School Leader working and modelling techniques and activities. Having images from previous sessions or examples, worksheets and crib guides will also will also help these learners to see and understand what is required. Auditory learners will respond to the Forest School Leader’s verbal explanation. Small groups discussing what they are going to do and working together will also help these learners. These learners should talk through their plans. Kinesthetic learners are supported because they are not expected to sit around and listen to explanations for long periods. They have a chance to get hands-on and actively explore their surroundings. Gathering and handling materials in a natural setting will help these learners. Gustatory and Olfactory learners have been added to the original styles of learning and reflect the fact that smells and tastes can provide important links to learning and remembered experiences. Who can forget the madeleine moment in Prousts “A la recherche du temps perdu”, when the taste of the madeleine biscuit evokes a string of memories. We have all had moments when a particular smell or taste makes us remember a time or event in our lives. These learners will benefit from Forest School activities which require them to use their sense of smell. Although care should be taken in respect to tasting items in the forest, they might benefit from having a drink and snack while key information or explanations are made. They will enjoy cooking on campfires which lend their own particular flavour to the food.
Forest School supports a mixture of learning styles and enables learning on a variety of levels. By appealing to our senses Forest School activities provide many hooks which enable learning to be recalled and retained.
The theory of there being a variety of styles of learning links in with Howard Gardner’s research and the theory of
Multiple Intelligences. Forest  School gives equal importance to these different intelligences. People Smart learners will benefit from the collaborative games in Forest School. Activities that involve caring for the environment and other group members will also appeal to them. For Nature Smart learners, Forest School supports their style of learning because they are outside being given the chance to explore and investigate their natural world. Maths/Logic Smart learners will find that Forest School fosters their problem solving skills. Body Smart learners will enjoy Forest School activities that involve building and carrying. They will thrive on the physical and sporty games played and the fact they can feel and touch like kinaesthetic learners. Self Smart learners should be encouraged to use their planning and organisational skills during Forest School sessions. They will benefit from story telling activities. They will also appreciate the quiet moments when they are left alone to explore and assimilate experiences. Word Smart learners will enjoy the discussions in groups or 1-1, they will enjoy the songs that form an important part of sessions and appreciate having time to reflect on their emotions and feeling. Music Smart learners will flourish during the songs and clapping games. They will benefit from activities that involve creating rhythms and music using their bodies, home made instruments or natural materials. Picture Smart learners will appreciate that Forest School involves lots of creative activities but also allows time for these learners to satisfy their desire to make things look right.
“When learners are taught in their own particular style, their motivation, initiative and results improve.” De Bello 1985.


Schema – Piaget, Athey, Nutbrown
Piaget’s research led to him putting forward the theory that there were four different stages in cognitive development (these he linked to ages but they are not fixed and this is particularly true for the pupils with developmental delay with whom I work). At each level intelligence takes a different form: Sensorimotor – motor actions; Preoperations – intuitive; Concrete operations – logical but they need reference to concrete objects; Formal Operations – abstract. By knowing what level pupils are at, the Forest School Leader can provide activities and resources at the appropriate level to engage pupils and support their cognitive development. This work informed the research of Chris Athey and Carol Nutbrown and their theory of Schema – the patterns of behaviour used by young children to help them connect between what they are interested in and what they are doing. The Forest School Leader needs to understand these schema as they give insight into what the children are doing and why they are behaving in a particular way. In this way the Forest School Leader can provide activities which tap in to these interests and lead to deeper/better learning. Forest School allows adults time to watch children, for pupils it allows them time to repeat actions or activities to help them make sense of their discoveries and develop their own interests and lines of enquiry.
The section below looks at different schema and Forest School activities which will support learners.

Trajectory. Support these pupils in climbing games or to walk along fallen trees and logs. Throw balls or leaves and play running and jumping games. Include leaves and balls during parachute games. Teach them how to carry sticks safely. Have water and buckets so they can pour water from different heights.

Transporting. These pupils can be supported by providing them with containers or making containers and bags for them to carry things around. Help them to carry long pieces of wood. Have tarps, blankets or parachutes and use these to carry or swing pupils or get them to use them to move things around the site.

Connection. Provide activities that give pupils a chance to explore different ways of joining materials and objects. Teach them different knots so they can experiment with joining. Create human chains by linking hands or arms. Include creative activities that allow them to create sequences of pictures e.g. what they did in each session, seasonal pictures.  

Rotation. Hang ropes from trees or create swings so that they can explore movement. Play games or sing songs that involve moving or dancing in a ring. They will enjoy stirring potions or water. Explore items that roll or clear an area so they can roll (preferably on a small grassy slope). Explore tree rings. Play parachute games.  

Circularity. Support these learners by including activities that require searching for circles and patterns in nature. Create artwork to reflect these patterns. Create large and small circular patterns using leaves or sticks laid end to end. Make a circular route to be followed. Create circular patterns in water and mud using fingers or sticks. Walk around the fire circle.

Enveloping. These pupils will want to bury, cover or hide themselves so give them the opportunity to hunt for treasure. Hide objects under leaves, low branches and bushes. Provide blankets and tarps for them to crawl or hide under.  

Enclosure. Include activities that involve building large and small structures and shelters. Creating habitats for animals or nests they can sit in. Let them use sticks to frame their artwork and creations. Let them make frames from wood, practising lashing the corners. Use these to support them during investigations i.e. place the frame on the ground and investigate the plant and/or animal life found in that area.

Filling. As with transporting, these learners need to have or make containers that they can fill with different materials (mud, leaves, sticks, seeds). Supply pots and water to create potions. Make or provide pots and bags for scavenger hunts. This differs from transporting in that it is the act of putting items into a container that is the focus rather than the moving from one location to another.

Boundary. It is important to support these learners as they enjoy crossing boundaries either physically or with objects. If you are to keep them safe and stop them wandering outside the safe area they should have activities which will satisfy this need. Provide ropes and logs to create physical boundaries they can move through. Play games or sing songs that involve circles or lines of pupils and require moving past the circle or through the lines. Use tarps to create tunnels they can crawl through. Find natural tunnels through shrubs and bushes.




Theories of learning and development relevant to Forest School

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