Forest School learning differs from formal learning in schools from the Foundation Stage onwards. It is not dissimilar from the Early Years Foundation Stage syllabus in that it gives credance to child-centred and play-based learning. It fundamentally differs in that it is in a purely outdoor environment; the site that is chosen becomes a fixed venue that the children revisit.
The experience of Forest School sessions is consolidated by repeated visits and the commitment of time. Experiential and fluid learning occurs alongside and with nature. Forest School upholds the more obvious benefits of being outdoors such as fresh air and exercise and a connection to nature, through all its cycles and seasons. It also expounds upon the social and educational value to a child to experience extended, uninterrupted play, managed risk and select activities alongside the opportunity to learn in a holistic sense through experience.
Fundamentally, Forest School learning embraces the belief that a child is an individual and responding to them as such will promote and empower them with a fundamental understanding of themselves.
Sarah Knight describes the basis of trust that exists both ways between adults and children. Freedom to play exists where boundaries are mutually agreed; children are encouraged to take the lead in this. This in turn exemplifies a co-operative, democratic environment. Children are given as much autonomy with their learning as possible, however the leader assumes responsibility for the structure of the session and maintaining key routines and ‘rituals’ that ‘re-inforce the specialness’ of the sessions. In holding this responsibility, the leader holds together the communal experience and ‘joy of togetherness’.