Calling all nature lovers, parents of little explorers, and forest school teachers! Have you ever wondered how to encourage your children to spend more time outdoors, connecting with nature, and reaping the incredible benefits of outdoor play? Today, we’re exploring the world of Forest Schools and sharing some fantastic activities that will help your little ones grow and learn in a fun and natural environment.
What’s a Forest School, you ask? Originating in Scandinavia, Forest School is an educational approach that emphasises child-led, hands-on learning experiences in nature. This approach has gained popularity around the globe and for good reason! It helps children develop physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally, all while fostering a deep appreciation for the environment.
Before we dive into our list of activities, let’s cover some key principles that make Forest School unique and effective:
- Child-led learning: Children are encouraged to explore, investigate, and learn at their own pace, based on their interests and curiosity.
- Hands-on, experiential approach: Learning is achieved through practical, real-life experiences rather than traditional classroom methods.
- Encouragement of risk-taking within a safe environment: Children are supported in taking appropriate risks, helping them develop confidence and resilience.
- Connection to nature and sustainable practices: Activities are designed to foster a love for nature and teach respect for the environment.
Forest School Activities for Children
Now, let’s get to the fun part! Here are five engaging Forest School activities your children will love:
Activity & Location: Shelter building is a great activity that encourages children to work together and use their imaginations. You can do this in a local park, woodland, or even in your own schoolyard if you have adequate materials around.
Materials & Instructions: Children can use materials such as sticks, leaves, and branches to create their dens, and they can build them in different shapes and sizes.
Key Learning Points: Den building is a fun activity that helps children develop their problem-solving skills and promotes teamwork. Building shelters also allows children to be creative and flexible with the natural materials they find, helping them develop an understanding of how different materials can be used.
Fire Lighting & Fire Safety
Activity & Location: One of the key benefits of Forest School activities is that they encourage children to take risks in a safe and controlled environment. Fire lighting is a great way for children to learn about fire safety and how to start a fire. Since fire can be extremely dangerous, you must consider the following before going ahead with the activity: Do you anticipate being in the area for a sufficient amount of time to look after a fire? Is the weather too hot and dry to safely start a fire? Are there enough members of staff to manage the fire and the children? Is the space big enough (and safe enough) for a fire?
Materials & Instructions: Building a fire for children can be a fun and educational activity, but it’s important to prioritise safety at all times. Here are some steps to follow when building a fire for children:
- Choose a safe location: Make sure you select a clear area, free of any dry leaves, grass, or debris that could catch fire. You should also ensure the location is not too close to any trees or other flammable objects.
- Gather materials: You’ll need firewood, kindling, and a fire starter. For firewood, use only dry, untreated wood. You can gather kindling from small twigs or dry leaves. The fire starter can be a lighter or matches.
- Prepare the fire pit: Dig a shallow pit and surround it with rocks. This will help keep the fire contained. To ensure safety, remove any twigs and sticks within a 10-foot radius around the fire. Additionally, clear the area of any leaf litter or other debris to expose bare soil.
- Build the fire: Begin by placing the kindling in the centre of the pit, and then build a teepee shape around it with the firewood. Light the kindling with the fire starter.
- Supervise the fire: Once the fire is lit, make sure to keep a close eye on it at all times. Never leave children unattended near the fire.
- Extinguish the fire: When you’re finished with the fire, make sure to put it out completely. Pour water over the fire and stir the ashes until there are no more embers or hot spots. Be careful with the smoke produced when extinguishing the fire.
Key Learning Points: While participating in fire lighting, children can learn about the different stages of fire, and how to put it out safely. Fire lighting is also a fun activity that encourages children to learn about the natural environment and develop their survival skills in a safe environment.
Important: You should always have a purpose for building fires like toasting marshmallows or cooking toast. Alternatively, if your little ones are a bit too little for a fire-based activity, you could use our photorealistic soft seating printed floor mat and fire set to simulate a campfire
Spotting & Identifying Wildlife:
Activity & Location: Nature spotting is an important aspect of Forest Schools and helps children develop an appreciation and understanding of the natural world around them.
Materials & Instructions: Binoculars and magnifying glasses are valuable tools that children can utilise to observe and identify various types of wildlife in their natural habitats. This can be achieved by incorporating nature walks into the curriculum, encouraging children to keep a diary of their observations while out with their parents or guardians, or exploring the natural surroundings of the local school.
Key Learning Points: Through nature-spotting, children can learn about the different plants, animals, and insects that live in their local environment. They can observe the changes in nature throughout the seasons, learn about food chains and ecosystems, and develop a sense of connection to the natural world.
Sensory Exploration Walk:
Activity & Location: A sensory walk is an interactive pathway designed to provide children with a unique and stimulating sensory experience. These paths are often brightly coloured or feature different textures, shapes, and objects for children to explore.
Materials & Instructions: You can plan a guided walk through the forest to engage all senses and encourage mindfulness whilst having children walk slowly, focusing on each of their senses: sight, smell, touch, sound, and, if possible, taste (only with safe, known plants!). If you’re limited on space, you could even design a sensory walk indoors with containers dotted around the classroom. You can fill the containers with things like sand, water, and harder objects like rocks and dirt – to imitate the sensory experience of the outdoors.
Key Learning Points: Sensory walks can be particularly helpful for children with sensory processing difficulties and can also aid in the development of motor skills, balance, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness. Sensory exploration walks also contribute to mindfulness and sensory awareness and helps build an appreciation of nature’s diversity.
Forest Scavanger Hunt:
Activity & Location: A forest scavenger hunt is an exciting and engaging activity that can be incorporated into a Forest School program to encourage children to explore the natural environment and learn about different species and habitats.
Materials & Instructions: To set up a forest scavenger hunt, you can:
- Create a list of items: Create a list of items for children to search for, such as different types of leaves, flowers, or animal tracks.
- Provide equipment: Give children equipment such as magnifying glasses, binoculars, or field guides to help them identify and observe different species.
- Set boundaries: Establish boundaries for the scavenger hunt area to ensure the safety of the children and the environment.
- Safety considerations: Make sure to provide appropriate safety instructions and guidelines, such as not touching or disturbing living creatures or straying too far from the exploration area.
Key Learning Points: A forest scavenger hunt helps children develop observation and identification skills, problem-solving and critical thinking, spatial awareness and orientation, collaboration and teamwork, sensory exploration, and environmental awareness and responsibility. It is a fun and engaging way for children to learn about nature and develop important skills while fostering a sense of connection to the natural world.
Tips for Implementing Forest School Activities
Are you ready to head out and try these activities with your children? Keep these tips in mind for a successful and safe experience:
- Always prioritise safety by providing appropriate clothing and equipment, and performing a risk assessment on more dangerous activities like fire lighting.
- Adapt activities to suit different age groups, ensuring that everyone can participate and learn. Something that may be enjoyable for a group of 12-year-olds may not be suitable for early years children.
- Encourage child-led activities, giving them the freedom and creativity to have a say in their own learning.
Forest School activities are a great way to promote outdoor education, and there are many activities available that can be tailored to different age groups and abilities. Den building, fire lighting, wildlife spotting, sensory walks, and scavenger hunts are just a few examples of the many Forest School activities available.
By providing children with the opportunity to learn in a natural environment, Forest School activities can help children develop a lifelong love of learning and a deep appreciation for the natural world.