Forest schools as an alternative to formal education

Forest schools as an alternative to formal education

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Forest Schools are experiences geared towards children and adults and take many forms. From projects in which children attend daily, to weekly sessions within other educational projects such as any school (public or private).

“There is no description or image in any book that is capable of replacing the vision of real trees and all the life that revolves around them, in a real forest. What emanates from these trees speaks directly to the soul, revealing knowledge that no book, no museum, can ever give us. The forest reveals to us that it is not only the trees that exist but a whole collection of interrelated lives. "

Maria Montessori

The Forest Schools and the (Re) Connection with Nature

Think about your fondest childhood memories. That contain? In mine are my sister, my cousins, my friends and, always, nature in the background. In the form of a forest, a beach, or a small abandoned plot next to the Barcelona park where I spent most of my childhood afternoons. It was nothing more than an undeveloped land that, over the years, had been eaten by weeds. We called it “la Fi del Món” (the End of the World) and there I lived, after leaving school, little big adventures late after afternoon.

¿How will the memories of your children or your students be?

Times have changed, we don't feel safe, we don't have access to green areas and worst of all, we don't have time ... We all know the causes and the result: nowadays our children spend most of their time between 4 walls and hardly have opportunity to play and learn outdoors, in contact with nature but,U.S we need Nature and Nature needs us.It is in our hands to change the situation. Forest schools are born from this need to (re) connect with Nature because the link with our environment is vital for our development.

The Path of the Bosque School

The Forest Schools or Forest Schools movement is very recent in Spain but has decades of history in other places such as the Nordic countries or the United Kingdom (where I was trained and where I practice) and has been influenced by different pedagogues and philosophers, from Pestalozzi Fröbel, passing through Rudolf Steiner or María Montessori. We could mark its origin in the conceptFriluftsliv of the Scandinavian countries.Friluftsliv translates literally as freedom-air-life and refers to a philosophy of life based on a deep connection with nature and life outdoors.

No two Escuela Bosque projects are the same as no two people are the same, but we do share the same essence that translates into clear benefits. This essence, this change of gaze, we can all experience, Forest School guides, parents, teachers ... It does not matter if we have a small grove nearby, a beach or a park in the middle of the city, Forest Schools sessions should be a process inspirational quote: there are no limitations, there are opportunities. In our case, the philosophy of the Forest Schools has permeated our family life and accompanies us at all times. Even when we go to the supermarket for the 4 things that are always missing and we stop to contemplate an insect that climbs a wall.

The Bosque School is much more than a building in the middle of a forest

Before going to the concrete and reviewing the basic ingredients for a Forest School project, I want to clarify that when I speak of Forest Schools I am not referring to a building / school located in a natural environment. You have probably heard of Scandinavian or German nurseries in the middle of the forest, where children go daily, snow or ice. This is a kind of Forest School model suitable for pre-school children. Sometimes there is a small hut or shelter that is used mainly as a warehouse since the children spend most of their time (usually in the morning, 5 days a week) outdoors.

What about the Escuela Bosque projects from the age of 5-7?

In the UK, Forest School sessions (Forest School) complement all kinds of pedagogical or even therapeutic projects. From the age of 5-7, the needs of children are very different and that is when the sessions at Forest Schools can be a much more profound experience.

Generally, the sessions take place in parallel to other educational projects (public or private, alternative or traditional schools,homeschooling orunschooling…) And the children attend on a regular basis, one or two mornings / days a week.

There are also those who do Bosque School sessions as an extracurricular activity (one afternoon a week), as an activity for families, to complement special education projects, as therapy ... there are many ways to apply the philosophy of the Forest Schools and my hope is that the different models begin to flourish also in Spain.

The essence of the Forest School

Next I will define the basic principles of the Forest Schools. These principles were defined by theForest School Association who, for several months, consulted Forest School guides from across the UK to reach a consensus. My hope is that soon we will have a similar body in Spain (without private companies behind it) that will serve to regulate, coordinate and create a frame of reference for our country.

Long-term process. Regular sessions

The Bosque School is a long-term process where sessions are held regularly in the natural environment. This point is important for human relationships to flourish and develop, students and guides need time to get to know each other and establish links. It is also important to connect with the natural environment. Visiting the same place on a regular basis allows you to see how it changes with the passing of the seasons and, ultimately, allows you to know the space in greater depth. It is this depth that really leads us to reconnect with nature and feel that we are part of something greater, with all the emotional benefits that this entails.

In local forests

The Forest Schools sessions take place in the natural environment, preferably in an area with trees. The forest, due to its multisensory nature, becomes the best classroom that we can offer our children and students. The variety of resources it offers is practically unlimited and these resources are of great educational value. We can create the best patio in the world, with climbing structures, a water area, sandboxes, clay kitchens, swings, etc ... or we can go to the forest that offers us everything and much more.

Integral development

The Forest Schools have the objective of promoting the integral development of all those involved, fostering resilient, self-confident, autonomous and creative students. In the Escuela Bosque sessions, developing emotional intelligence is just as important as working on problem solving.

Risk activities

Escuela Bosque offers the opportunity to participate in “risky” activities suitable for each student. Risk management is crucial for the guide but also for the student. Our goal is not to eliminate all risks from the lives of children, it is to give them tools and support to manage them, always bearing in mind the degree of maturity of each infant.


Forest Schools use a wide range of student-centered approaches to create a community for development and learning. It is chosen to speak of centered in the student rather than directed by the student to emphasize the role of the guide. Children direct their learning most of the time but the guide is always there to enrich the experience, offer support, tools and knowledge. The sessions also have a basic structure that serves as a frame of reference. At the same time, they must be flexible in order to respond to the interests of the students.

Guide with specific training

In the UK, sessions are led by guides with Forest School level 3 (Forest School). Guides must maintain and develop their professional practice and possess outdoor first aid and pediatric first aid qualifications. In Spain there is not yet a similar approved qualification but work is underway to create it. For me, training is crucial because it must allow integrating many knowledge and at the same time, be experiential and contextualized so that the guide can really put it into practice later.

In the Bosque School you learn through experience

There are many outdoor education projects but if I have to choose a single differentiating factor, I am left with contextualization. In Forest Schools, learning always has a context and students make effective use of what they have learned. I leave you with a reflection on the importance of learning through experience.

What do we understand by knowledge? We could say that knowledge is what allows us to understand the world around us. From this perspective, we should not judge it by its quantity but by its usefulness. A good idea is one that helps you understand some aspect of your reality and encourages you to navigate your world. It is precisely the utility that will make a specific knowledge last, be integrated.

I give you a personal example. When I was studying at the university, to pass the Botany subjects, I had to memorize hundreds of names in Latin, learn to identify many trees and plants, etc ... Ten years later, my knowledge of identifying plants and trees is much more extensive but They are not due to memorization but to interaction and integration. Those plants and trees that have crossed my path, that I have used to carve spoons, whose bark helps me to light fires, whose fruits I have collected to eat or prepare jams or syrups, whose fibers are used to make ropes ... these are the plants that are part of me, that I can identify with my eyes closed and that I will not forget.

What lasts is what is learned through experience.

With information from:

Video: Innovative Educator: Roots Forest School gets kids learning outside (June 2022).