Maximising ‘Forest School’ Outdoor Learning

A ‘Forest School’ style of outdoor learning is something we often hear being used in an educational setting but what exactly is it and how do we know if we are delivering it appropriately? 

The ‘Forest School’ approach is designed to remove a child from an environment where they are often expected to ‘sit and do’ in a traditional teaching and learning style. This typical classroom environment can, for some children, be a suffocating setting for learning as they can struggle to access what is taking place for a host of reasons. So, by removing that child from their typical classroom environment and placing them at the centre of their own learning in a rich outdoor setting, suddenly you are enabling them to trial and error through exploration. Ultimately, this allows the child an opportunity to begin driving their own learning forward by being encouraged to take more risks, thinking outside of the norm and being provided with the real life experiences that they may otherwise lack. 

How do we know who would benefit from the ‘Forest School’ approach?

Obviously, the vast majority of children enjoy being outside and free to roam and explore but how can we be sure that we have identified those in greatest need of an outdoor learning approach, whilst still being inclusive? 

Well, Piaget suggests that children learn in stages and this is often through trial and error, making sense of their environment. He also suggests that children progress with their learning once each stage in that process has been completed. We all know that children learn at different paces based on a variety of circumstances. So, could it be that we are expecting some children to learn and conform in a certain way, when actually they are yet to master a previous stage in their unique learning journey? 

Meanwhile, Vygotsky believed that children acquire new knowledge through hands on experience and that this is an ongoing process of development to adulthood. He also suggested the notion that children learn more through appropriate scaffolding. As well as being very child driven, forest school and all types of outdoor learning can be delivered through a range of well modelled, supported and independent challenges and activities, supporting Vygotsky and Piaget’s theories on child development.

What activities can you try? 

  • Creative
  • Stick person building
  • Scarecrow making (probably with KS2)
  • Bug hotels (With Science links)
  • Colour wheels using leaves (fantastic Autumn/Winter activity)
  • Den building 

These activities can all be done as part of a small group, nurturing the development of communication and language. 


  • Counting (using leaves, sticks, twigs, conker shells etc)
  • Multiplying and dividing (sharing practically or building arrays)
  • Sorting and categorising (this could be by size, shape or colour)
  • Telling the time (paint or draw numbers onto pebbles and make a clock face using sticks)


  • Writing messages for the local wildlife
  • Letter or numeral formation using logs and chalk (could even make quills and dip in natural ink ... mud!)
  • Fairy doors (at the bottom of tree trunks to encourage imagination and storytelling)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of tasks but rather a selection of activities that I have found to be effective when delivered through my ‘Forest Friday’ hands on outdoor sessions at school each week. 

What activity ideas can you share?

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