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Forest Schools

Want to offer every child the chance to grow with nature?

Forest School is a long term, child centred process that offers all learners opportunities for holistic development through regular, hands on learning experiences in a woodland style natural environment.

HundrED 2018


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2018

Web presence






Target group
August 2017
The Forest is my life. For me, solving problems in the Forest is just what I do. I like solving problems.You're always outside, you've got to get your legs moving. Instead of sitting down reading about it, you're actually doing it.

About the innovation

What is Forest School?

Forest Schoolworks on the understanding that every child is equal, unique and valuable and should be able to explore and discover for themselves in the natural environment. Originating in Scandinavia, mostly in Kindergartens,the Forest School approach has gained popularity around the world with a variety of age groups and settings.

Longworth Forest, New Zealand, seeks to provide children with safe and semi structured opportunities to experience risk and challenge, to problem solve and enterprise, all at the child’s own pace. It is a child led approach which gives children the power to initiate and drive their own learning, to make meaningful choices and to discover and develop their interests. Through regular outdoor play, children learn to develop positive relationships with themselves and others as well as a bond with nature and an understanding of their place in the natural world.

Longworth Forest was initially established as an opportunity for 5 year old children to transition from an Early Childhood setting into a more formal school environment. Early literacy and numeracy skills were to be taught in a holistic way alongside the self- directed learning. Longworth Forest’s philosophy is that children learn best when they are moving and engaged in meaningful hands on activities. Each day spent in the Forest involves plenty of physical exploration of the natural environment, such as climbing trees, building huts and dams. The children use the natural resources for their creative dramatic play. Real tools are available for use and part of learning is to know how to handle appropriate risks. The adult acts as facilitator, ensuring safety, modelling positive attitude and behaviour and picking up cues from children to extend learning in areas they show interest in.

During the day, each child individually reads with the adult. During a break in play at morning tea, some form of writing occurs. This self- directed writing can take many different forms. Building and making signs for the Forest, writing letters, making lists of ingredients are some favourite literacy activities. At lunch time, numeracy skills become the focus. Numeracy games take part while children are gathered to eat together. All other mathematics – geometry, measurement, statistics are developed during their play without the children even realising. There is no pre-planning, there are many opportunities for the adult to impart knowledge and trigger discussion based on the curiosity of the children, and the natural environment provides endless opportunities for spontaneous science, technology and social science to occur.

To be beneficial, Forest School should happen regularly over a period of time and at the same site. Longworth Forest prepares children for formal education by encouraging them to be self -sufficient, resilient and curious students with a love of learning. Most of the 5 year old children who began at Longworth Forest have gone on to be homeschooled.

Longworth Forest is also open to visits from local city schools. Being able to play freely in a natural environment can be particularly useful for children who experience behavioural issues or have special needs, as they have the freedom to express themselves and to direct their learning in whatever way suits them. The natural environment can also have a calming effect for students with ADHD or autism.

Longworth Education encourages local schools to open up their classroom doors and provide opportunities for outdoor play. Many Teachers visit Longworth Forest in order to gain ideas for developing the outdoor play areas at their school. Longworth Education provides consultation and specialist support throughout New Zealand on Play Based Learning.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Forest Schools are turning the tide on over regulated education systems by putting children into a natural environment where discovery, curiosity and play are paramount.


The impact of the environment and the approach of forest school can have implications for the key competencies and could improve resilience, thinking skills, problem solving and relationships with other children. The children at Longworth Forest have a deep understanding of ecological sustainability because they are immersed in the natural environment every day. There are multiple research papers and reviews that show the evidence of benefits of children’s experience in natural environments including health through increased physical activity; wellbeing through enhancing social and intrapersonal qualities and educational attainment through developing ‘characters’ of resilience and confidence as precursors to successful learning.


The concept of Forest School originates in Scandinavia and is now a global movement. Longworth Forest is the only one of its kind in New Zealand. There is a growing interest in using the outdoor environment for learning through play, although the focus is often on young learners. More natural environments like Longworth Forest would help to promote learning through play for children of all ages.

Implementation steps

Locate a suitable natural environment for your children to visit.
Consider what potential activities your space lends itself to. Does it have, for example, trees for climbing, running water, areas for digging, fallen branches for hut making, a safe open space for a fire pit and some shelter where children can sit and eat?

Engage in conversations with parents
Parents may be unsure of the experiences Forest School offers, so take time to explain the value of play. Outdoor play is dirty and messy and children go outside in almost all weather conditions. Ensuring parents understand and support this approach is key.

Recruit assistants or volunteer helpers
The Forest School approach works best with a high adult to child ratio. Consider recruiting trained assistants, or perhaps parent helpers.

Take time to explain the Forest School ethos to volunteer parent helpers. It's natural for adults to want to direct children or to appear to be busy organising things, but it's important that parents understand the approach, and thatthey are there to observe and not control or direct the learning.

Consider any additional training needs that might be appropriate to your setting and location, like a Forest School assistant certificate, outdoor first aid or food and hygiene training.

Gather your equipment
Get together tools, materials and equipment to support and inspire the children’s activities.

Consider things like spades, buckets and wheelbarrows for messy mud play. Tools such as hammers, nails, saws, ropes, ladders, that they can experiment with, under careful adult supervision. Containers, nets and magnifying glasses for scientific discovery and books, paints and natural art supplies. There are many items you could bring to Forest School, the key is to let the children's imaginations dictate how they use them. A lot of the materials they use will be natural materials they find in the forest!

You should also consider any safety equipment you might need, such as first aid kit, high vis jackets, warm clothing and waterproofs (although children are often expected to bring their own)

Set the boundaries
Establish safety rules and make sure all children, helpers and parents are aware of them.

It's a good idea to revist these safety rules often, for example by having the children recap at the start of each session.

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