A marvellous opportunity for children to learn – A participatory evaluation of Forest School in England and Wales

Forest School is an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve, and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment. The new economics foundation (nef) and Forest Research began working in partnership to evaluate Forest School in 2002. This work involved two phases. Phase 1 was undertaken in Wales and developed a methodology for capturing the link between Forest School activities and their impact on individual children. Phase 2 built on this work and tracked a small number of children in England over an eight-month period. This publication describes both phases of the evaluation and presents the results of the evaluation. The key features of Forest School were identified as: the use of a woodland setting - a high ratio of adults to pupils - learning linked to the National Curriculum and Foundation-Stage objectives - the freedom to explore using multiple senses - regular contact for the children with Forest School over a significant period of time. The participatory action-research approach taken brought together the experience and knowledge of key stakeholders to discuss the impacts of Forest School on the children involved. From these discussions a selfappraisal template was developed for use in the field so that practitioners could track children against a number of positive outcomes. In Phase 2 of the work, eight themes emerged from the analysis of the data. Six were related to the impacts on children in terms of confidence, social skills, language and communication, motivation and concentration, physical skills, and knowledge and understanding. The other two themes were related to wider impacts: practitioners gaining a new perspective on the children, and a ripple effect as children took home their experiences and told family and friends about what they had learnt

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