Forest School – Its importance in the curriculum

Friluftsliv, or ‘free air life’ is a concept originating in Scandinavia, though similar ideas have emerged in many cultures. It’s the idea that spending time immersed in nature is good for a person’s well being. Nature-derived wellness has long been explored by education reformers in England, such as the MacMillan sisters, and by the Italian education revolutionary, Maria Montessori. The development of the Forest School Programme, now internationally recognised, was inspired by Scandinavian outdoor education initiatives based in friluftsliv.

What we do at Forest School

Forest School at Rye gives participants time to immerse themselves in the unparalleled beauty of our wooded grounds. Regardless of what activities we do, the outdoors benefits us simply by our being out in it. Participants are encouraged to feel outside of themselves. I have heard pupils and staff say that they come away feeling calmer, more focused, healthier – a general ‘lightness of being’ associated with being out in the fresh air. Campfire cookouts, whittling, observing nature, den building, tracking, and other bush craft-style activities add a layer of goodness, providing a type of learning found nowhere else in the curriculum and the development of a set of skills many of our young people wouldn’t gain otherwise.

Be Well, Do Well – the mental health benefits

While Forest School benefits all, it may be especially helpful for those dealing with anxiety, depression, and for those with specific cognitive conditions, such as autism and ADHD. The difficulties inherent to modern educational settings for such individuals are well-documented. Artificial lighting, ‘busy’ environments and other factors can cause stress; these same individuals commonly find natural settings much more comfortable. The freedom to focus closely on something of interest, or on nothing at all, makes Forest School a welcome respite as it easily adapts to the needs of each individual. No two people experience Forest School in exactly the same way.

During a Forest School session this winter, one participant said with astonishment that the fire we had built was ‘Just the colour of a real fire!’ This gave me pause and a renewed appreciation for what we offer. At a time when young people are filling their time with artificial stimulation, for some to the point of addiction, it’s more important than ever that they have the opportunity to immerse themselves in real experiences that can give them both immediate and lifelong wellbeing. Forest School offers the chance to create resilience, self-esteem, perspective, observation, communication, peace, and the occasional toasted marshmallow. What’s not to love?

This article was written by Nic DeRushie, one of Rye St Antony’s trained forest school leaders. Pupils are offered weekly forest school sessions in Pre-Prep as part of the curriculum. We then offer Forest School as an enrichment opportunity for children in Year’s 5-8. We recognise the benefit of Forest School to the young people that attend Rye St Antony and feel incredibly lucky that we have the grounds to offer these sessions. We are also looking to support our Year 11 and Year 13 pupils with forest school activities in the run-up to their exams next year as a ‘stress buster’ – an opportunity for time out, headspace, and to enjoy the great outdoors. Be Well, Do Well

Whole School Open Week

Monday 28 September – Friday 2 October

This year we are doing things slightly differently to comply with current Covid-19 guidelines.

We warmly invite you to experience Rye St Antony during a personal virtual meeting at a time that suits you. Meet staff and pupils, have a look around with our virtual tour and see what makes Rye so special.

We are incredibly proud of the Virtual Learning Experience we have offered our pupils during lockdown – you can read about it here