Forest School leaders must have an understanding of the relevant theories of learning and development and their application to a Forest School programme. They understand how a Forest School programme can support holistic development and learning. Forest school leaders review the impact of behaviour on learning and development at a Forest School programme as well as reflecting on their own Forest School practice.

Holistic development

Forest School programmes offer a transformative, holistic approach to learning and development. Forest School programmes promote the individual development of the whole child or learner with experiences integrated offering Social, Physical, Intellectual, Communication, Cultural, Creative, Emotional and Spiritual dimensions for personal development.

Learning theories/Theorists

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How we learn is a pretty fundamental understanding for any educator to have in their ‘toolkit’. We have discovered much of what we know about our ‘learning’ organ, the brain, in the last 30 years. Modern neuroscience is changing rapidly everyday. Much of the neuroscience now points to the importance of holistic learning – linking body, mind and emotions to neural development. We now know that emotional regulation, for example, along with the ‘de-stressing’ effects of exposure to the natural world, assists brain development and well being. For the latest broad summary of brain development see Selhub and Logan’s book “Your Brain on Nature – the science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness and vitality” (2012)


Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons. Forest School is an ideal place for play and provides for ‘deep learning through play’.
Bob Hughes, placing play firmly in an evolutionary frame, proposes that play enables children to fit themselves into their complex environments, to ‘ground themselves physically and psychologically’ in the here and now. Children ‘naturally’ interact with natural environments, as such Forest School is in effect, their ‘home’ in evolutionary terms. Perhaps the most relevant aspects of Forest School and play can be linked to Gibson’s concept of affordances that natural environments ‘give’, ie the possibilities for types of learning and development through playful interactions with nature.
The challenge for FS leaders is when to get out of the way of children’s play and when to intervene without disrupting the play, in order to scaffold any learning.
See Gibson, J. “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception”(1986) and
Hughes, B. “Evolutionary Playwork and Reflective Analytical Practice”(2001)

Self Esteem and emotional intelligence

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