You cannot teach anybody anything.



  The following is from a short essay I had to write on how forest school supports the learning and development needs of children. It is part of my  portfolio of evidence for the training as a forest school leader. Havent had it makrked yet so it may not be the right answer, but its my answer

You cannot teach anybody anything. You can only help them discover it within themselves.” Galileo

The above quotation attributed to Galileo for me summarises the particular contribution that forest school can make to an individual’s learning. Forest school is not an environment in which teaching in that narrow sense of instruction is undertaken, rather the individuals is supported to discover their own innate ability to learn.

 This may mean discovering the confidence to express skills that they already have, or may  have learnt in an indoor environment but have not practised for fear of failure. For instance, I find that games that involving mathematical skills are really interesting in a woodland / outdoor environment. Small children who hesitate over numbers indoors suddenly seem to grasp them with confidence when it is part of a seeking or collecting game.

 Children do much more of their learning through play than adults and it is important in forest school that opportunities for children to play in a way that is self directed, rather than the goal or task direction that adults are often more comfortable with. Adults can then use the structure of the session and their individual observation of the child to support specific desired learning. For example, mini den building is a game that is often used in a forest school programme, and adults can use this to support children to learn about habitats, as well as co-operation skills if the game is played in pairs.

 The following is an approximation of a dialogue with children on my forest school programme who were asked (after the boundary setting and risk assessing) in pairs to think about a woodland animal and find or make a place where it might like to live. They were then free to move about the woods within the agreed boundaries until they found a place for their animals – the adults role was to manage the boundaries, supervise and if needed support. This dialogue happened when I noticed two boys aged 6 sitting chatting without any obvious sign that they had made a den.

Me – Hello boys. Where is your den?

Children – Here (poinitng to a hole in the earth)

M -That’s very nice – Who is it for?

C- It’s for a rabbit

M – Will the rabbit be cosy in your den

C- Yes, we got some leaves for its bed, and the rain can’t get in very much.

M – Will it be safe from predators that might want to eat it?

C – Yes, because it down a hole and it could stick its head out first to make sure nothing is about

M – That s very good – What might want to eat your rabbit?

C – A bear or a tiger

M – Do you think there are tigers or bears in this wood?

C – No

M – What else might want to eat it?

C – A fox

M -Yes – I think there might well be foxes in this wood and other things that might want to eat a rabbit like a weasel. Do you know what a weasel is…….

 We went on to talk about how they had made the den and they also spoke of where the rabbit might go when it was out of its den – their imaginations building up a whole rabbit family and way of life in the wood and the nearby fields. In the time they had left they then went off to look for places that rabbits might go in the woods.

 These two boys had not asked or needed any support to complete the task they were set, but they did need a little support to think about what it meant and to take it beyond the task into an imaginative game that could then support other learning opportunities.

 “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”

 This famous proverb is useful in thinking about how forest school supports individual learning. Learning the skill of learning is more important in forest school than the content of learning. Teaching can give a gift of knowledge but often people can only make use of that gift if they have developed skills needed for learning independently.

 Learning how to learn is what is behind the ‘Assessment is for Learning policy’ in UK education and one of the drivers of the curriculum for excellence

 The ethos of forest school makes observation the most important role of the adult  – observing what and how children do / learn and then supporting them from where they are.

Most learning is not solitary and involves engaging with others, this means we have to be able to get on with other human beings. Getting on with others requires a set of emotional and social skills as well as a sense of yourself as different from those around you. Self confidence, self knowledge, self belief are all central to how we learn and developing these attributes means taking risks. Outdoor and woodland environment offers many opportunities for children to safely take risk with their learning, and for adults to support them in this. The high adult / child ratio means that children with particular self esteem issues can be supported differentially without being singled out. The opportunities for discussion and review also mean that emotional and social aspect of the time in the woods can also be brought out.

New heights

Since starting this edubuzz blog I have had mixed feelings about blogs. Some have not been so positive –  

  • ‘Is anybody out there’, 
  • ‘Am I talking to myself’.
  • Is the  time I put into it (nearly all of which is my own) worth it?
  • Why can’t I persuade others to contribute to it more regularly?

Most of the time I have more positve thoughts about it –

  • Its useful to reflect on my own thoughts and learning in a way that I might not have had done but for the blog 
  • It has been extremely useful to me as a repository / timeline for activity related to the test site.  So much so that I wish I had been more disciplined at posting on some of the stuff that has gone unreported here.
  • Occasionally I have been surprised by the feedback that a post has produced 
  • Comments always cheers me up even if they are pointing out mistakes

However, the big plus for me has been that I have discovered  a community of bloggers. I now follow a wide range of blogs some of them to do with my professional interests and others that are more personal. It can be quite addictive. On occasion I have found an insight into a world that I wouldn’t normally see, and that can be inspirational.

I follow a number of East Lothian school blogs; usually the schools that are regularly posting things about outdoor learning and forest school.  Whether or not its to do with my particular interest of outdoor learning  /  play its hard not to be impressed with the creativity, dedication and sometimes sheer inspiration that can pop out in these blogs. This evening I logged on and found a new post from a blog that I have been following since it started from class 2p at Sandersons Wynd in Tranent. I had noticed it because of forest school at Sandersons Wynd, but have followed with fascination, because of  the wonderful world that the class teacher has created for the children in her class.  Fairy tales / story telling has been a theme for the class (as well as the whole school) Its a theme the teacher and the class have steadily built on in a way that I can only believe has got the children as engaged in their learning as I have been been virtually. Today they took their exploration of storytelling to a new height. They have published their own version of the classic fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk which is available to download on Amazon with all proceeds going to charity. Outstanding – where will those children go next!!!

I have no connection with the class at all, and don’t know the teacher – but if  I  was a parent of a 2p child at Sanderson’s Wynd I would be very proud.

There are many other people doing  just as inspiratonal work with children in East Lothian – and what’s fascinating to me is that those that share their work on edubuzz blogs allow the whole community to share that and perhaps to appreciate and value .it.

If you would like to download 2ps version of  Jack & the Beanstalk you can find it on Amazon here 

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ 

Nursery class at Whitecraig

Although the snow has made life difficult for grown-ups – particularly those that need to travel, it can be an incredible opportunity for play 

Whitecraig primary have been making the most of it – linking it to reading and learning about things like hibernation. The photo above is from the Whitecraig edubuzz page – it truly is a King of Snowmen. 

The Creative Star learning company has produced a resource pack with loads of great ideas for using the snow as a learning tool. 

In the development of Support from the Start and forest school in particular I have had a number of opportunities to talk to teaching staff about why I think regular outdoor play / learning can make a difference for children’s health and well being. Each time I perform a little experiment by asking those present to close their eyes and think about a happy memory from their childhood. After a few moments I ask people to open their eyes and put up their hand if the memory involved being out of doors. So far each time this experiment has resulted in the vast majority (at least 90%) raising their hands. 

 Whether its fear of traffic,  fear of strangers or the attraction of electronic games children seem to be spending more and more time in doors. So its wonderful to see nurseries and schools like Whitecraig taking the opportunity of a playground transformed by snow into a whole new world for play and learning. There are reasons not to play outdoors in snowy conditions – its cold, slippy, wet, it takes time to organise. There a lots of reason for, which could be listed – but I think one overwhelming one  is that it is fun and what is learnt whilst having fun tends to stick. 

If we look back as adults and find that our happy childhood memories are often linked to being outdoors, then surelywe should be providing this for our own children. My experience of schools and nurseries as a parent (in more than one Local Authority area) is that children rarely get to experience natural environments, and many school playgrounds are largely organised for the priorities of adults in the school not the children. 

 Scotland could easily be a nation (like Sweden) where being outdoors and learning in a natural environment is a normal part of the school / nursery timetable – not as currently where it all too often is only a special event / treat. We have some of the most rich, varied and exciting environments in the world – and for most of us its available on our doorsteps. Even the big cities have wonderful spaces (managed but natural) thanks largely to the legacy of those Victorian planners who recognised the benefits to physical and spirtual  health of access to green space. 

All we need is a change of ‘mind set’ – as well as good waterproofs and lots of layers.

Olive Bank nature play & nurture

Olivebank Child and family centre recently hosted a forest kindergarten. Apart from it being a great experience for the children involved it also provided experiential learning for staff on a short training course with Aline Hill and Ros Marshall on nature play & nurture. The video gives staff experience of the forest kindergarten.

Aine & Ross talk about an early session

Olivebank Nature Play2

Staff talk about effect on the childrens use of language

Olivebank Nature Play3

Staff member talks about effect on behaviour

Olivebank Nature Play4

Staff talk about impat of sessions on Olivebabk children and staff

olivebank nature play14

Forest school leaders Autumn Gathering

East Lothian Countryside rangers have been actively supporting the development of Forest school in East Lothian.

A number of rangers have trained as forest school leaders and they play a key role in supporting school based staff in using woodland environments as a learning & development space in a way that is safe and limits the impact on the environment.

Leigh Shearer took the lead in organising a gathering of staff who have trained or are training in forest school approaches. The idea of the gathering was to provide an opportunity for mutual support, learning and networking. The afternoon was a great success and the sun even shined.

Report enclosed

2010 Gathering report

Forest kindergarten

A nature nurture training course starts at the end of this month which will see 18 staff from nurseries and early years centres going on 3 1/2 day training on using the outdoors as a nurturing environment. The training is being provided by Aline Hill a forest school trainer and Ros Marshall a nursery teacher from Edinburgh. The core of the course is a demonstration project being run at Olivebank child and family centre – this will provide an experiential session for the staff undertaking the training.

The Forestry Commission employs a development officer for Forest Kindergarten – Karen Boyd, who would be happy to talk to staff thinking of developing a forest kindergarten. Here is Karen talking about a project in South Lanarkshire. Its a you tube clip so some people might be able to access from a work computeer.

Summer Reading


Summer reading when you have had enough of  the likes of Ian Rankin, James Patterson, or Patricia Cornwell

These books on forest school  & outdoor learning for the early years can be ordered from  BOOKS EDUCATION MARKETING DEPT,  C/O DUNCAN LYNCH, 45 OLD FARM ROAD, STRAWBERRY VALE, LONDON, N2 9RF ( A Division of Books Education, Hendon, where the invoice will come from)


Sara Knight

Learning outside the classroom is an essential part of early years education, and this book looks at the opportunities the Forest School experience can offer young children for learning outdoors, and how this fits into the early years curriculum. By offering clear guidance on what the Forest School approach can achieve, the book shows you how to incorporate good practice into all outdoor play activities.

 ‘This book is a very welcome addition to literature on outdoor learning in the early years. Sara Knight captures the essence and ethos of Forest School through a detailed consideration of case studies and research projects, and gives a succinct overview of the theoretical underpinnings and history of the movement in the UK. The book also provides useful practical guidance on participating in Forest School, and will be an inspiration to all those concerned with giving young children the opportunity to engage in natural outdoor spaces on a regular basis. Essential reading for both students and practitioners in early childhood!’ – Tim Waller, Reader in Early Years Education, University of Wolverhampton


 GO WILD!: 101 Things to Do Outdoors Before You Grow Up

Fiona Danks, Jo Schofield, Frances Lincoln

 GO WILD! describes a range of outdoor adventures for families to share, including foraging for wild food, the magical excitement of making fires, cooking over the hot coals, making your own shelter and tracking animals. For eight-year-olds through to young teenagers there are tempting alternatives to computers and hanging out: brilliant ideas for having fun that will also help them to learn new skills and give them independence and confidence.

‘Utterly joyful! and full of fun’, said The Countryman of Nature’s Playground. Following that book’s success the authors have written a second book that encourages children to enjoy and learn from the natural world through fun – this time for slightly older children. Go Wild describes a range of outdoor adventures for families to share, including foraging for wild food, the magical excitement of making fires, cooking over the hot coals, making your own shelter and tracking animals.


 I LOVE DIRT!: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature

 Jennifer Ward

 Oh, what fun a child can have by jumping in mud puddles, collecting bugs and listening to birds! And yet, many children today have become so occupied with TV, computers and video games that unstructured outdoor play is sadly becoming a thing of the past. I LOVE DIRT! is a call to parents, educators and caregivers to help children recover one of the great joys of childhood

 52 activities, readers will find a wealth of creative ways to actively engage children, ages four to nine, in nature. Each activity presents an open-ended project meant to promote exploration, stimulate imagination and heighten a sense of wonder.


 LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder

 Richard Louv

  `A thought provoking and integrated approach detailing early research linking lack of unstructured contact with nature and a variety of behavioural problems such as ADHD and potential ways forward. And it’s not as dry as it sounds. There are lots of real stories of den building, tree climbing, cloud racing to illustrate, making it an enjoyable read. It’s an important book for anyone involved in education, planning and building/space design; a must for landscape architects. It’s equally important for anyone with a responsibility for children; parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, carers. It got me back out into the fields, hills and woods with my son and dog!’ – Amazon Review


 NATURE’S PLAYGROUND: Activities, Crafts and Games to Encourage Your Children to Enjoy the Great Outdoors

 Fiona Danks, Jo Schofield

 This delightful illustrated book is a guide to introducing children to the great outdoors through fun activities in nature. Designed for use by families, carers, play workers and teachers, the book sets out guidelines for safe and engaging play outdoors, with useful tips on how to hold children’s attention on longer excursions. The book is divided into seasons, with activities appropriate to each.

 `This inspiring book will have you wanting to get out in all weathers … a popular addition to your staff-room library’ (Teacher )

`A lovely book, beautifully produced and illustrated and full of fun’. (Countryman )



 Hilary Harriman

 This book is a wonderful source of inspiration for using the outdoor environment to develop learning across the whole curriculum. It provides: creative ideas and starting points for outdoor learning; brilliant colour photographs; detailed practical advice on how to initiate, create, develop and use outdoor learning opportunities; excellent resource lists; links with indoor play.


 WITHOUT WALLS: Creative Work with Families Developing and Using the Outdoor Space

 A Resource for Children’s Centres, Managers and Staff  Compiled by Julia Sargent, 2010 Oxfordshire County Council

 WITHOUT WALLS is a partnership initiative between Oxfordshire County Council and Learning through Landscapes, supporting children’s centres and community groups to work with families with children under the age of 5 to use and develop outdoor areas for high quality learning and play. This publication showcases the inspiring results from the first year of this project, highlighting lessons learned and sharing good practice. Packed full of activities and ideas for enhancing outdoor areas


 YOUNG CHILDREN AND THE ENVIRONMENT: Early Education for Sustainability

 Julie M. Davis

 An essential text for students in early childhood education and a practical resource for child care practitioners and primary school teachers, this book is designed to promote education for sustainability from birth to 8 years. Groundbreaking content draws on recent literature in the areas of organisational, educational and cultural change and environmental sustainability. Early childhood case studies and vignettes exemplify leadership in practice, and’ Provocations’ are integrated throughout to inspire new ways of thinking about the environment, the wider world, young children.


 Outdoor Learning in the Early Years

Management and Innovation

 Helen Bilton

 Now in its third edition, Outdoor Learning in the Early Years is the complete guide to creating effective outdoor environments for young children’s learning. Comprehensively revised and updated throughout, this book covers every aspect of working outdoors in the early years and fully explains the importance of outdoor play to children’s development.

Key topics covered include:

  • * how to manage and set up the outdoor area
  • *  what children gain from being outside
  • *  how to allow children to take managed risks
  • *  making sense of work and play
  • *  how outdoor provision helps children become self regulatory
  • *  providing for both boys and girls in the outdoor environment
  • *  research supporting the outdoor approach.

A book for practitioners at every level of their career; each chapter includes discussions and questions for continuing development that can easily be incorporated into INSET as well as training within further or higher education.

Outdoor Learning in the Early Years contains a multitude of ideas and activities for working outdoors in the early years and provides a framework within which professionals can analyse and develop their outdoor provision and environment. This book is essential reading for all EYFS and Key Stage 1 practitioners, and for trainee teachers, their tutors, and mentors.


Forest School

The Fast tracking of forest school is one initiative within Support from the Start – over the last year we have commissioned two forest school leader training courses for East Lothian staff that priortised staff in the target are.. The folowing year we hope to train more forest school leaders in partnership with Edinburgh Forest Education initiative, but also to offer training to staff who are supporting forest school leaders – known as level two training and a bespoke training course for nursery staff.

Here is a progress report on Forest School in East Lothian, giving an update on training delivered and equipment and kit purchased.

Forest School in East Lothian (2)

Also a Forest School edubuzz group has been started that may be of interest

Forest school research links

 Over the last year we have been able to deliver two forest school leader training courses for East Lothian staff. The places have been prioritised to staff working in the target communities for Support from the Start. 

The first group of staff that started the training last October are now delivering programmes in East Lothian schools – a minimum six week programme during which they are assessed.

I have encountered the view that forest school is all very well but in a time when we have to prioritise, is it important enough to invest time and effort into developing – usually this view comes with the challenge of wheres the evidence that it contributes to outcomes for health or learning. Well below is a list of research references for those that like their evidence hard and peer reviewed.

Personally I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating – go with children into a woodland environment and you will experience how their innate ability to be interested and curious about their world and to learn how it works comes easily to the surface, particularly if the adults with them can resist the temptation to be overly prescriptive and directive .

Maybe the Calvinist ghost in the Scottish psyche frowns on forest school – it sounds too much like fun – and if it is fun it can’t be good for you – can it?.

Summary of Research on Forest School References.

 provided by Aline Hill forest school trainer

 Borradaile, L. 2006 ‘Forest School Scotland: An Evaluation’, Edinburgh: Forestry Commission Scotland$FILE/ForestSchoolfinalreport.pdf

 Davis, B., Rea, T. and Waite, S. 2006 ‘The special nature of the outdoors: Its contribution to the education of children aged 3-11’, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education 10(2): 3-12.

Davis, B. and Waite, S. 2005 ‘Forest School: Opportunities and Challenges in Early Years ‘, University of Plymouth

Eastwood, G. and Mitchell, H.2003 ‘An evaluation of the first three years of the Oxfordshire Forest School project’, Oxford: Oxfordshire County Council

 Copy obtained by email from OCC.  Not available on web but copy in the Forest School shared folder.

 Massey, S. 2005 ‘The benefits of Forest School experience for children in their Early Years’: Worcestershire LEA.

Maynard, T. 2003 ‘Forest School Swansea Port Talbot: An Evaluation’, University of Wales Swansea: Unpublished.

Maynard, T. 2007 ‘Forest Schools in Great Britain: An initial exploration’, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 8(4): 320-331.

Murray, R. 2004 ‘Forest Schools project evaluation: A study in Wales ‘, London: New Economics Foundation.

Murray, R. and O’Brien, E. 2005 ‘”Such Enthusiasm – A Joy to See” An Evaluation of Forest School in England’: Forest Research.$FILE/ForestSchoolEnglandReport.pdf

O’Brien, L. and Murray, R. 2007 ‘Forest School and its impacts on young children: Case studies in Britain’, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 6(4): 249-265.

 Swarbrick, N., Eastwood, G. and Tutton, K. 2004 ‘Self-esteem and successful interaction as part of the forest school project’, Support for Learning 19(3): 142-146.

 The two below are experimental studies of the benefits to children’s physical and motor skills form playing in a forest environment

Fjørtoft, I.2001 ‘The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children:The Impact of Outdoor Play Activities in Pre-Primary School Children’, Early Childhood Education Journal 29(2): 111-117.

Fjørtoft, I.2004 ‘Landscape as Playscape: The Effects of Natural Environments on Children’s Play and Motor Development’, Children, Youth and Environments 14(2): 21-44.

Forest School (the Scandinavian model) is mentioned in this document as particularly promising approach to education outside of the classroom.

House of Commons Education and Skills Committee 2004-2005 ‘Education outside the classroom ‘, London: The Stationary Office.

Curricullum for excellence through outdoor learning

Guidamce on Outdoor Learning for schools and nurseries was launched earlier this week by Learning Teaching Scotland.

In addition to a guidance document – the Outdoor learning page on the LTS website has some excellent information and material including video clips of presentations and training sessions.  I was particularly impressed by the Nature Nurture clip featuring some work done by Aberdeen City in conjunction with Camphill.

Amongst other uselful and well presented resources are a series of curriculum experiences and outcomes guides that highlight where outdoor learning might be particularly appropriate.

More generally the video of a speech by Keith Brown MSP, Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning, suggests that Scotland might be  waking up to the potenial its outdoor environment has to offer for improving health, well being and learning.

Steven Wray