Forest Schools Get Boys Learning Naturally

School + nature = forest schools

Image: Laine Photos and Film

“A forest school is holistic education outdoors in nature,” says Nicki Farrell, co-founder of Wildings Forest School in Queensland, Australia. Learning doesn’t typically follow set curriculum; rather, it’s child-led. Education is individualized and play-based and includes plenty of movement.

The kids who struggle the most in traditional schools — wiggly, can’t sit still, can’t focus — are often those who thrive in nature. “Children are meant to be experimenting and testing their bodies, learning how far they can push their bodies,” Nicki says. “They can’t do that, frankly, without free play.”

Unfortunately, ours is a risk-adverse culture. Many children spend 95% of their time supervised, and adults often quash kids’ initiative. “There’s too many adults in our cultures now that say, ‘be careful, don’t do that, that’s too risky, stop that’ because they are putting their own concerns on the risky play, rather than letting a child experiment,” Nicki says. And that can negatively impact child development.

“We know that boys, in particular, that self-worth is what brings out self-confidence, and they’re constantly seeking self-worth — and that can be in minute tasks,” Nicki says. “But those really basic life skills, if you’ve got those — if you know how to light a fire and you know how to build shelter and find water — then they know they can survive anywhere, and that is a deep, deep sense of self-worth.”

In this episode, Janet & Nicki discuss:
  • What is a forest school?
  • Why & how kids of all ages can benefit from this approach to education
  • The value of risk
  • Building self-worth & self-confidence via survival skills confidence
  • How having her own boys caused Nicki to question everything she knew about education
  • The benefits of forest school for kids with ADHD, autism and sensory disorders
  • Why behavior issues at forest school are almost non-existent (Hint: it has NOTHING to do with self-selection!)
  • The history of forest schools
  • Getting comfortable in nature if you don’t have much nature experience
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

Wildings Forest School

Richard Louv on Animals, Nature & Boys — ON BOYS episode

Camping with Kids — classic BuildingBoys blog post

FREE Breakthrough Session w Janet — parenting help!