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Forest Schools and environmental attitudes: A case study of children aged 8–11 years



There is growing evidence that children in the UK are suffering from a lack of engagement with nature and the outdoor environment. This paper investigates the attitudes of children towards the natural environment and focuses on Forest School programmes as a mechanism to promote a “pro-environmental” attitude. The study identified that there was a statistically significant difference in environmental attitude between groups of children that had participated in a Forest Schools programme and those that had not participated, with children who have taken part in Forest Schools demonstrating a more pro-environmental attitude. Whilst it is recognised that Forest Schools may not be the only factor influencing these attitudes, this is still an important finding that adds to the overall benefits of participation in Forest Schools programmes.
Turtle et al., Cogent Education (2015),
2: 1100103
Forest Schools and environmental attitudes: A case
study of children aged 8–11years
Christina Turtle
, Ian Convery
* and Katie Convery
Abstract:There is growing evidence that children in the UK are suering from a lack
of engagement with nature and the outdoor environment. This paper investigates
the attitudes of children towards the natural environment and focuses on Forest
School programmes as a mechanism to promote a “pro-environmental” attitude.
The study identified that there was a statistically significant dierence in environ-
mental attitude between groups of children that had participated in a Forest Schools
programme and those that had not participated, with children who have taken part
in Forest Schools demonstrating a more pro-environmental attitude. Whilst it is rec-
ognised that Forest Schools may not be the only factor influencing these attitudes,
this is still an important finding that adds to the overall benefits of participation in
Forest Schools programmes.
Subjects: Development Studies; Education; Geography
Keywords: Forest Schools; experiential learning; environmental education
1. Introduction
There is a growing amount of concern that children in the UK are suering from a lack of engage-
ment with nature and the outdoor environment (e.g. Knight, 2009a; Louv, 2005; Moss, 2012; Natural
England, 2009). This “Nature Deficit Disorder” has been described by Louv (2005, p. 34) in terms of
“the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention
diculties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses”. In addition, Moss (2012) relates
the lack of experiential outdoor learning to a child’s inability to assess risks to themselves and to
others. It is also important to consider the growth of virtual play, as opposed to reality-based play as
having an eect on children’s lives (Kolbert, 2012; Pyle, 2003).
Knight (2009a) believes these factors are a form of current crisis in the UK and relates them to child-
hood obesity, behavioural problems and poor social skills. She states that in the past, “Changes in at-
titudes to early years practice and education policy have come about in response to crises in society”
(Knight, 2009a, p. 30). Accordingly, there is evidence that the role of experiential learning in an outdoor
environment is highly valuable and has a range of short-term and long-term benefits (Moss, 2012).
*Corresponding author: Ian Convery,
Forestry, Conservation & Applied
Science, University of Cumbria, Penrith,
Reviewing editor:
Yvonne Xian-han Huang, Hong Kong
Institute of Education, Hong Kong
Additional information is available at
the end of the article
Christina Turtle is a postgraduate student at the
University of Cumbria.
Ian Convery is an associate professor of
Conservation & Forestry at the University of
Katie Convery is a nursery manager at
Brunswick Infant School, Penrith.
Forest School programmes are an increasingly
popular way of providing quality outdoor
experiences for children. This study was designed
to investigate the eects such programmes can
have on children's relationship towards nature.
Although it is recognised that Forest Schools may
not be the only factor influencing attitudes, the
study shows that children that have participated
in these programmes demonstrated a more “pro-
environmental” attitude.
Received: 30 January 2015
Accepted: 17 September 2015
Published: 27 October 2015
© 2015 The Author(s). This open access article is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution
(CC-BY) 4.0 license.
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Turtle et al., Cogent Education (2015),
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This paper investigates the attitudes of children towards the natural environment and focuses on
Forest School programmes as a mechanism to promote a “pro-environmental attitude”. Whilst
there are dierent forms of Forest Schools, the approach broadly follows a holistic approach to
learning, and is normally carried out in a natural or wild place such as a forest and is child led
(Maynard, 2007). The aims of the research were first, to investigate (using questionnaires) the role of
Forest Schools in facilitating a “pro-environmental” attitude amongst child participants and second,
to “naturalistically” explore the experiences of children taking part in Forest Schools activities for the
first time. Ethical approval was granted in accordance with university policy.
There has been a move away from seeing outdoor play merely as a release of energy before the
“proper” work begins in the classroom environment. Increased contact with nature is seen as an
integral and vital component of education, particularly in early years settings where Forest Schools
are being introduced. Since the eighteenth century, pioneers of early education, namely Froebel,
Montessori and Steiner, have valued the outdoors and recognised the importance of contact with
nature, with particular reference to learning through active, hands-on play (Constable, 2012). The
foundations of Forest Schools as childcare provision originate from Denmark and other Scandinavian
countries, where children often spend their whole time at kindergarten outdoors. Forest Schools
were introduced to the UK in the 1990s, after a group of Early Years Professionals from Bridgewater
College in Somerset were inspired to set up their own version following a visit to Denmark. They then
provided Forest Schools in the area and began to support sta in other early years settings. More
recently, Forest Schools have become an integral part of many pre-school and school settings
(Constable, 2012), with a growing number of providers oering training courses.
Forest Schools provide an innovative educational approach to outdoor play and learning (Maynard,
2007; O’Brien & Murray, 2007) and in recent years, they have become increasingly popular, partly
due to support from the Forest Education Initiative (FEI). The FEI aims to increase the knowledge
and appreciation of woodlands, particularly with children, and to support and help establish Forest
Schools throughout the UK. In England, the FEI has set up groups that are supporting the develop-
ment of Forest Schools in 30 county/areas and the Institute of Outdoor Learning has created a
Special Interest Group. In Wales, the FEI has been developing Forest Schools since 2002 and in
Scotland, the FEI is taking a lead in developing Forest School awareness; this has sparked the inter-
est of the Scottish Government and local education initiatives within councils (FEI, 2010).
The work of Sara Knight has been particularly important in terms of implementing Forest School
approaches in learning environments (e.g. Knight, 2009a, 2009b, 2011). We have therefore used her
eight characteristics of a Forest School to frame the qualitative phase of our research (Table 1).
Although Knight makes limited reference to the underpinning theoretical support and justification
for the approach, her widespread influence on the practical administration of Forest Schools in the
UK is substantial. Knight’s (2009a) eight characteristics set out specific features, such as where, how
and who should be involved in Forest Schools. The resulting distinctive “ethos” involves encouraging,
valuing and inspiring all abilities through positive outdoor experiences. This is carried out by partici-
pating in engaging activities in an outdoor setting, so children can have the opportunity to develop
motivation, emotional and social skills.
One of the most important attributes of a Forest School is that learning is play based, child initi-
ated and child led as far as possible (Knight, 2009a). Conway (2008) describes a child-led approach
where play is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. In this way, the potential
to enable open-ended deep play is maximised (Knight, 2009b). The phenomenon of deep-level play
is the ecstatic form of play and testifies to how something happens, not what happens (Ackerman,
1999). It describes deep-level, high-quality, intense play and is observed when children are fully
engaged in an activity.
The Early Years Foundation Stage shows particular impetus for outdoor play and places an impor-
tant emphasis on the characteristics of eective learning, specifically how children learn and
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develop (Department for Education, 2012). Forest Schools provide opportunities to examine this fur-
ther, as it is possible to observe children in action and gain valuable insight into their individual learn-
ing styles. Also, many activities are more suited to outdoor learning and not possible/applicable for
a classroom setting. A study on specific learning styles found that the majority of students were ki-
naesthetic learners (37%) compared to 29% visual and 34% auditory (Miller, 2001). Kinaesthetic
learners achieve maximum development through tactile, hands-on approaches and tend to lose
concentration if there is little or no external stimulation or movement. Experiential learning through
Forest Schools may therefore appear to be highly valuable as it suits a large proportion of children.
Furthermore, the ethos and approach of Forest Schools can be directly related to the key aims of
Every Child Matters: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribu-
tion; and enjoying economic well-being (Department for Education and Skills, 2003).
The emotional content of risk-taking is an important experience for children. Gill (2007) identifies
reasons for giving children the chance to take risks and the need for “proportion and balance”, that
is, assessing risks in relation to a particular activity, situation or individual. He argues risk in child-
hood helps children learn how to understand safety and manage risk; have health and developmen-
tal benefits; and build character and personality traits, such as resilience and self-reliance. Gill (2007)
also discusses children’s natural need for risk-taking and maintains that exposing children to rea-
sonable risks provides an opportunity to feed this and prevent them from finding greater unman-
aged risks for themselves. In addition, O’Brien and Murray (2007) discuss the benefit of engaging
children with their environment at the sensory and intellectual levels. This is seen as another out-
come of play involving an element of risk, which allows children to connect with their environment
and help understand it.
Table 1. The eight characteristics of a Forest School as given by Knight (2009a)
Attribute Characteristics
Setting Not the usual one, ideally in a wood or other outdoor area
A place where Forest School rules apply
Risk The area is made as safe as is reasonably possible in order to facili-
tate risk-taking
Enables children to learn to respect the environment and move
around safely and comfortably
Leaders are trained to risk assess
The environment is “safe enough”, not risk free
Time Leaders recommend blocks of 6–10 sessions to maximise benefits
Children given longer opportunities to play which accommodates
deeper and more meaningful play
Weather conditions There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing
The only time that it is unsafe to go into a wood is in high winds when
it is advised to find an open space
Trust Adults trust the children to follow the Forest School rules and vice
Sessions include getting to know the sta and the Forest Schools way
Learning is play based Play is child initiated and child led as far as possible
There are no time constraints and risk-taking is facilitated
Focus is on open-ended play
Beginnings and ends Each block and session have a distinct beginning and end
The block ends in a significant final session
Trained sta Sessions are run by a trained Forest School leader
The leader is assisted by other suitably trained sta
Sta/student ratio is appropriate to the setting and children
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Many Forest School studies have focused on either its use and impact on young children in the
Early Years or disaected pupils (e.g. Knight, 2009a; Palmer, 2006); but some research has shown
that Forest School projects have noticeable benefits for children across the learning spectrum.
Specifically, Hughes (2007) evaluated a 14-week Forest School programme and found children dis-
played increased self-esteem and self-confidence; improved social and physical motor skills;
improved motivation and concentration; contributed to the development of language and social
skills; and enhanced children’s knowledge and understanding of the environment. However, with
regard to the last benefit, it is recognised that establishing a baseline assessment for environmental
awareness is important but can also be dicult to determine accurately.
Forest School experiences have been used many times as successful springboards to other learn-
ing. For example, it has been suggested that outdoor experiential learning can go some way to
address the underachievement of boys (Bilton, 2003). More specifically, Butwright, Falch-Lovesey,
and Lord (2007) have described how Forest School experiences stimulated boys’ engagement with
1.1. Children and environmental education
There is a varied body of research suggesting that activities and learning experiences carried out in
a natural environment can encourage much greater awareness of environmental issues, whilst also
fostering empathy towards the natural environment (Ballantyne & Packer, 2002; Barak, 2009;
Golden, 2010; Louv, 2005; Lugg, 2007; Nichol & Higgins, 2008; O’Connell, Potter, Curthoys, Dyment,
& Cuthbertson, 2005; Tilbury, 1999; White & Stoecklin, 2008). Environmental education, whilst a rela-
tively new discipline, has had an increasingly important influence on the UK educational policy and
curriculum development over the last few years (Rickinson, 2002). Indeed, there has been a drive
towards increasing children’s knowledge of the environment, sense of (environmental) respect and
helping secure children’s commitment to sustainability (Rickinson, 2002).
We recognise that the term “pro-environmental” is contested. Our use in this paper follows Legault
and Pelletier (2000) and Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) and relates to a demonstration of ecological
awareness and concern for the natural world and its components, leading to involvement in, and
knowledge of, activities that have a positive impact on the environment for extrinsic reasons.
There are, of course, a range of similar terms to describe environmental awareness and concern.
For example, Schultz (2000) coined the term “biospheric concern”, which encompasses values that
could be described as having a pro-environmental attitude, such as believing in the intrinsic value of
all living things and having an unselfish—rather than egotistical—view of the natural world. Schultz
(2000) suggests that this value or behaviour was due to the ways in which people see themselves as
being connected to, or part, of nature. He concludes that this feeling of biospheric concern can be
developed though experiences that break down the barriers of separation with the natural world
and, therefore, give people a chance to feel connected to it, helping develop empathy towards the
environment (Schultz, 2000; Schultz, Shriver, Tabanico, & Khazian, 2004).
Wilson (1894, cited in Kahn, 1999, p. 9) hypothesised that humans have a genetic connection with
the natural world and have a need to empathise and connect with life (“biophillia”). Kaplan and
Kaplan (1989) also attempt to discuss and interpret the emotional feelings that we have towards the
natural world, which they describe as anywhere that nature is present; parks; roadsides; wasteland;
and so forth. They also suggest that, when given the choice, people prefer landscapes that consist of
the natural environment, usually looking out over water. These landscapes can be described as park-
like or savannah. This is supported by a recent UK well-being survey conducted by the Oce for
National Statistics, which indicated that the availability of green spaces is a major factor in improv-
ing well-being (Randall, 2012).
There is evidence that the younger a child is when they first experiences the natural world, the
more likely they are to develop a connection with nature and the environment (O’Connell et al.,
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2005; White & Stoecklin, 2008). White and Stoecklin (2008) also suggest that nursery schools provide
some of the best examples of this occurring. This is very much in line with the ethos of Forest Schools.
As already discussed, Forest School programmes are typically delivered in a natural woodland set-
ting and actively encourage children to explore the surrounding environment, allowing children to
build a connection with nature (Blackwell, 2011).
Forest School programmes thus potentially play an important role in shaping pro-environmental
attitudes in children. Wells and Lekies (2006) suggest that the experiences children have in natural
areas such as in the woods, particularly without adult supervision, have been shown to increase the
likelihood of the same children returning to these places and enjoying them as adults. There is also
evidence that there is a link between children who have had experiences in nature and adults who
have followed a career in conservation. For example, Chawla (2006) explored what experiences
influenced environmentalists in Norway and the USA. She found that the most common reason for
entering into an environmental career was due to childhood experiences of nature. It would seem
that developing an emotional attachment and aliation to nature in childhood may result in a feel-
ing of responsibility and willingness to protect and care for the environment later in life.
There is evidence that the mental health and general well-being of children improve whenever
they take part in practical activities conducted outdoors (Maller & Townsend, 2006). Wells and Evans
(2003) carried out research on life stress and rural children and discovered that children who have a
significant opportunity to be in contact with the natural environment appear to have more of an
ability to cope and deal with stress associated with everyday life. Further to this, children are the
future policy-makers. Providing them with positive environmental experiences may enable them to
make better decisions in the future regarding the natural world and its resources (Legault & Pelletier,
2000; McKnight, 2010).
2. Methods
Schools were purposefully recruited to the study on the basis of their participation/non-participation
in Forest School programmes, the socio-economic characteristics of the school catchment areas
[the median annual income for each respective borough council area was taken from a HM Revenue
and Customs dataset (2012) and is given to indicate broad socio-economic comparability] and the
degree of rural/urban location (Table 2). All schools were located in Cumbria, apart from School 4
The non-Forest Schools were selected using personal and professional contacts. Schools who had
taken part in Forest Schools were identified by obtaining contact details of practitioners from a train-
ing website and contacting them to see if they were willing to participate in the study. The principle
investigator had no prior contact with the schools and did not visit any of the schools either during
or after the research had taken place.
Table 2. Typology of schools participating in the study
School Forest School Location Annual median
income for borough
(HM Revenue and
Customs, 2012) (£)
1Yes Rural 20,700
2Yes Urban 18,600
3Yes Rural 20,700
4 No Urban 18,600
5 No Rural 17,700
6 No Urban 17,700
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Each school was sent out (either by post or email) a set of questionnaires to measure the environ-
mental attitude of children. The questionnaire was adapted from a previous study concerning the
environmental attitudes of children aged between eight and eleven years by Musser and Malkus
(1994). The same age cohort was used for this study; thus, both primary schools and junior schools
were included in the sample. In each school, the class teacher, who also assisted the children in
completing the questionnaire, administered the questionnaire. Each school had been given the op-
tion of the researcher assisting with the administration of the questionnaire; all schools decided
against this option. In order to ensure consistency, each teacher was given instructions regarding
the administration of the questionnaire. A total of 195 usable questionnaires were returned (some
forms were incomplete or were incorrectly completed); 136 from non-Forest Schools and 59 from
schools that had completed a Forest Schools programme.
Whilst the use of questionnaires in research involving children is often fraught with diculty, it is
nevertheless important to consider as fully as possible the attitudes and opinions of children. Leeuw,
Borgers, and Smits (2004) suggest that from the age of seven, children are capable of expressing
their opinions, and when coupled with developing reading and writing skills and assistance from
teaching sta, we would argue that questionnaires are a viable method of data collection in school-
based research.
Musser and Malkus (1994) contend that their questionnaire is comparable between dierent pro-
grammes of study and is relatively free of bias. It is based on psychometric principals so that the
scale used is high on internal consistency reliability and test–retest reliability. Twenty-five questions
were selected to give an impression of children’s awareness about dierent environmental issues
and their attitudes relating to recycling, conservation, animal rights/protection, nature appreciation
and pollution. Each question has two statements. Each statement has two boxes beside it, one large
and one small. The children have to decide which statement they most agree with and then decide
if they are: “a lot” like the statement describes (they tick the larger box) or “a little” like the state-
ment describes (they tick the smaller box). Each box is graded on a scale of one to four (the children
cannot see this score, just the boxes), with the higher the score equalling the more pro-environmen-
tal attitude (Figure 1).
Upon completion, a participant is allocated a score, with the higher score indicating a more pro-
environmental attitude. The rationale for using this “o the peg” questionnaire was due to issues of
validity and reliability. The Musser and Malkus questionnaire has been used eectively in educational
research elsewhere, for example, by Smith-Sebasto and Semrau (2004) and a modified version for a
study on children in Turkey by Gülay (2011). Minor changes were made to the questionnaire, largely
reflecting dierences in American English and UK English; for example, “car pooling” was changed
to “car or lift sharing” to make it more understandable to a UK sample.
All data were analysed using SPSS version 15 and statistical tests were carried out according to
Dytham (2011). The data were then transcribed onto an excel spreadsheet. A test for normality was
carried out which showed the data were normally distributed, so the independent sample t-test was
chosen to analyse the data.
Figure 1. Exemplar question
from the questionnaire.
Q1. Some children like
to leave water
running when they
brush their teeth.
Other children
always turn the
water off while
brushing their
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The secondary aim of the research was to explore the experiences of children taking part in Forest
Schools activities for the first time in order to capture the voice of the child and also to gain a per-
spective on the forms of environmental learning that can take place. To meet this aim, a naturalistic
inquiry-based study day was conducted with children from one of the sample schools (School 6) as
part of an exploratory Forest School session. This was based on Knight’s eight characteristics, that is,
the session took place in a woodland environment; the environment was “safe enough” to enable
children to move around safely and comfortably; children were given the opportunity for “deeper
and more meaningful play”; there were elements of child-initiated play (appropriate for a first Forest
Schools experience); the session had a distinctive beginning and end; and the session was run by a
trained Forest Schools leader.
All of the children had visited woodlands with their families, though this was their first Forest
Schools experience. This work was completed after the questionnaire survey. With reference to
Knight’s eight characteristics of Forest Schools (Table 1), the session comprised the given attributes
of a Forest School experience. For example, the woodland setting was safe enough, but not “risk-
free” and the session had a distinct beginning and end. An evaluation was carried out during the
3. Results
A normality test (Shapiro–Wilk) was carried out to determine if the data collected were normally
distributed or not. All p values were >0.05, indicating that the data were normally distributed. A
t-test was therefore used to analyse the data. Figure 2 indicates the average environmental atti-
tudes of children in participating schools. School 2 (Forest Schools) had the most pro-environmental
attitude score of 80.550 ± 1.538, followed by School 5 (non-Forest Schools), with a score of
76.571±1.493, and School 1 (Forest Schools), with a score of 75.600±1.508. The school with the
lowest pro-environmental attitude was School 4 (non-Forest Schools), with a score of 67.925±1.311,
followed by School 3 (Forest Schools), with a score of 74.700 ± 1.308, and School 6 (non-Forest
Schools), with a score of 75.000±2.121.
The data were grouped into Forest Schools and non-Forest Schools to compare the dierences in
the environmental attitude score. The test returned a p value of 0.003, indicating that there was a
significant dierence between the schools that have taken part in Forest Schools and those that
have not.
Figure 3 shows that mean environmental attitude score of children who have taken part in Forest
Schools is 76.95±0.891 compared with a score of 73.165±0.990 for non-Forest Schools (a dier-
ence of 3.785).
In summary, the results show that there is a significant dierence between the environmental
attitude of children who have taken part in schools and those that have not, with children who have
taken part in Forest Schools displaying a more pro-environmental attitude.
As discussed above, following the questionnaire study, some additional work was carried out with
a small group of children from School 6, as part of a Forest Schools exploratory day. This was carried
out in order to gain a perspective on the dierent forms of environmental learning that take place
during Forest Schools sessions. Table 3 shows the plan of activities for the day and incorporates the
attributes highlighted as important by Knight (2009a). The session took place in a woodland setting
and followed a defined pattern with a distinct beginning and end, starting with an opportunity for
the children to experience their surroundings before risks, hazards and Forest School rules were
discussed. The session concluded with an open discussion in which everyone contributed. Some of
the most successful elements from the session involved exploration of the woodland using dierent
senses and included mini-world den building and nightline activities. During these particular activi-
ties, high levels of engagement and enjoyment were exhibited by the children. For example, one
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particular child was so involved in her mini-den building she appeared to “zone-out” and experience
a level of deep play.
Figure 4 shows some of the children’s feedback comments and photographs taken during the ses-
sion. Feedback from the children was extremely positive, and it was interesting to note that when
asked if there was anything they had not liked during the day, one child said, “I was a bit scared at
first when F was leading me, but I liked taking pictures”. She was referring to the Camera Clicks activ-
ity and was initially visibly uncomfortable with being blindfolded. However, her level of trust
increased during the activity, which helped her cope with the risk of the subsequent nightline (blind-
fold) activity. The emotional content of risk-taking is an important experience for children and is one
of the main attributes of Forest Schools (Knight, 2009a). Gill (2007) identifies reasons for giving chil-
dren the chance to take risks and the need for “proportion and balance”, that is, assessing risks in
relation to a particular activity, situation or individual. He argues risk in childhood helps children
learn how to understand safety and manage risk; have health and developmental benefits; and build
character and personality traits, such as resilience and self-reliance. Gill (2007) also discusses chil-
dren’s natural need for risk-taking and maintains that exposing children to reasonable risks provides
an opportunity to feed this and prevent them from finding greater unmanaged risks for themselves.
In addition, O’Brien and Murray (2007) discuss the benefit of engaging children with their environ-
ment at the sensory and intellectual levels. This is seen as another outcome of play involving an ele-
ment of risk, which allows children to connect with their environment and help understand it.
Figure 3. Mean environmental
attitude scores.
Forest SchoolsNon Forest Schools
Attitude Score Max
Forest Schools Non Forest Schools
Figure 2. Average
environmental attitude of
children participating in the
school 1 school 2 school 3 school 4 school 5 school 6
attitude score
Max score = 100
Average environmental attitudes of children who have taken
part in Forest Schools and children who have not.
Forest Schools Non Forest schools
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Table 3. Plan of activities for the Forest Schools day with School 6
Subject: Forest Schools Teacher: X Date:
Location: X
Age of
Number of children: 3 B G Adult
Lesson context/prior learning
0 3 X + 1 Children have been
introduced to basic safety
rules and the woodland
Times Activity Resources
10:00 Starter/warm up—Woodland journey I
We walk from into the woods and down the path to the starting point/meeting area. Children are encouraged to
use all their senses during the journey and discuss everything they hear, smell, feel, taste, etc.
10:10 Health and safety brief
Discuss what we mean by a “hazard” and a “risk”?
Children are asked to identify hazards in the immediate area
Talk about the overall site, the associated hazards and what we can do about them
Children to establish rules and boundaries to follow in the woodland (and reminded of these throughout the day)
10:25 Activity 1: Mini-world den building A playmobil
person for each
Children are asked to explore the immediate surrounding are and use natural materials to build a house/den for
their playmobil person
10:40 Activity 2: Woodland journey II—Un-nature trail A collection of
items not found
within a wood-
land setting
Children are asked to take a journey down through the woodland from the top of the slope, down towards the
glade near the riverside track. Adults to supervise journey at all times
Children are asked to explore their route and identify and remember any (pre-placed) items they would not nor-
mally find within a woodland, e.g. a clothes line, a light switch and a sift toy
At the end of the journey, can the children remember everything they found? Was there anything they missed?
Why? Potentially introduce camouflage?
11:00 Activity 3: Duplication game Natural objects
found within
the woodland,
e.g. pine cone,
feather, moss
Show the children a set of natural objects collected from the woodland and placed within a frame made from
sticks. The children are then asked to duplicate this and add any extras they find interesting
11:15 Activity 4: Blindfold journey—Camera clicks Blindfolds
One child acts as a guide and leads another child (who is blindfolded) through an area of woodland (within the
established boundaries). The children stop occasionally so the blindfolded child can briefly remove the blindfold and
take a mental picture of what they can see
Children are encouraged to talk about their other senses while they carry out this activity
What did they see? How did it feel to be led? How did it feel to lead someone? What other senses did they use?
11:45 Snack Hot drinks and a
12:00 Activity 5: Nightline Length of rope
Children set up a route within the woodland by attaching a rope to a tree and weaving it around others at varying
heights to incorporate dierent terrain. The children are then blindfolded and led by their partners along the route to
gain a dierent sensory experience
12:30 Plenary
In a group circle, discuss the day’s activities. Encourage everyone to participate, taking turns to speak and listen.
Adults to ask questions to prompt further discussion and deeper thought. What did they enjoy doing most? Was
there anything they didn’t enjoy? Why? What have they learnt about the woodland? Each other?
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4. Discussion
This study suggests that children who have taken part in Forest Schools demonstrate a significantly
higher pro-environmental attitude than children who have not taken part in the programme. There
is a growing body of evidence to support this finding, and as Helen Meech recently stated in the
Figure 4. Exploratory Forest
Schools day.
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Guardian newspaper, “people who spend more time outdoors as kids are the ones who have a
stronger interest in environmental issues and protecting the planet” (Meech, 2014).
There are, however, a number of limitations to this study. First, participation in Forest Schools was
the only variable tested in relation to environmental attitudes. We were unable to control other vari-
ables, such as involvement in environmental education, outdoor education or the promotion of en-
vironmentally sustainable behaviour. This is clearly problematic, for as Huddart-Kennedy, Beckley,
McFarlane, and Nadeau (2009) note: environmentally sensitive behaviour is likely to be aected by a
range of services and facilities.
Second, borough median income was used to represent broader socio-economic factors. Whilst
the variation in median income across the sample was relatively low, our approach is overly simplis-
tic and a more balanced set of measures is required.
Third, the sample size (n= 6) in terms of participating schools was relatively low and there was
only one school from outside of Cumbria (which raises the issue of other confounding factors).
Fourth, the questionnaire used for the study has been criticised by Evans et al. (2007) for a lack of
theoretical and empirical grounding and also because attitudes and behaviours are included
together, which may limit the information that the questionnaire provides. They raise concerns
about children’s ability to understand the questionnaire and their patience and attention to answer
the questionnaire accurately, and suggest the use of more interactive approaches (such as games)
to ascertain children’s environmental attitudes. These are valid criticisms, but must be weighed
against the increase in workload associated with more interactive approaches.
However, despite these criticisms, these are nonetheless interesting findings in a relatively under-
researched area (Maynard, 2007). Much of the literature reviewed discussed how the experiences
that children have in nature when they are younger, particularly under 12years, help them build up
a connection with the natural world and the environment (O’Connell et al., 2005; White & Stoecklin,
2008). Our finding that children who have taken part in Forest Schools have a more pro-environmen-
tal attitude than children who have not, broadly supports this literature. Further study would be
needed to see if these children continue to value the environment as they progress through school.
Although experiences gained within Forest Schools are not directly intended to deliver environmen-
tal education (Maynard, 2007), it is perhaps not unexpected that children who have taken part in
Forest Schools have a more pro-environmental attitude than children who have not.
There is a lack of clarity in the literature regarding the influence of rural and urban locations on
environmental attitude (Huddart-Kennedy et al., 2009; Jones & Dunlap, 1992; Saphores, Nixon,
Ogunseitan, & Shapiro, 2006; Smith & Krannich, 2000). In our research, the school with the highest
average score of environmental attitude was a school that had taken part in Forest Schools and was
located in a rural area. The school with the lowest average environmental attitude did not take part
in Forest Schools and was located in an urban area. This supports Berenguer, Corraliza, and Martín
(2005) research, stating that there is a dierence in attitudes between rural and urban populations.
However, they state that better questionnaires are required to more accurately measure environ-
mental attitudes in rural and urban areas.
We also found that the Forest Schools activity conducted with a small group of children from
School 6 provided an interesting perspective on the dierent forms of environmental learning that
takes place during Forest Schools sessions, and supported the main finding regarding the develop-
ment of pro-environmental attitudes from the questionnaire study. Whilst the activities were ini-
tially adult directed, there was sucient flexibility to allow time for child-initiated, open-ended play,
which was intrinsically motivated (and still appropriate for an initial Forest Schools experience).
Overall, the day encompassed many attributes of a Forest Schools experience, namely, elements of
risk, motivation, trust, use of all senses, exploration and discovery (Knight, 2011) and provided op-
portunities for deep play.
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Forest Schools develop over time as experience, knowledge and confidence grow, and the children
use the same setting on a regular basis. Therefore, insight and evaluation of a discrete first session
are going to be limited. However, it is clear that important learning has taken place during these ini-
tial activities and more visits would further develop experience and trust as described in Knight’s
eight characteristics of Forest Schools (Table 1), resulting in wide-ranging physical, mental and
health-related benefits (Moss, 2012) and, we would argue, the development of pro-environmental
attitudes in the participating children.
5. Conclusion
In conclusion, the research has met the objectives outlined in the introduction, namely to measure
environmental attitudes between children who had taken part in Forest Schools and those that had
not. The study identified that there was a significant dierence between the two groups, with chil-
dren who have taken part in Forest Schools demonstrating a more pro-environmental attitude than
those who have not taken part. Whilst it is recognised that Forest Schools may not be the only factor
influencing attitudes, this is still an important finding that adds to the overall benefits of participa-
tion in Forest School programmes. There is, however, a need for research into the longer term impact
of Forest Schools and how these programmes might change the attitudes of children towards the
natural environment, particularly during and after transition to secondary school.
Forest School experiences have been used many times as successful springboards to other learn-
ing. The role they have in providing an enjoyable holistic learning experience is a process, rather than
a product. As Kolbert (2012) indicates, Forest Schools encompass practical skills and this has been
shown to build on the understanding of the environment and human connection with it. Through
play, children can gain an understanding and appreciation of the natural environment and at the
same time, improve physical, social and emotional well-being. The process acts to empower chil-
dren, allowing them to reflect and share their experiences and help understand how their actions
aected others, themselves and the environment.
The authors received no direct funding for this research.
Author details
Christina Turtle
Ian Convery
Katie Convery
Forestry, Conservation & Applied Science, University of
Cumbria, Penrith, UK.
Brunswick Infant School, Penrith, Cumbria, UK.
Citation information
Cite this article as: Forest Schools and environmental
attitudes: A case study of children aged 8–11years,
Christina Turtle, Ian Convery & Katie Convery, Cogent
Education(2015), 2: 1100103.
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... Golubović-Ilić (2014) states that by direct contact of pupils with sources and objects of knowledge that are in authentic environment, greater dynamics and intensity of the teaching process are achieved. Turtle et al. (2015) pointed out that in forest schools for example, through play, children can gain an understanding and appreciation of the natural environment and at the same time, improve physical, social and emotional well-being. ...
... While there is some research to support this stated aim, other research has questioned the robustness of the evidence. For example, one study on environmental attitudes and FS showed that children who engaged in FS demonstrated a more pro-environmental attitude than those who did not engages in FS (Turtle, Convery, & Convery, 2015). Other studies have reported increased knowledge of the natural environment as an outcome of participation in FS (Harris, 2017;O'Brien & Murray, 2007;Slade et al., 2013), despite the contention that knowledge-based activities are not common. ...
Full-text available
Over the last decade, Forest School (FS) has become a more common part of the educational landscape both in Ireland and in the UK. This paper aims to provide a timely review of research related to FS and begins by situating FS in the broader context of nature-based education and play, before outlining the defining principles and features of FS. The authors then examine the research base for the purported benefits of FS, consider weaknesses of the evidence base and discuss other criticisms that have been levelled at FS. While the prima facie research provides support for the benefits of forest schooling, the conclusions that can be drawn from the research may be limited due to the identified weaknesses of some of the research to date and a somewhat underdeveloped theoretical framework. The authors conclude that additional studies of high quality are required in order to understand the place of FS in the spectrum of pedagogical frameworks, and the potential of FS in the context of the current discourse on wellbeing in education. A number of the big questions that remain in terms of FS as a useful and evidence-based approach in education are discussed.
... (Basile, 2000;Grodzinska-Jurzcak ve ark. 2006;Taşkın & Şahin, 2008;Turtle, Convery & Convery, 2015). ...
... For this reason, it is thought that raising environmental awareness among children with an effective environmental education from the pre-school period will make it easier to overcome the environmental problems that will be encountered in the future. In many studies, it is stated that positive attitudes toward the environment in children develop, especially with the education given in the pre-school period (Basile, 2000;Turtle et al. 2015). Changes in attitude are seen mostly at early ages. ...
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Bu araştırma, okul öncesi öğretmen adaylarının katı atık ve geri dönüşüm konusundaki tutumlarının araştırıldığı nicel bir çalışmadır. Öğretmen adaylarının tutumları cinsiyet, yaş, öğrenim gördükleri sınıf düzeyi ve ekonomik durum değişkenleri açısından incelenmiştir. İlişkisel tarama modeli kullanılan araştırmaya okul öncesi öğretmenliği bölümünden 161 öğretmen adayı katılmıştır. Araştırmada veri toplama aracı olarak Karatekin (2013) tarafından geliştirilen "Öğretmen Adayları İçin Katı Atık ve Geri Dönüşüme Yönelik Tutum Ölçeği" kullanılmıştır Araştırma sonucunda okul öncesi öğretmen adaylarının tutumlarının cinsiyete göre girişim ve katılım, ilgi ve duyarlılık boyutlarında anlamlı bir şekilde farklılaşmadığı görülmüştür. Öğretmen adaylarının tutumlarının yaşa ve sınıf düzeyine göre anlamlı bir şekilde farklılaşmadığı, ekonomik duruma göre ise inanç boyutunda ve ilgi ve duyarlılık boyutunda anlamlı bir şekilde farklılaştığı tespit edilmiştir. Her iki boyutta da anlamlı farklılık düşük sosyoekonomik grup lehinedir.
... Despite this logic, there is little research around the links between exposure to nature and pro-environmental values. However, some studies have found that greater environmental awareness is related to completing learning in natural settings (Dillon et al., 2006;Hattie et al., 1997;Lugg, 2007;Sandell & Öhman, 2013;Turtle et al., 2015). ...
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With the observation that cities are in no way sustainable, this research took a genuinely exploratory approach to discover the reasons why in an attempt to find answers as to how this may be addressed. Consequently, 86 interviews with policymakers and key stakeholders, supplemented by secondary data, were conducted in York (29), Bath (9), Bristol (8), Edinburgh (12), Plymouth (10) and Preston (11), from which an understanding of each city was constructed. From these, two avenues of insight into urban sustainability emerged: one in which York is the focus, and one with wider implications. First, due to the emphasis that York places on tourism that sees the city identify through its built heritage, the picture that was painted by respective interviewees is one of a ‘stodgy’ culture that does not want to face the challenges of the future. This regressive state was thought to create a duality in the local economy in which life may be good for the professionals who are attracted to live on the basis of York offering a good quality of life, but this contrasts with those on low pay who mainly work in the tourist industry and who can less afford to live in and access many of the socio-economic benefits that the city has to offer. Part of the problem was said to be that City of York Council is held back by the culture in addition to a fluctuating political climate in which there are three marginal parties. Contrasting the Bath, Edinburgh and York case studies shows, however, that an economic focus from built heritage related tourism may lead to cultural shifts. Certainly, York was thought by respective interviewees to be home to a creative industry that would benefit significantly from support. Meanwhile, through their encouragement, residents in Bristol, Plymouth and Preston were highlighted by respective interviewees to be enjoying the cultural, economic, environmental, social and political benefits of social economy models, such as co-operatives and social enterprises. Therefore, in addition to reducing the tourism related income inequality, with cultural shifts among the population of York from pursuing such economic opportunities this may lead to a more innovative local authority operating in the more stable political climate that was shown by the Bristol, Edinburgh and Preston case studies to be more able to provide long-term vision and enact greater good policies. Consequently, City of York Council may be more able to address key areas in which the city was said to be deficient around renewable energy production, recycling provisioning, affordable housing, and the encouragement of sustainable transport. While the first avenue of insight highlights specific barriers that, if overcame, creates a pathway through which York may shift towards sustainability, fundamental insight lies in contrasting common themes that emerged across the case studies: Cities require economic welfare. Here, ‘economic welfare’ is being used to describe how the wages and profits from a city’s economy meet the needs of its residents. The case studies show that when concerned with the issues of deprivation, the need for economic welfare is the priority of both local authorities and their populations. No more so was this need and intervention evident than in Plymouth and Preston as the most deprived case studies. However, even in those case studies considered to be ‘wealthy’ there were found to be significant problems with deprivation among their populations. To provide economic welfare within their cities, to varying degrees all the case studies looked to attract capital. This takes the form of investment into business or property development and groupings such as professionals and tourists. This phenomenon, known as ‘urban entrepreneurialism’, has been extensively explored in academic literature whereby the neoliberal period of capitalism has seen the privatisation of services, and reductions in both the provisioning of social welfare programmes, such as those around housing and social security, and legislation limiting the mobility of capital. Meanwhile, technological advances have accelerated the decline of traditional manufacturing industries and further increased the mobility of capital. In short, there is less spatially-fixed, more egalitarian economic welfare embedded within cities, compelling them to compete for capital to overcome this shortfall. Overall, due to the need to divert resources towards (re)attracting these mobile capital groupings and away from less mobile groupings who are more likely to be in need, and encouraging the low-paid tourist industry, this form of economic development inevitably leads to the inequality and deprivation that was observed within the case studies. A strategy set forth by the academic, James Defilippis, and built upon by the think tank, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, however, counters this. By using the resources of locally-based organisations that have an active interest in that city to favour local, democratic control in land-use (e.g. mutual housing associations, use of facilities by communities), investment (e.g. community banks) and the procurement of services (e.g. social enterprises, co-operatives), more egalitarian and spatially-fixed economic welfare may be encouraged. Although this strategy has only been partially employed in Preston, the city is bucking the economic trend of many of its counterparts (PwC, 2018). The case studies show that such a strategy has the potential to impact the different realms of a city. First, with increased economic wellbeing, as the financial security that citizens require to meet their basic needs, across a city, populations are more willing and able to express their cultural yearnings for the long-term goals associated with sustainability in both their consumer decisions and support for the related policies of their local authority. Second, through the encouragement of social economy models, and as argued extensively within the literature, there are superior sustainability outputs from a city’s economic capacities. Third, less concerned with the issues of deprivation or the need to divert resources to the (re)attraction of the mobile capital groupings, and with cultural impetuses from their populations, local authorities are more able to pursue longer-term goals around quality of life and the environment. Therefore, through resolving the tensions between capital and economic wellbeing in the contemporary city, urban sustainability amid neoliberalism is possible.
... There is previous research on how parents [20][21][22], practitioners [23] and children [24] perceive FS. Findings in general support an overwhelmingly positive response to FS and FS pedagogy across the board (e.g., [25]). ...
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Parental support for children’s Forest School (FS) education is likely connected to the parents’ own views about FS. We investigated parents’ perceptions of FS by performing a qualitative study on parents’ views, as expressed in an online forum for parents (Mumsnet). Findings were grouped into two main categories, descriptive (what FS is) and evaluative (FS is good or bad). Thematic analysis revealed five dimensions of evaluation: skills and knowledge, nature connectedness and physical/mental health, structure, inclusivity and enjoyment. Along these dimensions we uncovered tensions between opposing views. We also identified two strategies for dealing with these tensions, dismissal and balance. This is the first study that identifies dimensions of evaluation for FS and potential parent satisfaction. The implications are discussed.
This review aims to summarise existing research on the forest-based pedagogical approach known as forest school, as developed in the UK. Modelled on the nature kindergartens of northern Europe, forest school is popular in the UK and is now being practiced or explored in other countries around the world. Drawing on papers specifically researching forest school, identified through the Scopus database, it identifies and reviews key themes emerging from the literature: research on its development, relationship to classroom teaching and the national curriculum, impact on children’s development, and their relationship to the environment and environmental behaviour. It identifies the challenges and tensions emerging in the practice of forest school, between the performative agenda of schools and the alternative learning approaches embedded in forest school praxis. It summarises the attempts by several authors to develop theoretical models of forest school. It discusses the transferability of this forest education practice to new cultures, environments and educational systems. Finally, it concludes by identifying challenges for further research.
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Forest schools are distinctive outdoor spaces that are often regarded as an alternative to mainstream education. Their increasing popularity in the United Kingdom is often attributed to a perceived decrease in children’s outdoor play, due to a concomitant increase in children’s use of digital technologies in the home; further compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. This study explores how iPads can enhance outdoor learning activities. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 32 Key Stage 2 children selected from two UK primary schools. The interviews explored the experiences and opinions of the children about the role of iPads in the forest school space using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Findings suggest that Forest School spaces can accommodate new technologies through accommodation of the outdoor environment and technology. Suggestions for future research include the meaningful integration of iPads into Forest School practice while considering the relative influences of space and place.
The use of entomological collections in teaching is a way of awakening curiosity in students in relation to biodiversity and has a strong appeal in environmental education. Most of the time, however, the collections are merely demonstrative and do not involve the students in the search to identify the different organisms and their role in natural systems. Regarding the social perception that the student should develop in relation to insects, didactic materials need to go beyond identification and classification and involve the students in the relationship between the different insect species and eco-systemic services. The aversion that many insects cause in most individuals is, at times, an impediment to the teaching and learning process in Zoology in regard to Entomology. The proposal of activities that involve an approach based on bees, a species within the Insect class whose representation by society frames it as “friendly” species, is a strategy involving an approach in which the student perceives the social role of insects, in addition to learning about morphological characteristics, structural characteristics, and evolution etc. In this chapter, we shall address Entomology teaching strategies and methodologies involving bees, which could be applied to different groups of students at different levels of formal and non-formal environmental education.
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There is major concern worldwide about our environment and its sustainability. To address issues such climate change, resource usage, and sustainability, environmental education has become an even more important subject of learning. This research project surveyed Directors of residential youth camps, located in the State of Wisconsin, USA, regarding their environmental education programs and other camp activities that contain components of environmental education. The scope and breadth of the activities that encourage environmental education and awareness as identified by camp directors are explored in this paper. Possibilities for achieving the Model Curriculum Standards for schools as developed by the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction were examined to evaluate the possibility of learner achievements through residential camp programming. Survey results, along with summer camp outcomes identified by the American Camp Association are used to create a case for creating camp/school partnerships to provide an alternative learning site that can enhance students' understanding of environmental education topics.