Elementary School in Floyd VA

Benefits of Forest Schools

While forest schools are very popular elsewhere in the world and are even a standard part of early childhood education in some countries, here in the United States many people have never heard of the idea.  This lack of familiarity can cause some people to view forest schools with skepticism when they first learn about this non-traditional approach to education.

The truth is, however, there is a wealth of research that demonstrates the effectiveness of forest schools in producing children who are healthier and better prepared for the next level of education than their counterparts in traditional preschool, kindergarten, and elementary schools.

Continue reading to learn more about the many benefits of forest schools, especially as compared to traditional schools.

Educational Benefits

Forest schools provide many educational benefits compared to traditional schools, including the following:

Experiential learning

One of the primary benefits of a forest school is the way it ties what children are learning to experiences they are having in the real world (seeing changing weather, watching life cycles of plants and animals, etc.).   Studies have shown that children learn best through experiences by actively using their senses, which is often difficult if not impossible to do in a classroom.

Creativity and problem-solving skills

The less structured environment at a forest school promotes problem-solving skills and creativity in ways that traditional schools don’t.  Research has shown that play is the most effective way for children to learn life skills and discover their interests, but at traditional schools there is very limited time for unstructured play.  Forest schools, on the other hand, deliberately incorporate unstructured playtime as a part of the curriculum.

More individual attention

The student-teacher ratio at forest schools is much smaller than not only traditional schools but even other types of non-traditional schools (at the Little River Outdoor School, we have one teacher to every seven students).  This allows each student to get a level of individual attention that would normally be impossible.    If a child is struggling with a certain subject, he or she can get whatever help is needed to overcome difficulties.

Self-paced learning

Thanks to the low teacher-student ratio and the less structured environment, students at a forest school are free to learn at their own pace.  If it is taking longer for a student to master a particular skill or subject, then they can simply spend more time on that subject without any negative consequences, whereas at a traditional school they would be in danger of being left behind as the class advanced on to the next skill or subject.

A child who learns at a slower pace might get so far behind at a traditional school that they end up struggling with that skill throughout the rest of their education.

Enhanced Learning Infographic

Infographic courtesy of Children & Nature Network--click here to download.

Physical Health Benefits

At a time when nearly 20% of children in the U.S. are affected by obesity, the physical health benefit of spending more time being physically active is obvious.  Not surprisingly, children at forest school tend to be more physically fit than their counterparts at traditional school who spend all day sitting at desks in a classroom.

Nature Health Benefits

Infographic courtesy of the Children & Nature Network--click here to download.

Other physical health benefits from spending more time moving around outside include:

  • Improved muscle strength, aerobic fitness, and coordination
  • Higher levels of serotonin in the body (the chemical linked to feelings of well-being)
  • Higher levels of vitamin D, which is important for bone & muscle health
  • Improved immune system function

For children who are high-energy to begin with and who struggle to sit still and focus in a traditional classroom, a forest school can be a great way to give them an outlet for their energy without taking away from their education.

For children who are not high-energy, forest school can help build their physical stamina and fitness levels in a way that one hour of “gym class” a few times a week would not.

In other words, attending a forest school is almost guaranteed to improve the health of a child vs attending a traditional school.

Mental Health Benefits

Numerous studies have found many mental health benefits to children from spending time outdoors, but that time is increasingly hard to come by for most children.  The average American child spends 4-7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, while spending over seven hours a day in front of a screen of some kind.  The lack of outdoor playtime for kids has become so prevalent that it even has a name—“nature deficit disorder”.  

Needless to say, children who attend forest school are not at risk of nature deficit disorder.  Unlike their peers stuck behind desks in classrooms at traditional schools, forest school students can experience all of the mental health benefits that come from spending time outside, including:

  • Lower levels of stress and fatigue
  • Improved concentration
  • Reduced incidence of ADHD symptoms
  • Higher levels of happiness overall

As you can see, the mental, physical, and educational benefits of forest school are many.  If you would like your child to enjoy some of these benefits, contact us today to schedule a tour of our school.