Because the concept of a forest school is one that is not familiar to many people in the United States, we get a lot of questions from the parents of prospective students. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions along with their answers.
About Forest Schools
Forest schools (also sometimes referred to as nature schools or outdoor schools) are an alternative to the traditional school system for young children in which instruction takes place outside either all the time or a majority of the time. This method of education focuses on encouraging children to develop their skills, interests, and understanding of the world around them through practical, hands-on experiences. We actually have an entire page on our website devoted to answering this question in great detail, which you can find here.
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. Students at a forest school tend to develop better problem-solving skills and creativity, have lower levels of stress and anxiety, and be more physically fit than children at a traditional school. We have an entire page on our website dedicated to the benefits of forest schools, which you can find here.
Our forest school program meets all the requirements for elementary education mandated by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Unlike some other forest school programs, it is not simply designed to supplement a traditional education or home-school program—it is a replacement for those programs. If your child is enrolled in our school, there is nothing further you need to do to meet the legal requirement to provide an education for your child.
Yes, students really spend all day outside in all types of weather conditions. This is one difference between forest schools and traditional schools that offer limited “outdoor time” to students as part of their curriculum (which is becoming more and more common as educators realize how beneficial it is). Whereas a traditional school might cancel “outdoor time” if the weather is rainy or cold, we believe that experiencing that type of weather is simply part of the learning process—and a valuable one at that. We do make sure students are properly dressed for whatever weather conditions are present on a given day—click here for more information about clothing requirements at forest school.
If we anticipate the possibility of severe weather before school is open in the morning, we will cancel school or delay school, depending on the situation. If severe weather arises while the children are already at school, we have a safe place to go to that is supported and protected from the wind. We'll walk down there, call parents, and wait for parents to pick up their children if it is safe to do so. Depending on the weather, we may just have to wait it out there if it is not safe for parents to come and pick their children up.
You can find specific procedures for every severe weather scenario in our emergency handbook.
Despite being held entirely outdoors, we keep things clean and sanitary here at the Little River Outdoor School.
With eating and with other activities, we have the children wash their hands at a hand washing station with warm water and soap before eating or before doing any activities together.
For restroom needs, we have a bathroom area and a composting toilet with toilet paper. There is a hand washing station in the bathroom area. We always make sure students wash and dry their hands after using the bathroom.
While it is true that there are risk factors present at forest school that one wouldn’t find at a traditional school (students use tools, hike in the woods, swim, help care for live animals, etc.), these risks can be managed with proper staff training, planning, and proper procedures—all of which we have. Click here to read all about our safety procedures and risk management policies.
On the flip side, there are some risk factors present at traditional schools that are either minimized or eliminated entirely at forest school (school shootings, illegal drug use, bullying, gang activity, etc.).
Policies and Procedures
Classes at the Little River Outdoor school for the elementary school are held Monday through Thursday from February through November, with two 2-week breaks occurring during that time (one starting the last Monday of May, and one starting the first Monday in September).
We are closed starting the Monday of the week of Thanksgiving through January 31st.
Our schedule while classes are in session is 9:30 AM to 3:00 PM Monday through Thursday for the elementary school, and 9 am to 1 pm on Fridays for the preschool.
Yes, a new student can enroll at any time during the year. Click here to read all about our enrollment process.
Little River Outdoor School offers an elementary-level education for children ages 5 through 12 years old. Younger students may be accepted on a case-by-case basis. We also have a preschool for children who are potty trained through age 5.
Special needs students and students with physical or intellectual disabilities are encouraged to apply. Although we don’t have the ability to accommodate all types of special needs students, we evaluate each student on a case-by-case basis. The type of instruction provided at a forest school can often be quite helpful for certain types of special needs students, and we make every effort to accommodate them.
No, all students must bring their own lunches and snacks.
Students must dress appropriately for the weather conditions and must be prepared for clothing to get wet and/or dirty. We require each student to bring two changes of clothes per day as a precaution. Click here for more information about the clothing requirements for forest school.
Believe it or not, we have never had a child who didn’t enjoy forest school. This type of education is basically learning as it was meant to occur—children being outside and learning through play and experience. More often than not, if a child leaves forest school it is because it turns out not to be a good fit for the parents rather than the child—for example, the schedule of classes might not be compatible with a parents’ work schedule, or they might not like doing laundry more often (your child will get dirty at forest school).
Our general curriculum, which includes all subjects but focuses on literature, science, and social sciences, is based on Exploring Nature with Children by Lynn Seddon. Our math curriculum is based on Wild Math by Rachel Tidd and reinforced with the award-winning Singapore Math Fact Fluency series of workbooks published by Marshall Cavendish Education. Click here to learn more about our curriculums.
Our very low student-teacher ratio allows us to offer a very individualized learning experience to our students. We have no more than 7 students per teacher, so students are free to learn at their own pace regardless of what “grade” they are in. This flexibility allows students who are very strong in a certain subject to move ahead, while students who struggle with a subject can spend more time on it and get more help. In a traditional school, both types of students would be stuck moving at the same pace as the rest of the class—which is bad in both situations.
We believe that letter grades (“A”, “B”, “C”, etc.) are not very helpful in assessing a student’s level of achievement. They simply prompt students to compare their performance against one another, without really providing any benefit. Instead, we use written evaluations of a student’s progress, which we review with students in student-teacher conferences. We also share these with parents, discuss what (if any) problems a student is having, and develop a plan for overcoming those problems.
Tuition at the Little River Outdoor School is $6,000 per year for the elementary school. Ten monthly payments of $600 can be made.
For the preschool, tuition is $1500 yearly. Ten monthly payments of$150 per month can be made.
Tuition assistance is available—click here for more information.
No payments are due for December or January, during winter break. Payment is due on or before the 1st day of each month. Cash, checks or mobile payment such as Venmo or Zelle are accepted.
Little River Outdoor School partners with Virginia's Child Care Subsidy program, parents, local departments of Social Services, and the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Development of the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS). The Child Care Subsidy Program assists families in paying child care costs for children under age 13 who are not eligible to attend public school during the part of the day when public education is available, or children with special needs under age 18 who reside with the applicant. Click here to learn more about this program and find out how to apply through the Commonwealth of Virginia.