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Tree time: a history of forest schools

The forest school movement originated in Denmark. It has been an integral part of early years education there since the 1980s, when it was introduced as part of an expansion of nursery provision.

It is based on the idea that young children can develop enthusiasm for education through an appreciation of nature. In Denmark, forest schools have boosted pupils' confidence and improved their behaviour and social skills.

Bridgwater College, Somerset, established the Early Excellence Centre, the UK's first forest school, in 1995 after a group of nursery teacher trainees visited Denmark. Back in the UK, pupils were taken to a woodland area and allowed free exploration of the environment while participating in activities similar to those observed in Scandinavia.

The success of the project led to its expansion to include groups of older children including disaffected pupils, traveller children and youngsters with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

In 1997 Bridgwater College devised a forest school training course, and a national outreach team was set up in 2000 to train leaders across the UK.

In November 2000 Bridgwater College was awarded the Queen's anniversary prize for higher and further education.


9-9.20am Children collected from home or school.

9.20-9.45 Mini-bus journey. Used as opportunity to hear about the boys'

weeks and set down behavioural rules and review coping strategies.

9.45 Session briefing held in the site classroom.

10am-12.30pm Project work such as fire lighting, shelter building or coppicing begins.

12.30-1pm Lunch around the campfire.

1-1.30pm Pupils who have used their coping strategies effectively are given unsupervised time as a reward.

1.30-2.30pm Project and activity work continues.

2.30pm Site is cleared up and the group reviews the day's work.

3pm Children are taken home or back to school.

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