A Brief History of Forest School

The history of Forest School in Europe finds it’s deepest roots centuries ago and countless separate and connected ways of thought and movements have brought it to where it is today.

As early as the 1800s the romantics, such as Wordsworth and Ruskin, responded to the recent industrial revolution with counter-culture ideals of the importance of the sublime in nature, creative freedom, imagination and childhood innocence. (Cree & McCree, 2012) Their ideals, as well as those of contemporary or later educators, naturalists and philosophers the likes of Thoreau, John Muir, Baden Powell, Leslie Paul, Kurt Hahn, Susan Isaacs and the McMillan sisters were the inspirations for what we know now as Forest School. (FSA, 2012)

In the 1950s Forest Schools began popping up in Sweden, Denmark and other European countries. (Forest School Canada, 2015) Open-air culture (‘frulitsliv’) is deeply embedded in Scandinavian way of life and Danish pre-schools support the value of outdoor, child-centered, play-based pedagogy. In 1993 a group of nursery nurses at Bridgwater College in Somerset visited Denmark and were inspired to start their own Forest School in the UK. (FSA, 2012) From there the College developed a BTech in Forest School and Forest School took off in the UK. In 2002 practitioners held the first national conference at which an official definition was created and in 2012 the definition, principles and criteria were reviewed and built upon leading to the founding of the Forest School Association. (FSA, 2012) Canada’s first Forest School, Carp Ridge Forest School, opened its door in 2008 just outside Ottawa, Ontario. (Forest School Canada, 2015) Since then other Forest and Nature Schools have sprouted elsewhere in Canada including some in the Victoria, BC Region. Saanich parks and recreation has begun to offer a program called E.C.O. (Educating Children Outside) featuring Forest School for preschool children at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and Beaver Lake Regional Park. (Saanich Parks and Rec, 2015) Victoria Nature School, based out of Mount Douglas park, began in 2013 and offers programs for two year olds and three to five year olds. (Victoria Nature School, 2015) We at West Coast Forest School have been offering out of school camp programs in Victoria and the surrounding area since 2017.

Forest Schools are now widespread throughout Scandinavia, England, Wales, Scotland and the rest of Europe and the movement is gaining traction in Canada. With the introduction of the Forest School practitioner’s Level 3 course to Canada there is no doubt that Forest Schools will become ever more prevalent and popular in North America as well.  

Resources

Cree, Jon & McCree, Mel. (2012). A Brief History of the Roots of Forest School in the UK. Horizons, 60, pages 32-34.

Forest School Canada. (2015). History of Forest and Nature School. Retrieved from http://www.forestschoolcanada.ca/home/about-forest-school/history-of-forest-school

FSA. (2012). History of Forest School. Retrieved from http://www.forestschoolassociation.org/history-of-forest-school/

Saanich Parks and Recreation. (2015). E.C.O. Program. Retrieved from http://www.saanich.ca/parkrec/recreation/e-c-o-program.html?ref=shortURL
Victoria Nature School. (2015). Home page. Retrieved from http://www.victorianatureschool.com/

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