Self-esteem and emotional intelligence are both keys to the development of a happy and resilient child. Any early childhood program should focus on enhancing the child’s self-esteem and developing their emotional intelligence and research has shown that Forest School programs and the expert mentoring of Forest School leaders do just that.
Increased self-esteem is one of the key results often observed in children participating in Forest School. A study by Liz O’Brien and Richard Murray identified the main elements of Forest School that had a direct link to increasing self-esteem in participants. First of all, the low ratio of child to adult provided more one on one time for the child and with the additional support children were more likely to achieve their goals. (O’Brien and Murray, 2006) This was particularly relevant in learning to use new tools, which also encourages trust and responsibility. With this help, children can learn new skill and, importantly, recognize that they have learnt new skills and seeing what they can achieve links directly to increasing their self-esteem and confidence. (O’Brien and Murray, 2006) Many activities in Forest School involve creating things, whether it be shelters, tools masks etc. and this production of physical evidence of a child’s work also contributes to self-esteem. The child-led nature of Forest School in terms of play, games, activities or songs allows the children to take part in a group activity and provide a recognizable contribution. Finally, being in an alternate environment and experiencing different things can change the focus for children with undesirable home life. All these contribute to creating happier children who are more independent. (O’Brien and Murray, 2006) The role of the Forest School leader is to be there for the children when they may need some guidance or to learn a new skill in order to accomplish a goal for themselves. A good leader knows when to offer a knot or a tool but also knows when to back off and leave the child be. This releasing of responsibility to the child and the respecting of the child’s abilities increases self-esteem and confidence.
Forest School also fosters the development of emotional intelligence in participants. An emotionally intelligent child will “have the dispositions and attitudes to learn, such as motivation, concentration, perseverance, the ability to control one’s own emotions and judge emotions in others.” (Falch-Lovesey et al., 2005) In Forest Schools it has been observed that students demonstrate high levels of motivation and perseverance. The child-led and child-centered approach means that students are intrinsically motivated and highly concentrated on their activities and persevere because it is exactly what they want to be doing and focusing their attention on. (Falch-Lovesey et al., 2005) This is evident in tree climbing, shelter building and various fine-motor based craft projects. Collaboration and problem solving in Forest School, in the form of games, building things etc., provides many opportunities for children to engage with one another and recognize and respond to the emotions of their peers. Also the lengthy programs, small groups and woodland resources give substantial time, space and opportunity for the adults to work with children on specific emotional goals and encourage the children to use the woodland resources to help develop emotional management strategies. (Forest School Wales, 2015) The Forest School leader is always focused on carefully observing the students. By this close observation, the leader is able to recognize when strong emotions are rising up in a child and be there to help them understand their emotions and provide strategies that may help the child manage their behaviours.
Increased self-esteem and development of emotional intelligence are both key results of a well run Forest School. They are two of the many benefits of Forest School on the overall well being of participants and two vital indicators of a happy and healthy childhood.
Falch-Lovesey, Sue. Lord, Clare. Ambrose, Louise. (2005) Forest School in Norfolk – Pilot Study Report and Evaluation. Norfolk County Council. Retrieved from http://www.schools.norfolk.gov.uk/view/NCC104249
Forest School Wales (2015). Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from http://www.forestschoolwales.org.uk/ysgol-goedwigforest-school/what-happens-in-a-session/emotional-intelligence/
O’Brien, Liz and Murray Richard. (2006). A marvelous Opportunity for Children to Learn: A participatory evaluation of Forest School in England and Wales. Forest Research. Retrieved from http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/fr0112forestschoolsreport.pdf/$FILE/fr0112forestschoolsreport.pdf