With the easing of pandemic-related restrictions for UK schools, educators’ focus has turned to mitigating the impacts of Covid-19 on children’s learning and wellbeing (see Kumar Jha & Arora, 2020). Certainly, the long-term impact on children’s formal learning is yet to be manifest. However, there is a perceived need for learners to ‘catch up’, which, in the current culture of performativity and testing, provides significant challenges.
Clarke (2020) stresses the interdependence of children’s academic achievement and their wellbeing; hence, focusing on both of these must be considered fundamental to ‘catching up’ from a holistic perspective. During the pandemic, according to Carpenter and Carpenter (2020), many children may have experienced loss – of ‘routine, structure, friendship, opportunity, and freedom’. They suggest that a recovery curriculum would offer a ‘systematic, relationships-based approach to reigniting the flame of learning in each child’, focusing on five ‘levers’: ‘relationships’, ‘community’, ‘transparent curriculum’, ‘metacognition’ and ‘space – to be, to rediscover self, and to find their voice on learning’ (Carpenter & Carpenter, 2020).
With this in mind, we argue that outdoor learning, and Forest School (FS) in particular, are well placed to support both children and teaching staff in such a ‘recovery curriculum’. Forest School is a learner-centred, experiential education programme delivered in local woodland (FSA, 2012), providing opportunity to meet the aims of the curriculum in a playful context (Coates & Pimlott-Wilson, 2019). Forest School practice focuses upon children’s relationships with peers, adults and the environment in an expansive pedagogical space (Harris, 2018; Rekers-Power, 2020). By creating the conditions for ‘catching up’ – with the curriculum, the learning environment and with each other – that can benefit children and teaching staff post-lockdown, the context of FS may offer three added dimensions to Carpenter and Carpenter’s fifth pillar of ‘space’: temporal, physical and dialogical.
‘Outdoor learning, and Forest School in particular, are well placed to support both children and teaching staff in a “recovery curriculum”.’
First, the temporal space of FS away from the formal classroom offers learners a chance to play, to reflect, to explore and to make choices about what to do within a supportive structure, as well as providing teachers with increased opportunity for observing children and being play partners (Rekers-Power, 2020).
Second, the physical space of FS affords multiple benefits for social-emotional and physical development (Fjørtoft, 2001) and wellbeing for adults and children (see BERA’s recent series on Wellbeing and Being Outdoors).
Finally, FS has the potential to offer a dialogic space, in which participants are afforded equal status as co-constructors of knowledge and understanding. When positioned by adults as active, competent architects of, and contributors to, their own learning, children’s agency is foregrounded (Martin-Millward, 2020). Through collaborative activities, active negotiation and decision-making with peers and adults, within the context of FS, children can (re)establish their voices and engagement in the learning process.
As educators navigate children’s learning post-lockdown, we argue that Forest School has the potential to redress some of the losses children have experienced during this period. Providing space to be, move, reflect, re-establish connections and relationships, and actively contribute can offer a means of supporting learners and teachers through this landscape of ‘recovery’ and ‘catching up’.
Carpenter, B., & Carpenter, M. (2020). A recovery curriculum: Loss and life for our children and schools post pandemic. https://www.evidenceforlearning.net/recoverycurriculum/
Clarke, T. (2020). Children’s wellbeing and their academic achievement: The dangerous discourse of ‘trade-offs’ in education. Theory and Research in Education, 8(3), 263–294. https://doi.org/10.1177/1477878520980197
Coates, J. K., & Pimlott-Wilson, H. (2019). Learning while playing: Children’s Forest School experiences in the UK. British Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 21–40. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3491
Forest School Association [FSA]. (2012). Full principles and criteria for good practice. https://forestschoolassociation.org/full-principles-and-criteria-for-good-practice/
Fjørtoft, I. (2001). The natural environment as a playground for children: The impact of outdoor play activities in pre-primary school children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29, 111–117. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1012576913074
Harris, F. (2018). Outdoor learning spaces: The case of Forest School. Area, 50(2), 222–231. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12360
Kumar Jha, A., & Arora, A. (2020). The neuropsychological effects of E-learning on children. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 54, 102306. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajp.2020.102306
Martin-Millward, T. (2020) Choices, choices, choices: The nature of children’s agency within a Forest School context [Unpublished PhD thesis]. Oxford Brookes University.
Rekers-Power, A. (2020) Exploring young children’s participation and motive orientation in the classroom and at forest school [Unpublished PhD thesis]. University of Wales Trinity Saint David. https://repository.uwtsd.ac.uk/id/eprint/1410/