Background to Forest School in Europe and in the UK.

Forest School originated in Europe in the early 20th century as a way of teaching about the natural world. By the 1980's it became part of the Danish early years programme.

The Forest School model originates in Scandinavia and involves participants journeying by foot (if possible) to a local woodland environment to learn outdoors on a regular sustained basis. It is a long-term client/child-led, educational process that promotes, observes and explicitly supports the social, emotional and physical development of children, young people and adults in an outdoor, preferably woodland, environment.

In 1993 a group of childcare students visiting Denmark witnessed the benefits of Forest School for themselves and brought the idea back to Bridgewater College. Here, lecturers that accompanied the students considered how they could apply what they had seen to the childcare provision in their own Early Years Excellence Centre. Since then the idea has grown and Forest Schools are spreading throughout Britain.


Forest School is growing exponentially in Scotland with FEI taking the lead in the development of Forest School from 2003 when there were only about four trained Forest School Leaders in Scotland. From 2003 to 2005, four initial training programmes, supported by Forestry Commission Scotland, created a core group of trained Forest School leaders in Scotland.  A small number of these people became active Level 3 Forest School practitioners and trainers, with a wider range of individuals and organisations able to deliver training in Scotland.  Since this time there has been a shift in focus from training the wider network to targeted training for teachers.

 In 2010/11, a targeted Forest School training programme for schools was delivered in four key geographical regions across Scotland, to build on existing capacity, and funded by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Scottish Government Learning Directorate. There are now over 500 trained leaders and assistant leaders. Delivery is mainly in primary schools but is now beginning to spread from nursery to adult groups. The next steps are to embed Forest School in the wider context of outdoor learning in Scotland.

An active Forest School Working Group guides the strategic direction of Forest School, managed by the Outdoor & Woodland Learning (OWL) Forest School Scotland Co-ordinator. This group has representatives from Forest School practitioners and trainers, OWL cluster groups and key national bodies. The minutes of these meetings are available in the Resources library of this website. 

The documents FEI Forest School Scotland - a context May 2013 and FEI Forest School Scotland Evaluation Framework February 2013 can be viewed or downloaded here