Outdoor Learning Experiences

Supporting learning and engagement with the natural environment for all ages

Category: Blog

Forest school for adults?


This autumn I have been privileged to lead 3 events which have provided opportunities for adults to engage in forest school activities.

In September I lead a forest school session for participants at a workshop at Cumberland Lodge, in Windsor Great Park. Having spent the morning discussing PhD projects, students and supervisors were invited to a clearing in the woods, and offered a choice of resources and some ideas for what they might like to do. I am always amazed how quickly a large group can seem to disappear in a woodland area, as people settle in to doing something they enjoy. Some chose to work together, to develop a structure (in this case, the challenge was to build a boat) and create a scenario which explained why they and the boat found themselves in the woods. Others took on the challenge of building a bird’s nest. Some used leaves to make art, and others used some clay to create people and in one case, a whole community, struggling to climb to the peak of a tree trunk (there was lots of symbolism in that one!). It was generally quiet, people were focussed on what they wanted to do, and it was very calm. After about 2 hours it seemed naturally to come to an end, and the group who built the boat put on their play, and others shared the outcomes of their activities. I was struck by how rarely adults are given the opportunity to just ‘play’ – to chose what they want to do without being influenced by demands of work, or domestic chores, or obligations. Everyone really seemed to enjoy this time to just be, to explore their ideas and to be creative.

In October, the annual even Art in the Woods took place in Hitch Wood. About 150 people attended, and enjoyed the opportunity to work with clay, willow, fallen leaves, acorns and chestnut cases to create art. Children and adults attended. Some of our regulars came for their annual nature art and craft fix. Tree faces, more complex art installations, dens, mini-worlds, and willow weaving all combined so that after the event, the clearing in the woods was transformed. While some people enjoyed the opportunity to chat with friends, many were engrossed in the opportunity to create something, challenged to use natural materials. There is a certain joy in creating something which you can leave for others to enjoy as they walk by in subsequent days and weeks, knowing that ultimately it will decay and the woods will return to what they were.

In November, we held a wreath-making workshop. About a dozen people walked the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury, identifying foliage and other materials which might be useful in decorating a wreath. Although many plants are fading at this time of year, we found variegated box and holly, the final browned fronds of ferns, seed heads, mistletoe, and reds from crab apples, rose hips, mahonia, and holly. Using willow which grows in the gardens, a frame was woven. Then the decorating began. Old man’s beard, pine cones, and some dried satsumas and limes also added the final touches.

Throughout these three activities, people really stopped to notice nature, and were inspired by its beauty. For a few hours, they enjoyed the opportunity to use their imagination to be creative and to try something new. We tend to think that play is for children, but in fact, everyone deserves some moments to experiment, test out ideas, and to feel proud of what they have achieved. Nature affords us tremendous opportunities, if we allow ourselves the time.


Outdoor Learning Experiences at the Climate Strikes in London

Along with so many others in the UK, and around the world, we attended the climate strikes. Climate change will affect our lives in so many ways in the future. In fact, it already affecting our lives in so many ways.

A strong concern for the environment underpins the development of Outdoor Learning Experiences. Central to the ethos of Outdoor Learning Experiences is the belief that people need to engage with and learn about nature, so that they can then value it.

We aim to achieve this through a range of experiences, for example

  • Forest school encourages people to learn through play in woodland areas. Through touching, seeing, smelling and playing with things, children engage with nature first hand. Collecting and making things in nature art and craft encourages people to observe and examine natural objects more clearly, and to develop a relationship with nature. Regular and repeated visits to a site allow people to develop an attachment to a natural place.
  • Visits to farms allow people to walk through the countryside, and learn more about how it is managed, including the challenges of trying to meet our needs for food while also caring for the environment.
  • Outdoor science lessons enable children to learn in more detail about nature and wildlife all around them.

These activities are not just for children – and Art in the Woods, our annual celebration of nature art and craft in Hitch Wood, is coming up on October 13th, 2019 and open to all. Farm visits are offered to school children, University students, and other community groups, upon request.  The annual Open Farm Sunday provides an opportunity for people to come to our farm open day in June each year.

Environmental change will shape what we can grow in future years, whether that be annual crops for food or tress planted now with the expectation that they will reach maturity in 40 or more years.  Climate change may change our landscape, the wildlife, and our farming, over the next generation. So attending the climate strikes in London was a natural thing for us to do.

Open Farm Sunday 2017

June 11th proved to have perfect weather for our Open Farm Sunday at East Hall Farm. Our even ran alongside a National Garden Open Scheme event at St. Paul’s Walden Bury, so that visitors to the gardens could stop by to learn about food production, farming and the countryside, and taste ice-cream made by a local dairy farmer, and our visitors could go onto enjoy the gardens, and tea and cakes offered by the local parish church.

Several farmers and organisations came together to provide an interesting range of displays. The Patemans  joined us from Burleigh Farm, Knebworth, with a fantastic display about soils, and also arranged that a John Deere tractor and no-till drill were on display.

Within the Walls, a care-farming project, was represented and provided nature art and craft activities for children to complete.



From East Hall Farm we had information about the nature conservation work we do as part of our higher level scheme agreement, and also the crops we grow, as well as a small tractor which lots of children enjoyed sitting on. We also had tractor-trailer rides around the farm, showing our mob-grazing of Hereford and Sussex cattle, crops, field margins and conservation work.

Learning about our crops, with children climbing on a small tractor in the background

Tom Chapman from Meadow Hay Dairies brought a mobile milking unit and talked about production of raw milk (unpasteurised), while Claire Daw from Dawlicious sold home-made ice-cream made at Daw’s farm at Hertford Heath

A steady flow of visitors enabled us to host about 250 people over the course of the afternoon, without there every being a queue for the tractor-trailer rides.

Many thanks to all those who completed visitor feedback forms, which allow us to plan for future years. The tractor-trailer rides proved the most popular offering. It would seem that most of our visitors had not been to an open farm Sunday before, and for some, it was their first visit to a farm.  We were pleased to hear that so many people rated the event good and excellent , and that almost all claimed they had learned something new about farming during their visit. Particularly pleasing was visitor’s growing appreciation of farmers’ role in managing the environment.

Open Farm Sunday 2018 will be on June 10th, so if you missed us this year, or would like to return again next year, note the date. Lots of farms open there doors at Open Farm Sunday, so you would always try another farm as well.

At East Hall Farm we also offer visits to school groups – so feel free to get in touch if you would like to book to bring a group or class on a farm tour or for Forest School, or contact Within the Walls for gardening activities. See our website Outdoor Learning Experiences

The best season for farm visits and other outdoor learning is coming up!

FH3324The best season for farm visits and other outdoor learning is coming up. From May- early July, crops are well established, and it’s easy to distinguish between wheat, oats and barley. Livestock which have been over-wintered in barns are back out in field. And crucially for school trips – its warmer!

Research on outdoor learning indicates that it is stimulating and memorable. Children are inspired and excited by the new setting, the chance to touch, see, smell, hear –  and take part in – activities.

A https://buycbdproducts.com trip is more than a day out. It’s a chance to link all that hard work in the classroom with the deal world, to fit learning into its wider context, and to show its relevance to life beyond the books and school gates. The best outdoor fieldtrips are embedded within classroom learning, and this allows teachers and children to get the most out of the event.

Trips can provide an inspiring way to

-kick start a topic, which is then followed up in the classroom

-develop a topic. Some preparatory work prior to the trip builds up children’s knowledge, so they can get the most out of the learning opportunities offered by the trip, and learning is further developed back in the classroom after the trip

-celebrate the completion of a topic a trip can illustrate how all the theory and classroom learning can be put into practice.

Now is the time to start planning. Look on the Countryside Classroom, FACE, LEAF, or Natural England websites to search for farmers near you that host groups of school children. Book your date now before they get too busy.

Plan – while there is plenty to learn from a farm visit, it’s helpful if teachers can suggest to the farmer what topics or aspects of food, farming or the landscape will connect with what the children have been doing in the classroom. But don’t be too close-minded: be prepared to be inspired, to see links to learning in unexpected ways. The diagram on the Outdoor learning experiences home page of a tractor and curriculum links, from FACE, shows so many possibilities for learning on a farm.

What are children learning at forest school?


nature of learning blog wordleWhat are children learning at forest school?

What are children learning at forest school?No one doubts that forest school is a fun experience, but how can we know what children are learning at forest school, what they get out of it?

Each child is different in terms of background, knowledge, experiences, skills, fears and enthusiasms. Yet so many seem to enjoy forest school, and teachers and parents often have stories about how the experience changed their child. How do we turn these stories into a body of compelling evidence for the benefits of forest school? There are a growing number of studies which have measured or assessed the impact of forest school on children often focussing on specific issues such as physical or mental health, or social and citizenship skills (e.g. Davis and Waite, 2005; Knight, 2009; Lovell and Roe, 2009; Maynard, 2007; O’Brien and Murray, 2007; Swarbrick et al., 2004,).

In order to contribute to this body of evidence, I started out by observing children at forest school, to begin to understand how it affects children. However, my own observations could not cover enough sessions and children to extrapolate the individual stories to develop a wider evidence base, so I had to approach this question in a different way.

I chose to draw on the community of forest school leaders who are engaged in leading sessions year after year, with a wider range of classes. They see many children experiencing forest school, and so for this research I chose to draw on their experience to be ‘conduits of evidence’ (Waite and Goodenough, 2010). Drawing on the existing network of Forest School leaders in cluster groups, I was able to recruit 20 forest school leaders who were each interviewed about what they believed children learn while at forest school. The interviews focussed on three broad themes: what children are learning at forest school, the significance of the outdoor space, and how children responded to forest school. This blog is confined to the first issue: what forest school leaders perceived children were learning at forest school.

Analysis of the interviews identified topics which came up in the discussions with forest school leaders, depicted in the figure.

Forest school leaders acknowledged that there were many potential links to the national curriculum, but these were not explicitly pursued. Instead, forest school practitioners highlighted other aspects of learning at forest school. The most commonly mentioned themes were development of relationships with others, and development of relationships with nature. In the interviews there was also discussion of kinaesthetic and sensory learning styles, as well as children learning to take responsibility and assess risk.

The forest school leaders perceived that children were learning about themselves: their capabilities, both physical and emotional, and how to respond to challenges. The challenge of a new setting affects children in different ways, with many interviews reporting examples of those children who are confident in a classroom setting taking time to gain confidence in an outdoor setting, and those who struggle in the classroom enjoying the space and different learning styles of the outdoor setting

Practitioners observed children developing relationships with others: learning to play together and to work together to achieve tasks. They also claimed children learned about themselves in terms of what activities they feel comfortable engaging in, and how to overcome fears and uncertainty when encouraged to try new things. Malone’s research (Malone, 2008) suggests such self-knowledge and team-working skills are transferable to the classroom and can increase the ability to pay attention and concentrate.

Forest school provides an environment in which children can learn about the natural environment. However, in interviews it became apparent that the forest school leaders do not see nature education as the primary goal of forest school, but incidental to the activity. Children engaged in nature through being outdoors, using natural materials to build dens, do nature art and craft, or just by balancing on logs and searching for minibeasts, and while doing all these activities, they were also learning about the natural environment.

Forest school leaders identified ways in which children’s experiences at forest school could progress year on year, so that it remains challenging as children grow older. Leaders felt children of different ages gain differently from forest school and claimed that as children grow they ‘take on’ different things, building their skills and knowledge. For example, social skills evolve as children get graduate from playing alongside each other to together, and communication and negotiation skills develop as group work becomes more complex. Physical boundaries are adjusted as children get older, allowing children to explore over a wider area and take on more challenging and risky tasks. Unlike many other activities for children, forest school leaders described how forest school teaches children to judge risks rather than attempting to make a risk-free environment.

It was apparent that the forest school practitioners interviewed did not appear to see forest school as an opportunity for delivery of the national curriculum, even though potential links were identified (especially in science, geography, but also language and writing), but they felt that informal learning at forest school could support and contribute to classroom teaching. Forest school sessions were often seen as quite separate from classroom teaching, often being led by different people. Learning styles at forest school were very different from the directive approach of the classroom: more play and peer-led, less directed by teachers. This suits some children more than others. The forest school leaders saw themselves as facilitators of learning, rather than instructors delivering knowledge.

Full details of the research are published in Harris, F. 2015 The nature of learning at forest school: Practitioners’ perspectives. Education 3-13. Online.  DOI: 10.1080/03004279.2015.1078833 or try http://tinyurl.com/z6wug69



Davis, B. and S. Waite 2005. Forest school: opportunities and challenges in the early years. Plymouth: University of Plymouth.

Knight, S. 2009. Forest schools and outdoor learning the early years London: Sage

Lovell, R. and J. Roe 2009. Physical and mental health benefits of participation in forest school, Countryside recreation network, 17, no. 1: 20-23.

Malone, K. 2008. Every Experience Matters: An evidence based research report on the role of learning outside the classroom for children’s whole development from birth to eighteen years, Report commissioned by Farming and Countryside Education for UK Department Children, School and Families, Wollongong, Australia.

Maynard, T. 2007 O’Brien, L. and R. Murray 2007. Forest School and its impacts on young children: case studies in Britain, Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 6, 249-265.

O’Brien, L. and Murray, R. 2007 Forest schools in Great Britain: an initial exploration, Contemporary issues in early childhood 8, no. 4: 320 – 331.

Swarbrick, N., G. Eastwood and K. Tutton 2004. Self –esteem and successful interaction as part of the Forest School project Support for Learning, 19, no. 3: 142-146.




Summer camp success!

Our Forest of Frogs summer camp was a great success. Over two weeks from mid – late August,  children aged 6-12 came to the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury for a mixture of forest school, nature art and craft, and drama workshops. Each week we started working with the children to identify characters and draft a plot, which was then turned into scenes. Script were written and dance routines choreographed over the course of the week. Children also enjoyed map reading, camp fires, smores (toasted marshmallows sandwiched between biscuits), and lots of creative work with clay and natural materials.  We used the resources from the garden to make props, including some beautiful headresses  and crowns made from woven willow, flowers and leaves. Each week ended with a fantastic afternoon of theatre, as both the younger (aged 6-8) and older (aged9-12) children put on their shows. The plays were staged in different parts of the garden. The children really enjoyed it, and some are already urging their parents to book for next year. After the success of this year, there will definitely be a summer camp next year: we will post dates and photos soon.

Welcome to Outdoor Learning Experiences

Welcome to outdoor learning experiences, a web site which brings together outdoor learning practice and research. This site covers a range of themes from forest school , farm education, science field trips, to current debates and research about learning in the natural environment. Feel free to pick up on the strands that interest you most.