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Building Resilience through Forest School

Resilience is a important lifelong skill which allows children to adapt to change or stressful situations successfully, in a healthy and constructive manner. Put simply it’s an ability to cope with the ups and downs of life.

Resilience is cultivated through a child's exposure to various challenges and experiences, shaping their ability to adapt and thrive in the face of adversity. By repeating these or similar experiences, independently or with support from an adult, children learn the adaptive skills that allow them to overcome problems or setbacks and try again.  It is known that children develop their resilience through experiences rather than through teaching and this makes Forest School, and its related outdoor experiences, perfect for resilience building.  

The natural environment is itself a challenge. If it’s not the uneven terrain, its the weather or the countless obstacles. This forces children to improvise, adapt and overcome. Additionally, the forest setting offers a much calmer environment compared to the hustle and bustle of a crowded classroom or the intensity of a competitive hockey match allowing greater time and space to consider strategies and actions. 

The pupils work which means they have to learn to cope with other peoples ideas and differences as well as use their imagination, as there are no toys but hundreds of loose parts such as leaves, sticks and mud. It's left to them how best these tools can be used and they need to work things out, try different options, and persist even when things get tough simply, by design. 

This can often provide the opportunity for pupils who do not excel in the classroom to flourish and grow as they are provided with an alternative environment and find something they are good at through exploratory play. Unlike in the classroom, Forest School activities are more likely to allow the children to direct and control their own activities. When in control, children can develop a stronger sense of self and take the opportunity to challenge themselves at their own pace and in their own way. Not only does this give them an understanding of their boundaries, it often allows them to realise that they are capable of more than they thought or able to figure out a way to do something or overcome an obstacle. 

The Forest School leader is there is also there to model resilience by acting out coping strategies that help them deal with and solve problems or set backs. Forest School leaders plan sessions that introduce risky elements such as tools and fire very gradually when the children will benefit from them. This helps to build confidence, independence and teaches the children how to stay safe. Small, achievable tasks are planned into sessions that give children the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them and have a sense of achievement at the end.

At times the Forest leader may purposefully make mistakes and either ask the children what they could do or show them. The Leader's behaviour and actions are often mirrored by the children throughout sessions, as the Leader is seen as the ‘expert’ by the child and someone to learn from.

As Forest School sessions take place regularly, at Leweston Prep the sessions are offered on a weekly, they give the children the opportunity to become more confident in the new environment. As children become more confident they are more likely to take risks and initiate their own play, using their own creativity. The majority of a Forest School session is made up of free play, giving children the freedom, time and space to explore their own interests, make their own decisions, set goals and solve problems. Regular sessions also mean that the routine and rules of Forest School become embedded and children can become more responsible for their safety. This then builds their self-confidence and independence.

In short Forest School provides children with the building blocks they need for life and its creative and supportive philosophy develops confidence, self-esteem and resilience. To find out more about Leweston Forest School visit the website.