What is Forest Preschool? Exploring Forest School Education

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Forest preschool, an educational model originating in Scandinavia, has garnered widespread acclaim globally for its emphasis on outdoor learning in natural settings.

This innovative approach prioritizes connecting children with nature, offering hands-on experiences that facilitate holistic development.

preschool child exploring the forest

By immersing youngsters in the great outdoors, forest preschools provide a dynamic environment where children engage with their surroundings, fostering curiosity, creativity, and a deeper understanding of the natural world.

What is Forest Preschool?

Forest preschools provide preschool students with the opportunity to spend much of their school day learning and playing outdoors in the natural environment.

Guided by experienced preschool teachers, children explore natural settings, fostering a deep connection to the natural world while developing essential social, emotional, and cognitive skills.

What Age is Best for Forest School?

Forest schools typically cater to children ranging from early childhood to primary school age, generally between 3 to 7 years old.

However, some forest schools may offer programs for older children as well.

The best age for forest school largely depends on the individual child’s developmental readiness and interest in outdoor learning experiences.

Young children, particularly those in the early years, tend to benefit greatly from the hands-on exploration and sensory-rich environment provided by forest school settings.

What is Another Name for a Forest School?

Another name for a forest school is “nature school” or “outdoor school.” These terms are often used interchangeably to describe educational programs that take place primarily in natural outdoor settings, such as

  • forests
  • woodlands
  • meadows
  • or other natural environments.

Benefits of Forest Preschool

Forest preschools offer numerous benefits, including:

Children experience nature firsthand, developing environmental literacy, problem-solving skills, and a lifelong connection to the natural world.

Related: 10 Staggering Benefits of Outdoor Play in Early Childhood

Outdoor play and exploration promote

  • social skills
  • emotional resilience
  • and empathy

as children learn to collaborate, communicate, and navigate challenges in unstructured natural settings.

Outdoor play stimulates gross and fine motor skills, as children climb trees, balance on logs, and engage in imaginative play with natural materials.

Through nature-based learning experiences, children develop

  • language arts
  • math
  • science
  • and social studies skills

in meaningful contexts, fostering a love of learning that extends beyond the classroom.

Forest Preschool Curriculum and Learning Approach

Forest preschools utilize an emergent curriculum approach, where learning emerges organically from the children’s interests, inquiries, and interactions with the natural environment.

Related: Child-Led Learning Tips, Benefits, and Examples

Teachers act as facilitators, supporting children’s exploration and inquiry while weaving intentional teaching practices into outdoor experiences.

Nature-based learning experiences provide a rich context for developing language arts, math, science, and social studies skills, fostering a love of learning that extends beyond the classroom.

Key Features of Forest Preschool Programs

Forest preschools typically operate on a weekly rhythm, with full-day classes held in all weather conditions, except for extreme circumstances.

These programs prioritize small class sizes and maintain high staff-to-child ratios to ensure individualized attention and supervision.

Key Principles of Forest School

Here are some key principles of Forest School as a whole.

At the heart of Forest School is a commitment to outdoor learning.

Children engage in activities like tree climbing, building shelters, observing wildlife, and participating in nature-inspired games.

This immersive experience allows them to develop a profound appreciation for the environment.

Forest School values the autonomy of the child.

Activities are often initiated by the children themselves, allowing them to follow their interests and curiosities.

This approach fosters a sense of independence and self-confidence.

Learning in a Forest School is hands-on and experiential.

Instead of traditional teaching methods, children learn through direct experience, trial and error, and exploration.

This approach supports a deeper understanding of natural processes and encourages problem-solving skills.

Children attending Forest School are encouraged to dress appropriately for outdoor exploration.

This typically includes

  • wearing layers suitable for the weather
  • waterproof clothing
  • sturdy boots
  • hats
  • and gloves.

The goal is to ensure that children are comfortable and well-prepared for a range of outdoor activities.

What Do You Do at The First Forest Preschool Session?

At the first forest school session, educators typically focus on building a sense of community and familiarity with the natural environment.

Activities may include

  • introductory games
  • nature walks
  • exploration of the forest environment
  • and group discussions about safety guidelines and rules for respectful behavior in nature.

This initial session aims to establish a foundation of trust and connection between the children, educators, and the natural world.

Nature School vs. Forest School

While the terms “nature school” and “forest school” are sometimes used interchangeably, differences exist.

Nature schools may encompass a broader range of outdoor environments, including meadows and parks, while Forest Schools specifically focus on wooded areas.

Both share the common goal of outdoor education, but the choice of setting may vary based on the program’s objectives.

Forest Schools in the USA

Forest School has found a home in the United States, with educators and communities recognizing the benefits of outdoor education.

Numerous Forest Schools across the country provide children with opportunities to connect with nature, sparking curiosity and a love for the environment.

Who Created Nature Schools?

Nature schools, including forest schools, trace their roots back to Scandinavia, particularly Denmark and Sweden.

The forest school concept was pioneered by Danish educator Ella Flautau in the early 1950s as a way to provide young children with regular access to nature and outdoor play.

Inspired by Flautau’s work, the forest school movement gained momentum in Europe and eventually spread to other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, North America, and beyond.

Forest Preschool Enrollment and Admission

Forest preschools typically offer admissions on a rolling basis, with prospective families attending open houses or adult information sessions to learn more about the program.

Admissions policies prioritize diversity and inclusion, welcoming students of any race, ethnic origin, or background.

Additionally, forest preschools adhere to nondiscriminatory policies in the administration of educational policies and programs.


Forest preschools provide children with happy experiences and a lifetime love of learning by offering ample time to experience nature, engage in imaginative play, and develop essential skills in an outdoor learning environment.

Through intentional teaching practices, forest preschools foster the holistic development of young learners, preparing them for a successful transition to elementary school and beyond.

Wander Wildschool

Happy Forest Schooling, Wild Wanderer!

-Wander Wildschool

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