All good things are wild and free

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At Bristol Forest School we believe all children should have access to nature on a regular basis, to play and learn with natural materials and experience the seasonal changes that affect our green spaces and environment. We believe that children need to connect with the natural world to recognise their place within nature, and to grow up enjoying it and wanting to care for it.

The Origins of Forest School: what makes it ‘Forest School’?

In 2005 the Forest Education Initiative (FEI) formulated a UK-wide definition of an authentic Forest School:

“An inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve, develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a local woodland environment.”

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How does Bristol Forest School successfully offer a positive, authentic Forest School experience?

  • A routine of repeated and regular visits to the same woodland (or natural) site, preferably through the changing seasons. A year is considered most beneficial, with children showing positive changes within six to nine visits. Bristol Forest School (BFS) programmes are set for a minimum of six sessions, or booked in termly blocks.
  • IMG_2112Forest School needs to take place in a natural space – with some trees at least. This is to support the development of a stronger bond between us and our natural world. BFS has its own private woodland that the children can take pride in developing.
  • Beyond the woodland’s offerings, Forest School equipment is focused predominately on natural objects and materials such as mud, wood, leaves and water to stimulate creativity and imagination. BFS offers a variety of natural, exploratory areas including tunnels, dens, seesaws, balancing bridges, a leaf kitchen and charcoal painting. Planned activities are all centred around natural materials.
  • To increase self-esteem, Forest School follows a risk-benefit process; at BFS, participants will learn tangible, real-life tasks such as using traditional woodland tools, collecting wood and fire lighting .
  • Forest School aims to create positive outdoor experiences through child-centred, achievable tasks. Participants are taught new skills and shown new ideas, but there is a large element of choice and emphasis on play. BFS sessions comprise new activities alongside play, and routines such as orienteering, woodland games and circle time.
  • A series of Forest School sessions is designed through routine and a progression of learning. At BFS we create a stable, consistent environment, such as playing within boundaries and sensory exploration. As participants get used to the process they will have the confidence to explore further and challenge themselves more, building up to tool work and exploring further away from adults in hiding games. The children’s skills and knowledge are built up over time, along with increased confidence and independence in ‘their’ woods.
  • To run a Forest School, leaders must be fully qualified Level Three practitioners with First Aid Training. All BFS Leaders are fully qualified check out our Team!
  • Forest School environments advocate a very high adult:pupil ratioour BFS groups are usually 10-12 children, with a maximum of 16. This allows each participant to have a tailored experience, to support individual learning styles and to develop a unique relationship with the practitioner.


Other advantages of Bristol Forest School:

  • IMG_4792Bristol Forest School was the first Forest School to be set up in Bristol, founded by current FS Leader, Andy Wilson in 2004. The BFS Pre-School was created by Sophie Butler in 2011. BFS has been running successfully for nearly two decades during which time thousands of children have visited us.
  • Our eight-acre, private site is secure and safe. Clear boundaries allow children to explore without dealing with over-enthusiastic dogs or hiking groups! We also have the benefit of on-site structures for sheltering, compost toilets, cob ovens and a bespoke wooden roundhouse.
  • BFS is located in the Victorian pleasure gardens at Leigh Court Farm – an historical site with a wealth of indigenous plants alongside ‘exotic’ flora. We see natural processes and seasonal change, and come to know the textures, smells and sounds of a real woodland.
  • BFS is a small organisation with a close-knit staff team. This means everyone who visits our woods can feel they have a personalised experience, and is treated as an individual.