Are outdoor experiences enough?

forest children photo
Photo by Paul Stainthorp

This guest post has been shared with us by Caylin from Forest Schooled. This excellent website runs weekly posts linking Forest School experiences with research on education, child development, and general human nature.

Over to Forest Schooled ….

Recently I started to question whether providing fun and educational outdoor experiences for kids was enough. Of course taking them outside is incredibly important for a variety of reasons, but when it comes to learning I felt like there was more to it. After an encounter I had with a 9 year old boy named Samuel I became inspired to look a little deeper.

Samuel was constantly getting into trouble for the same behaviour which he exhibited day after day at the after school club I worked at. The adults in the setting consistently resorted to a rewards/punishments system of managing behaviour, but it was clear to all of us that it wasn’t changing anything. One day Samuel was given the ‘punishment’ of helping me tidy up after everyone had their snack and the one-to-one time gave me the opportunity to have a conversation with him.

I wanted to take advantage of this time to get to know him and and perhaps gain a better understanding of his behaviour. By asking questions that got Samuel to think more about the motivations and feelings surrounding his behaviour, I unintentionally facilitated a process of reflection. The result was that Samuel felt empowered to make positive choices about his own behaviour in the future and, when he did at a later date, he felt better about himself for not getting into trouble as much.

That conversation with Samuel made me realise how powerful reflection can be as a tool for learning. However, what I couldn’t quite grasp was how to effectively facilitate reflection for others in future situations. We all, as individuals, have our own methods for reflecting, whether consciously or subconsciously, on our own personal experiences, but facilitating it for others is much more tricky. I wanted to learn more about it all so I decided to do some research.

I conducted a survey asking for contributions from other Forest School leaders, teachers, parents, and anyone with any knowledge on the subject about it. I also attended a course with Dr. Roger Greenaway who has put a phenomenal amount of work into promoting and creating tools for reflection (what he calls reviewing) in education (see It took a few months to gather the information together, but the result of all that research became a 30 page guide called A Practical Guide for Forest School Leaders (or anyone, really!) to facilitating reflection in the outdoors.

The guide gives a host of practical advice and tips including activities to make reflection engaging and interesting. Here’s a couple activity examples from the guide:

Songs & Rhymes

Sign a song or say a rhyme together that sums up what has occurred (or will occur) during the session.

Example of a rhyme – this is great for working on memory:

The forest is deep.

The forest is wide.

The forest has lots of things inside.

It’s got _________

(This is where you ask the children what did you do or see in the forest today? If someone says, “A squirrel,” for example, you repeat the rhyme and add in “squirrel” at the end. Repeat as many times as your group wants to, adding in a new animal/item each time whilst also repeating in sequence all those that came before it!)


Have everyone close their eyes then ask a question such as, “How much did you enjoy today?” Learners can rank their experience by either putting their thumbs up for ‘enjoyed it’, thumbs pointing sideways for ‘neutral’, or thumbs pointing down for ‘did not enjoy it’. This is a simple way to gauge the feelings of individuals and groups overall without anyone necessarily being put on the spot. Try to follow this up by giving the opportunity for them to discuss their answer if they want to, either in pairs or with the group. For those whose thumbs were not pointing up, you could ask them, “What would have made it better to make your thumbs go up?”

Object talk

Give your group a prompt and ask them to look for objects that symbolise or represent their response to it. You could do this whilst walking from one place to another or just give everyone time to go explore and look for things. Once everyone has an object, you meet back together and each person presents their object and explains why they chose it.

If you want to learn more about reflection and how to facilitate it, including more activities like the ones shared above, you can download a PDF copy (FREE) or purchase a printed version (£5) of A Practical Guide for Forest School Leaders (or anyone, really!) to facilitating reflection in the outdoors at

If you feel like you could benefit by doing more than just reading through a 30 page PDF, the printed version of the guide includes an extra 7 Day Reflection Challenge to help make your learning more hands on. The challenge gets you practising reflection by utilising some of the advice and methods given in the guide. The goal is that by practising these techniques on ourselves, we’ll become better at facilitating them for others.

I hope the information shared in this blog and in the guide inspires you to find creative and meaningful ways to encourage reflection in those you work with. I know it’s certainly helped add a whole new dimension to my own outdoor adventures!

About Forest Schooled

Forest Schooled is a blog that explores themes and topics associated with the educational approach of Forest School. Weekly posts link stories about Forest School experiences with research on education, child development, and general human nature. The premise is that while we’re busy ‘teaching’ children, they are just as busy teaching us. If we take a moment to stop, notice, and reflect we can discover a lot more about ourselves and the world we live in – that’s what it means to get ‘Forest Schooled’.

Find out more or get in touch here…

10 Things a Puddle Can Do

This guest post has been shared with us by Faye from Forest School Villagers, one of our subscribers to the The Outdoor Year calendar. Her Forest School embraced Step in a Puddle and Splash Your Friends Day on 11th January with a ‘Big Splash’ !

Over to Faye …..

10 Things a Puddle Can Do
10 Things a Puddle Can Do

Step in a puddle and splash your friends day; what a great idea!

From muscle development to dealing with emotions! Let’s have a look at the amazing things a puddle can do!

  1. Boost stamina and strength; Often, children have natural desires to ‘jump’ in a puddle, resulting in muscle use by pushing themselves up off the floor to make a big splash, what a way to build up stamina!

  2. Build resilience; Children have no fear. All that fun splashing around makes a possible slip or a trip worthwhile risking, providing with valuable opportunity to brush off, get back up again, learning how to develop control of their bodies the whole time!

  3. Teach science; Puddles turn to ice! It can change its state of matter! A fun, engaging activity and learning opportunity for children of all ages!

  4. Be measured; A stick/ tape measure could help to measure the length, depth, breadth, radius, perimeter…

  5. Change the view; Peering into a puddle a reflection, changing the way we look at things such as the sky, wildlife, clouds, people, ourselves and much more…

  6. Promote an active lifestyle; Jumping, hopping splashing, circling… this must get the heart rate going, increase oxygen intake, muscle building… regular visits outside to play and learn from puddles could empower children to lead a healthy and active lifestyle!

  7. Develop friendships; Team work, problem solving, turn taking, this comes with disagreements, wanting to splash in the same puddles with not enough room, all empowering children to ….

  8. Develop their emotions; Experiencing these, children will feel happy, joyful, surprised, kind along with feelings like frustration at times, this all supports their emotional development and skills such as negotiation.

  9. Be a platform for role play; From being water (soup) for children to scoop up with pans to cook in the mud kitchen to becoming a castles moat while children be kings and queens, endless opportunities for children to develop their imagination which means a puddle can also ….

  10. Be an imagination booster!

It is certain that a puddle is entitled to be recognised as a play and learning tool amongst other things!

Faye has over 12 years experience working with children in a range of settings including a day nursery, primary school, playgroup, play scheme and currently teaches in FE and delivers forest school programme.

You can find her on Facebook here:


Outdoor Learning & Play – Why bother?

rain photo
Photo by grongar

It’s a hassle

Do you remember the time you really wanted to get outside with your class or group of children and the sky darkened?
What did you do?
Chances are you mentally pictured a bunch of wet kids (and hours down the road a bunch of annoyed parents) and did u turn and switched to some more covered or indoor activity.
It’s understandable that that becomes the instinctive reaction because:

  • most of us have grown up in a country where rain stopped play is part of the national identity (along with the wrong sort of leaves on the line stopping the trains)
  • most schools and children’s groups lack the basics when it comes to getting outside

Is that really the problem?

As a parent 12 years ago, I found that really frustrating. Surely the benefits outweighed the down side of my children getting a bit wet and a bit muddy?

I spoke to parents, I looked on forums online I asked everybody I knew if they could see the benefits of learning and playing outside for children.

I created massive lists to convince people to let my children and everybody’s children be outside, year round.

The evidence stacked up from round the globe:

  • Children are drawn naturally (without any interference from us) to earth, water, air and fire. Given the chance and opportunity they will learn and play for hours
  • Self belief, learning capacity, personal confidence, enthusiasm, communication and problem-solving ability, social awareness and emotional well-being all improve when children get outside or are taught outside regularly
  • Children learn to appreciate the environment and get a sense for how what we do impacts the environment
  • It addresses educational inequality –  getting outside positively re-motivates some children who just don’t get on in a traditional indoor classroom

and so it went on…. there’s masses of research to be found here too, on the site of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

and then the penny dropped.

It’s about the right tools for the job

It’s not about enthusiasm for outdoor learning and play it’s about the right tools for the job. The why is not the problem. It came down to the how.

Most teachers want more outdoors

Most teachers deeply value outdoor activity, learning or play but are just not equipped properly to deliver on it. I owed the world an apology.

Time to change focus. That’s when 12 years ago I stopped the why preaching and began to focus on the how to make it happen practically for enthusiastic schools, forest schools, groups and classes.

When I listened to teachers and joined their forums online I found the focus was on things like:

  • what clothes are strong enough to survive in schools?
  • what’s better – all in one suits or 2 pieces or bib and brace?
  • should I invest in waterproofs which are also breathable and windproof?
  • is it false economy to buy a cheaper waterproof suit in order to kit out the entire year group?

Those questions 12 years ago informed our business development and led to the Adventure Togs Schools & Groups Clothing Audit. This is a simple checklist for schools and groups to see if you’re properly equipped:

Adventure Togs Schools & Groups Clothing Audit

Does my school:

1. Have wellies available for all children? YES / NO
2. Have waterproof suits for all children? YES / NO
3. Require children to wear a sun hat? YES / NO
4. Require children to bring their own sunscreen into school? YES / NO
5. Have extra clothing available for layering in cold weather? YES / NO

With the right tools anything is possible.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”