‘Risky play’ good for children, says Forest School study

Children are more likely to flourish when allowed to indulge in “risky play” outdoors unhindered by excessive adult supervision, a new report suggests. Education experts spent a year studying a group of 13 children from Meadowlane Primary School in Cardiff as part of a Forest School programme to assess how our woodlands can help their development.

The report concluded that children were adept at policing themselves and were more likely to learn from the environment around them if permitted to play without too much adult interference.

Cathy Velmans, a Forest School Leader with the Forestry Commission Wales Woodlands for Learning (WfL) team, said, “The children valued their free time and self-directed play.
“This ‘risky play’ was managed through discussion with the children and the nurturing of positive self-regulation. The children managed their own behaviours.

“They were often observed policing invisible boundaries and played within earshot of adults, who were available to loosely monitor the children, aware of where they were and wandering occasionally to find and talk to them.”

At the start of the programme, the children were more inclined to engage in activities that were being led or directed by the project staff. When given free time, they often played cops and robbers.

However, this changed noticeably during the year and their choices gradually leaned more towards self–directed activities as boundaries and freedom to choose expanded as the programme progressed.

“The children were seen or heard spending more time investigating, exploring and participating in imaginative activities and games,” said Cathy.

“The option to make their own decisions allowed them to follow their own interests and therefore become more engaged in their learning experiences.”

The report was compiled using evidence recorded by children on a camcorder who also undertook their own assessments of their Forest School sessions, which took place in woodlands on the campus at University of Wales Institute Cardiff – now known as Cardiff Metropolitan University.

The Forest School Leaders took weekly notes, observing how the children connected with the environment across the changing seasons, with input from the teachers involved in the project.

The report challenges whether self esteem can be measured accurately over a Forest School programme and also questions the ability of the onlooker to make judgements on self esteem at all.

Co-author Martin Cook, UWIC lecturer and Forest School Leader, said, “Within the Forest School debate, measuring how well a child can use a tool at the beginning of a Forest School programme and how confident they are at using that tool by the end, is an achievable measure.

“Whether that success in using the tool actually impacts upon self-esteem is open to debate, as if success in a particular task is not important to an individual it will not impact upon their self-worth.”

It’s hoped that the report will add to the growing evidence base to support the benefits of Forest School – which is widely practised in Scandinavian countries – and provide ideas and tips for others looking to run extended Forest School programmes.

More info...
To see the full report, called The Queens Wood Forest School report, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-8PKKXQ

More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales

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