Research clearly shows that outdoor play is so important for a child’s creativity and critical thinking. But how is Forest School different from other outdoor or play-based programs?

Forest School is essentially regular, outdoor, nature-based learning that focuses on the holistic development of the child. (Worrol, 2016). The practice of using the outdoors as a part of the education and all round development is not a new phenomenon. This teaching method originated in Scandinavia and has been inspired by the work of pioneers such as Friedrich Froebel. But in the past two decades it has been embraced by many other countries, including Australia where it's often referred to as 'bush school'.


Research clearly shows that outdoor play is so important for a child’s creativity and critical thinking. But how is Forest School different from other outdoor or play-based programs?

Listed below are some of the pedagogical principles that are at the base of the Forest School approach.

Forest School provides a holistic approach to children’s learning and development


This approach is concerned with the development of every child’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, creative and spiritual potential. It seeks to engage children in the learning process and encourages personal and collective responsibility.

Each child is unique and competent

Every child is unique and competent in their own way, and the way they think, feel and interact with others reflects this. Some children are outgoing, while some are shy; some like physical activities, while others love stories and music. To view the child as unique and competent is to view their potential.

Children need an environment to flourish and grow their positive self-esteem

Children are active and interactive learners Children’s active engagement in the learning process and their engagement with others in interactive activities or engagement with materials forms the dynamics for knowledge and understanding. Through active learning children are constantly changing, adjusting, and rearranging meaning and understanding of things.

Children need real life, first hand experiences

Children are observers and explorers by nature and through real-life, first hand experiences they develop an understanding of themselves and the environment they are in. A child’s all round physical, emotional, linguistic, cognitive and sensory development is fostered through first hand experiences.

Children thrive in child centred environments

This environment takes into account children’s daily lives— including the need for restful areas, places for children who need sleep-time and creative areas. There should be an interconnectedness between indoors and outdoors, and an understanding that children need to be in harmony with the environment.

Children need time to experiment and develop independent thinking

Children need time to play and explore and experiment with their ideas and knowledge. They need to try things out, make mistakes, try something else, repeat their play, and consolidate ideas.

At Forest School children have the freedom to explore, play, build, create, imagine, learn and use all their senses to experience the natural environment. They engage with one another and with the environment when and how they choose, at their own pace. For this reason we say that Forest School, as well as all of our nature play programs, are child-directed and play based.


  • Children, and adults at Forest School however, are expected to follow our code of conduct, which is there to ensure we all behave safely and respectfully. ​

  • There is a strong emphasis on educators observing children, learning with them and supporting their play and development without unnecessary interference.

  • The guiding principle at Forest School is that children are competent and engaged learners, and with guidance and support, are able to lead their own learning process in directions far beyond what an educator can initiate on their own. (Forest Schools Canada, 2014)

  • The ethos has grown in popularity in Australia over the past decade as a response to growing concerns over “cotton wool kids” - which is, overly protected from risks and rarely exposed to nature.

Nature Play, Bush Kindy, Forest School -  what is the difference?


There is no real difference, they are just different names for essentially the same thing. Some centres feel that bush is more Australian and therefore call their programs Bush Kindy or Bush Kinder. We are surrounded by rainforest and it seemed more appropriate to call ours Forest School.

There is however a difference in the sessions we offer. Our Nature Playgroups are two hour sessions with a heavy focus on free play, nature based craft, songs and stories. 

Our other programs including our Forest School sessions encourage children to use real tools, creating and cooking over a camp fire and other riskier activities. There is still lots of free play and child-led exploration.

Isn't it dangerous?

Forest School educators are trained to risk assess both the environment and the activity. We constantly look for possible hazards and put control measures in place to keep the children in our care as safe as possible. Our job is to make the environment as safe as possible for children to benefit from risky play and experience nature in it's truest form.

Some activities may seem ‘risky’ - such as climbing trees, or using tools - but they are in fact managed so well that the risk benefits far outweigh the risk.

Read more about risky play for children and our commitment to safety and well-being.

What do children do at Forest School?


The activities that happen in a Forest School vary depending on the season, climate, landscape, the children are attend and most importantly, their interests. 

Some activities are usually provided, but rather than being adult-led, each child chooses and tailors the activity to suit them, while the leaders observe their preferences and development. Sometimes children will work independently other times will work as a team in order to create something, support one another, or solve a problem.

What all Forest Schools have in common is an approach to early childhood education that focuses on outdoor play and fosters environmental stewardship. The activities are child-led and play-based. Children learn through direct experience, through their five senses and by using their innate curiosity and sense of wonder.

Read more about what happens at Forest School.

About us​

Big Scrub Nature Play offers nature playgroups and forest school sessions in Lennox Head, Ballina and Byron hinterland. We provide a warm, inviting and stimulating environment which nurtures children and embraces families as partners in a community of learners.


Big Scrub Nature Play acknowledges that we work and play together on the traditional land of the Bundjalung people.

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