Q + A: Is forest school for hippies?

Is-Forest-School-for-HippiesThat’s a fair question…  I certainly assumed it might be.  In fact, other than to chuckle at the description, I didn’t think much of a forest school as an option when the embassy sent us the three pages of information on the schooling options in Copenhagen, with a short paragraph on each, along with some incorrect tuition amounts and wrong phone numbers.  Helpful, but not that helpful.

I didn’t know much about forest schools other than, if the name was any indication, it was a school that took place in the forest.  Turns out my graduate school degree was good for something, and that reasoning was generally correct.  The description said that it was schooling that primarily took place outside, it took place rain or shine and was entirely “very Danish”.  “Very Danish I don’t know, but very hippie if you ask me”, I thought initially.  Then in the area for the description of building facilities, they had marked “none”.

I’m kind of a conventional gal.  I like white button downs.. and pearl necklaces… and a glass of champagne to celebrate just about anything (including having nothing to celebrate).  I’m not a camper, I don’t know how to put together a tent, and frankly, and I don’t really like granola bars.  I say that because I know it’s a stereotype – that people are “outdoorsy” or “crunchy” or they aren’t… I almost didn’t consider this school at all mostly because I thought they wouldn’t consider us.   I didn’t seem like the target parent for this kind of eduction and yet I couldn’t help looking it up.  Sometimes we’re drawn to what we least expect.

If you would have asked me before I was a parent what I thought kids needed (actually, I probably would have told you even if you hadn’t asked me because, don’t we all make the best parents before we actually becoming one ourselves? ), I would have said something along the lines of less TV and more skills for the future.  But I also would have said that they need more confidence, and more independence, and less thinking that someone or something should always have answers for them.  And also more fresh air, more movement and generally speaking, more just being a kid.

Turns out, that’s not that far off from forest school.  Why should time spent outside be considered very Danish? It’s a strong thread in the education system here for sure, but shouldn’t we all want that for our kids? For young children, I think that time spent in all the elements, exploring, learning and being shown that they have a lot of capability in this world, instead of always focusing what they can’t do, should be a very natural thing, not just a Danish thing.  Why are Danish kids getting all the fun?  The more I thought about it, the more I knew that my daughter wouldn’t find those kinds of lessons anywhere else, and that I would have regretted not taking the opportunity to at least try a different way of thinking about her initial education.

I don’t know if that makes me a hippie in the end or not.  What I’d like to think is that it makes me is a parent dedicated to giving my daughter a chance to learn what she is capable of.  There is a lifetime to be had of sitting behind a desk in a traditional environment…I know because I sit behind one myself now.  But there are only a few short years where we can teach children the foundation of independence in this wide world, and I didn’t want to waste that opportunity.  I wanted for us to be part of it – champagne and granola bars and all.


  1. […] curious about this forest school thing (I don’t blame them  – I mean, I swore this was a hippie thing), and I think that’s great.  It seems like I see an article on a weekly basis now about how […]

  2. Adrian wood November 26, 2015

    As a very long term teacher and environmental education and primary science tutor and lecturer, I am continually amazed at the way Forest School has taken the freedom of the world in nature and have monopolized a great swathe of activities and values that belong to everyone as a right and have dressed it up in a bundle of exclusivity with ‘training’ as well as rules and leaders etc. Huge sums of money are being spent on this because as a society we seem to have become so detached from the true world and now only think of it as a paid-for bolt-on. As if this approach were new. Remember Earth Education? much the same and now we have the latest equivalent dressed up as an educational qualification. That died and so will this and so the environmental bolt-on bus travels on. One can see why schools find it easy to sign up to Forest School. They are ever more under pressure and threats to achieve the moving goalpost of targets that the outside world is lost. Now, anything more than two trees is considered a forest and we dress up and try to get ‘lost’ for a half hour between maths and literacy. The solution to this nonsense is free. I would point you to Joseph Cornell and his nature activities. These are not exclusive, they are only the cost of a book, they can be adapted to use whenever by whoever in any situation and all of them will actually achieve what Forest School now claims is their right and with no expensive training, no ‘leaders’ and no rule book.. Trends in educational methods are dangerous. its time teachers became teachers and actually teach instead of blindly applying the dreamed up rules that may work for some in another country where there actually are forests but are little short of a joke here in the copses and tiny woodlands of england.

    • A Toddler in the Trees January 12, 2016

      Hi there – I just noticed that this comment came in on an older post. In short, I’m not sure there’s much disagreement between the points you’re making and the blog actually. I totally agree that “forest school”, or frankly, let’s just call it what it really is which is time outside in whatever natural surroundings are nearby should necessarily be a paid bolt on. I think that’s actually what we’ve learned here during our time which is that this said time outside is actually something everyone in Denmark expects as part of the school time, especially for the younger set, regardless of whether one is in a specific forest school or not. Not only is the fresh air good for them, but the activities that they end up doing ties into lessons that are more useful in the long run than a pile of worksheets. Which is not to say that traditional learning goes away, it’s just a reminder that there’s more to schooling than just checking boxes of activities. Here forest school is not at all expensive, there is a small supplement to pay to cover the additional gear/activities/transportation etc. If we were danish we would receive the family subsidy to cover but since we’re not, we pay it out of pocket. But in the states we would pay much more since these schools are independently run. But it sounds like there might be some debate about the execution of all of this in the UK ? In any case, agree that trends are dangerous if applied blindly but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn or rethink approaches, especially if they’ve slowly been moving in a direction we don’t care for. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *