friendly welcome to forest school

Using existing on-site trees/vegetation for forest schools sites.

Most schools have areas in their grounds which resemble some type of woodland. These may be:

  • Actual woodland
  • Mature trees with or without woodland ground covers 
  • School community tree plantings from 10 or 20 years ago which have become neglected
  • So called ‘environmental areas’ with a pond, orchard fruits and/or hedgerows

These areas are ideal to develop and enhance into sites for Forest School activities.
However, to start with you will need to put the main infrastructure in place. 

potential site for forest school
Discussing potential forest school sites.

Main Infrastructure: water, access, structures.

1. Water

If you want to get rid of water, winter wet or boggy ground in the area; or if you want to retain water and create wetland or ponds…then this must be done before any other consideration.  Drainage, detention ponds, swales, ditches, ponds, etc., can be constructed by knowledgeable contractors or members of your wider school community. 

Most existing school sites should have no particular issues with water and water flows.

2. Access

Path dug out for drainage foundation.
path edged with logs and topped with woodchip, with avenue of trees and willow tunnel
Same path topped with woodchip and edges with logs.

You need to consider how you will get to the forest school area. In the two images above, the path provides access from the school to the forest school site via an avenue and a section of willow tunnel.

Tracks and paths (either leading to or within the proposed area) can be laid out using some drainage stone for all year access, topped with woodchip. Woodchip, the durable inner part of the tree – lasts far longer than bark, which is the outer part of the tree. Bark rots down quickly, retains moisture and will muddy school floors from the soles of children’s shoes. We use quality playgrade woodchips, however establishing a relationship with local tree surgeons can result in plentiful supplies of free woodchip. 

Remember that the majority of the school year takes place during winter, so it is essential that the paths have some drainage foundation.

3. Structures

Comper forest school area
A bridge across planted area to play equipment and the forest school site.

In establishing the path network, we can also decide where shelters, sheds, storage buildings, bird feeding, fire garden, etc., are sited too.  We also have to decide where the main gathering spaces are, and these will need to comfortably allow for 30 children at any one time.  Again, gathering spaces will generally require some winter drainage foundation topped with woodchip, although variety can be added with paving, gravel, non-slip decking – all dependent on site context and your budget.

In the picture above, the structures are the pitched roof shelter in the background, the blue hut on the left, some play equipment in the mid space and the bridge in the foreground.

4. Then…

Planting, focal points, artwork etc., can be installed once the main infrastructure is completed.  Our next newsletter will list useful plants for Forest School activities; and our forest school page has useful information for site considerations and practical guides.