Nature Benefits

Young boy exploring the woodsActivities in the natural world connect us on a fundamental level to who we are and give us a real sense of what we are.

Experiences in a relaxing outdoor space, uncluttered by the modern world, can be significant and rewarding to those experiencing it. Some approaches which focus on this, such as Forest School, can provide many benefits through repeated experience.

Research into the benefits of trees and woodland

A wealth of informal and formal observations and case studies now look at the benefits of supporting groups of all ages to access nature. Anyone who has come across Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods will be more than convinced by the need to get children out into green spaces.

Over the last 10 years Forest Research (part of the Forestry Commission) has explored in detail the ways in which trees benefit wider society. There is now a considerable breadth of evidence presented by Forest Research which supports the idea that spending time in woodlands is good for you. Books such as Sara Knight’s Forest School for All have helped to establish that these experiences are important for everyone.

Forest of Avon Trust evidence for woodland wellbeing

The Forest of Avon Trust has worked hard to document some of the benefits of the Forest School approach with a variety of early years & primary groups and adults with learning disabilities. These Forest School Case studies are available here.

Opportunities for learning and behavioural change are determined by a range of factors. These can include: the group’s/individual’s interest, the focus of activity and the physical site that the group is using. Individuals benefit in different ways depending on their own strengths and weaknesses.

Evaluating the impact of Forest School

An evaluation of Forest School projects including a study by O’Brien and Murray 2007 suggests that Forest School may have the following impact:

  • Increased confidence – characterised by the self confidence and self belief that comes from children having the freedom, time and space to learn, grow and demonstrate independence.
  • Increased social skills – characterised by an increased awareness of the consequences of actions on other people and the acquired ability to undertake activities with others. A study by Lovell and Roe (2009) indicated that participation in Forest School can help young people at risk of social exclusion control their anger.
  • Improved language and communication – characterised by the development of more sophisticated uses of written and spoken language, prompted by the visual and other sensory experiences of a child.
  • Improved motivation and concentration – characterised by keenness to participate in exploratory, learning and play activities. Also an ability to focus on specific tasks and to concentrate for extended periods.
  • Improved physical skills – characterised by the development of physical stamina and gross and fine motor skills. Further research by Lovell (2009) suggests that Forest School results in greater levels of physical activity than in the typical school situation.
  • Increased knowledge and understanding – characterised by a respect for the environment and an interest in their natural surroundings – making observations and insights into natural phenomena.

Ofsted reports: learning and development in Forest School

Schools have seen key areas of development in their pupils when learning in the natural environment.  Below are good Ofsted’s practice reports which highlight the value of outdoor learning experiences in a variety of settings.

  • The head of a rural infant and junior school in Sussex found Forest School helped develop, ‘improved confidence, self-esteem, collaborative and enquiry skills’. In particular the head reported, ‘We have already seen a dramatic improvement in standards of literacy through children’s writing based on their outdoor learning experiences.’ Read the full full report (pdf).


  • A pre-school in Lancashire used Forest School to offer children a range of learning and developmental opportunities that they don’t normally get, by encouraging them to explore outdoors. The pre-school’s manager identifies the benefits as, ‘increased self-esteem, improved social skills, development of language and communication skills, improved physical motor skills, improved motivation and concentration, and increased knowledge and understanding of the environment.’ The Head believes that, ‘the emphasis on developing children’s learning through working in the natural environment has contributed to the improvement in overall standards in the school identified by inspectors in March 2011′. Read the full report (pdf).


  • An early years centre on the edge of Sheffield redeveloped its outdoor space following an Ofsted inspection. Children there now have access to exceptional outdoor provision. This has created a variety of opportunities for learning and development as well as increased parental involvement. Read the full report (pdf).