University of Hertfordshire

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Outdoor learning spaces: the case of forest school

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-231
Number of pages10
Early online date30 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


This paper contributes to the growing body of research concerning use of outdoor spaces by educators, and the increased use of informal and outdoor learning spaces when teaching primary school children. The research takes the example of forest school, a form of regular and repeated outdoor learning increasingly common in primary schools. This research focuses on how the learning space at forest school shapes the experience of children and forest school leaders as they engage in learning outside the classroom. The learning space is considered as a physical space, and also in a more metaphorical way as a space where different behaviours are permitted, and a space set apart
from the national curriculum. Through semi-structured interviews with members of the community of practice of forest school leaders, the paper seeks to determine the significance of being outdoors on the forest school experience. How does this learning space differ from the classroom environment? What aspects of the forest school learning space support pupils’ experiences? How does the outdoor learning space affect teaching, and the dynamics of learning while at forest school? The research shows that the outdoor space provides new opportunities for children and teachers to interact and learn, and revealed how forest school leaders and children co-create a learning environment in which the boundaries between classroom and outdoor learning, teacher and pupil, are renegotiated to stimulate teaching and learning. Forest school practitioners see forest school as a separate learning
space that is removed from the physical constraints of the classroom and pedagogical constraints of the national curriculum to provide a more flexible and responsive learning environment.


© 2017 The Author. Area published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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