Forest School and the Pathways to Nature Connection




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Peer reviewed



Over the past 20 years there has been an increase in the popularity of Forest school education in the UK and its application in reconnecting children with nature (Massey, 2005; Waite et al, 2016). The Forest school concept is based on the idea that an individual’s contact with nature and regular interaction with the natural world is extremely important from a very early age and can have a major impact on improving their confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing (Massey, 2005); as well as developing their respect for nature and environmental awareness (Knight, 2011). A concept linked to the philosophy of Forest Schooling is that of Nature Connection; the sensation of belonging to a wider natural community (Mayer et al., 2009). Nature Connection has been linked to a range of wellbeing (Capaldi, Dopko & Zelesnki, 2014), health (Lumber et al., 2017) and pro-environmental outcomes (Tam, 2013; Tam et al., 2013). Recent work has suggested 5 pathways: contact, emotion, meaning, compassion, and beauty, all of which are important for the formation of nature connection (Lumber, et al., 2017). However, no formal links between these evidenced pathways and the Nature Connection of children via Forest Schooling has yet been explored.  In line with the five pathways associated with Nature Connection we argue in this presentation that the development of an appreciation of the natural environment via Forest School sessions can lead to health and well-being benefits of children, and possibly begin to develop their pro-environmental behaviours.  The data on which this presentation draws is based on participant observations of two six week Forest School programmes with groups of children in a Leicestershire city mainstream school.  Further data will also be drawn from semi-structured interviews with Forest School Leaders themselves.


Capaldi, C. A., Dopko, R. L. & Zelenski, J. M. (2014). The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: a meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1-28, Knight, S., (2011). Forest School for All. London: SAGE

Lumber, R., Richardson, M. & Sheffield, D. (2017). Beyond knowing nature: Contact, emotion, meaning, compassion and beauty as pathways to nature connectedness. PLoSONE, 12(5): e0177186.

Massey, S (2005) The benefits of a forest school experience for children in their early years, Topic 33, pp. 27-35, NFER

Mayer, F. S., Frantz, C. M., Bruehlman-Senecal, E. & Dolliver, K. (2009). Why is nature beneficial? The role of Connectedness to Nature. Environment and Behaviour, 41, 607-643.

Tam, K.-P. (2013). Concepts and measures related to connection to nature: Similarities and differences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 34, 64–78.

Tam, K.-P., Lee, S.-L. & Chao, M. M. (2013). Saving Mr. Nature: Anthropomorphism enhances connectedness to and protectiveness toward nature. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(3), 514–521.

Waite, Sl, Passy, R., Gilchrist, M., Hunt, A., & Blackwell, I., (2016) Natural Connections Demonstration Project, 2012-2016: Final Report. Natural England Commissioned Reports, Number 215.



Forest School, Nature Connection


Cudworth, D. and Lumber, R. (2018) Forest Schools and the Pathways to Nature Connection. The 4th Nature Connections Conference, University of Derby, Derby, 20th June 2018.


Research Institute

Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice