Forest School is a long term developmental programme that takes place on a regular basis, typically once a week, for a minimum of 6 sessions, but usually longer. To lead a Forest School programme it is necessary to be a Level 3 qualified Forest School practitioner or Level 8 Forest and Outdoor Learning Award practitioner, and hold a current and appropriate Outdoor First Aid qualification.

The Forest School model originates in Scandinavia and involves participants journeying by foot (if possible) to a local woodland environment to learn outdoors on a regular sustained basis. It is a long-term client/child-led, educational process that promotes, observes and explicitly supports the social, emotional and physical development of children, young people and adults in an outdoor, preferably woodland, environment.


Forest School grew exponentially in Scotland. From 2003 to 2005 a training programme supported by Forestry Commission Scotland, created a core group of trained Forest School leaders in Scotland. A small number of these people became active Level 3 Forest School practitioners and trainers, resulting in a wider range of individuals and organisations able to deliver and support training in Scotland.

In 2010/11 there was a shift in focus to targeted Forest School training for teachers. A Forest School training programme for schools was delivered in four key geographical regions across Scotland, to build on existing capacity, and funded by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Scottish Government Learning Directorate. There are now over 500 trained leaders and assistant leaders. Delivery is mainly in primary schools but is now beginning to spread from nursery to adult groups, although Forest Kindergarten is an alternative option for Early Years.

Many resources including The Forest School Scotland Resource Pack are available from the Resources library of this website.

Membership of your local OWL group will help you to access resources, as well as local networks and expertise.


Forest School is a process not a place, and programmes are not available country-wide, although regular sites may be established in some locations, both urban and rural. Holiday and after-school clubs run by Forest School practitioners may be available. As an experiential long term programme, Forest School may start and stop according to school or community priorities, often depending on the availability of funding, access to sites, transport and qualified Level 3 Forest School practitioners to develop and lead the sessions. Parents who are interested in their children attending Forest School sessions may find the guidance note Your Child and Forest School – Information for Parents and Carers useful.

Increasingly Forest School programmes are being delivered in schools by teaching staff, trained and qualified in Forest School, in recognition of the benefits to individual pupils and to deliver the Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning.  Other Forest School or Forest School ‘style’ programmes may be run at the weekend for family/ community groups. Settings that support Early Years children may offer a Forest Kindergarten programme or similar.

It is possible to offer Forest School programmes on a freelance basis if you are suitably qualified, but it can be very challenging. Options could include:

  • Set up in business as a sole trader and charge a fee for delivering Forest School programmes on a supply/demand basis. Note that you will not be able to apply for grants. Business Gateway can provide advice and free workshops on different aspects of commercial provision.
  • Set up as a social enterprise and apply for funding. Then find interested groups to participate.
  • Work in association with an existing organisation
  • Run a pilot project to test what people think of the format and activities.
  • Run Forest School activities as an after-school club or as a holiday programme. Consider working with family groups. Parental support allows you to maintain child: adult ratios. See the Guidance note Your Child and Forest School – Information for Parents and Carers (May 2012).
  • Encourage your local schools and/or local authority to look creatively at their own budgets which may be allocated to meet certain targets – for example, health and well-being/ outdoor learning/ physical activity/ behaviour issues, etc. Structure what you offer through Forest School to meet these aims.
  • Target schools which do not already have Forest School L3 trained and qualified staff, or where they have the L2 qualification only, or have to release class teachers for other activities.  It may be cheaper for schools to hire you to lead Forest School sessions rather than fund additional teacher cover to support their
  • Forest School programme. In the long run though, it is more sustainable for schools ensure their staff have the appropriate training to support outdoor learning.

There are many support resources available for Forest School practitioners. These include:

Use the search facility on the homepage or OWL Scotland Resources page, selecting the appropriate category and key words.

Forest School can happen in urban and rural locations. The minimum required is an outdoor site with natural features including some trees and shelter. In some cases, school grounds can make an ideal starting point. You should be best able to judge suitability of a site for your needs. However, even if you think a wood may be ideal for Forest School you must check with the landowner or manager that they agree to its use. See the OWL Scotland Guidance for Landowners.

If you don’t know who owns the woodland contact your local  Scottish Forestry Conservancy office or to use a wood for educational visits, try your local Forestry and Land Scotland Office.

Other ways to find and record information about your Forest School site – Explore your local area – what green spaces can you find? Look at local maps. Use online satellite mapping online to identify possible sites.

Scotland’s Greenspace Map is an innovative Geographical Information System (GIS) based map which provides comprehensive information on the location, extent and type of greenspace across all of Scotland’s urban settlements (towns and cities with a population of 3,000 or more).

Find a Wood is a facility developed by the Woodland Trust showcasing local woods.

Outdoor Learning can support many aspects of the curriculum including health outcomes, and can make a real difference to all involved.

There are lots of ways to support outdoor learning, many of which require no special qualification – just enthusiasm! Your local OWL group may offer skills sharing and training opportunities. There is also a guidance document plus a short introduction which explores the range of woodland learning options outdoors, and associated training. This may help you to decide what training is right for you. There is a summary available outlining Training provision in outdoor learning for early years practitioners.

For further information email

Woodland Learning

Forest Kindergarten

Careers in Forestry