Special Needs Services in Forest Schools

The combination of freedom and responsibility has been particularly beneficial to children who suffer from lack of confidence or whose behaviour is challenging. With high adult:child ratios, children can safely experience activities that are often prohibited, such as climbing trees or lighting fires. The programme allows children to grow in confidence and independence and extend their abilities.

Some children do not perform well in classrooms. They may come from a non-academic family background, may have a short attention span, or may just not be comfortable with the organisation of a teacher standing in front of a group of pupils. Boys in general, prefer to be outside, and learn better in this way.

In a major study in the USA, students with behavioural problems in "Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning" (EIC) programmes caused fewer discipline problems than their traditionally-educated peers. Similarly, Forest schools have been found to help children with additional support needs, including Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic children.

Forest school leaders are trained in activities suitable for children with such behavioural disorders, for example a simplified hide-and-seek game or searching for somewhat natural-looking objects. After an Outward Bound course for young people with autistic spectrum disorders, substantial improvements were observed. For example one student asked to attend school full time, where previously he refused any more than one lesson a week. Another exhibited less extreme ADHD and all were able to manage with fewer verbal prompts than beforehand. Cedar Song Nature School runs "Sensory Integration Nature Camps" specifically for autistic children "to combat nature deficit disorder".