What is Forest School Research?
Forest School Research refers to any investigation or study that set out to establish facts about the impact of Forest School.
As part of your Forest School leadership course, you will need to select and evaluate 2 pieces of Forest School research.
How do I evaluate a piece of Forest School research?
There are now a number of studies related to Forest School that you can choose to evaluate and different pieces of research look at different elements of Forest School practice. There is no fixed format that your evaluation must take but you should cover the following areas.
Aims and Objectives
The aims or objectives of a study are what it is setting out to discover or to prove. A good study or piece of research will be clear in explaining to its readers the purpose of the study.
You should clearly explain the aims of each research study you evaluate. You may want to explain why you chose this piece of research, how does it relate to your Forest School experience?
Criteria and Criteria Measures
The criterion (singular) or criteria (plural) are what the researchers are going to observe or measure and record. The recorded criteria will be used to help the researchers come to a conclusion about what, if anything, their study shows.
When evaluating the research you should describe what criteria each study used. Do you think the criteria chosen were useful?
Sample size refers to the number of participants who were observed or measured in the study. Generally, the bigger the sample size the better. A small sample size would make it difficult to conclude that the findings would be the same across the country. Unfortunately, current Forest School research all has quite small sample sizes so, whilst the findings are often interesting, they cannot reasonably be applied to the whole country. It is also worth bearing in mind that, due to its child led and unstructured nature, Forest School sessions can look very different from one setting to another.
The sample size should be detailed in the research paper. How many participants were observed? How many Forest School settings were visited? Do you think this was enough?
In each study the researchers are likely to be observing only one or two factors, however, there may be lot’s more going on that could influence the results of the study. These external factors can’t always be easily controlled and aren’t always detailed in the research results.
In a Forest School setting, for example, researchers may be observing, and counting, the number of positive vs negative interactions a child has. How hungry or tired they were, the behaviour of others and the weather are just a tiny example of the many factors could affect a child’s behaviour on a given day.
Does the research paper mention any external factors that might have influenced the results of the study? Do you think there is anything not mentioned that could or should have been included?
Analysis of Data
The researchers will have collected a lot of data during the study. This will have been analysed and condensed and displayed in the paper in the form of tables and graphs. A good research paper will have clearly labelled tables and figures that help the reader understand the findings.
What format did the data in the research paper you are evaluating take? Did you find the tables, charts or figures easy to understand? Could they have been improved in any way?
The conclusion of the paper should briefly outline what the researchers think the study shows and why. It should be fair and subjective, based on the actual findings of the study and not what the authors expected to find. The conclusion shouldn’t generalise and should detail any limitations they think the study had.
What are your thoughts on the outcome of the study? Explain why you agree or disagree with the conclusions the researchers came to. It is worth considering when was the research carried out. If it wasn’t recently, are the results still relevant?
All research studies should be carried out ethically, with consideration of the participants. The British Educational Research Association‘s publication Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research is a good starting point and clearly explains the guidelines researchers should follow when conducting research. Principally, participants should know they are part of a study, have given their consent to take part and be allowed to withdraw at any time.
Is there any reference in the research paper as to what ethical guidelines the researchers followed? Is there anything about the way the study was carried out that you do not think was ethical?
What Forest School research is available?
As part of your portfolio, you need to select and evaluate two pieces of Forest School Research.
Below is a list of studies that you may wish to choose from.
- Outdoor learning spaces: The case of forest school – A 2017 paper on how the outdoor learning spaces at Forest School shapes the experiences of primary aged children.
- A critique of Forest School: Something lost in translation – A 2016 critique of the Forest School approach.
- The Queens Wood Forest School Report – A 2012 case study report on the impact of a Forest School over the course of a year.
- Forest School and the Early Years Foundation Stage – An Exploratory Case Study – A 2010 case study exploring the impact of Forest School in early years settings.
- Forest Schools in Great Britain: an initial exploration – A 2007 study, based on interviews with three Forest School practitioners, looking at the impact on holistic development and how Forest School fits into the traditional school curriculum.
- Forest School and its impacts on young children: Case studies in Britain – A 2007 case study of an evaluation exploring the impact of Forest School both on children’s development and on teachers, parents and extended family.
- Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play – In 2006 a wide range of Canadian stakeholders collaborated to produce a position statement on the benefits of outdoor play.
- Forest School: A Marvellous Opportunity to Learn – A 2006, Forestry Commission funded, research study aiming to evaluate the impact of Forest School practice.
- The Benefits of a Forest School Experience for Children in their early years – A 2005 study on the types of experience offered and the impact on confidence and self development.
- Engaging and Learning with the Outdoors: The final report of the outdoor classroom in a rural context action research project – A 2004 research report focussed on the use of outdoor classrooms in rural areas.