Can Forest Schools help heal Refugee Children?

Here are some highlight excerpt of this beautifully narrated reading, “Wild Child” by Patrick Barkham:

<<<Feeling at home in the wild, a form of healing for the child refugee>>>

“One group last spring included a partially sighted girl. “Walking up into the woods, she stopped and said, ‘Listen to that sound!’” remembers Kate. “It was the buzzing of the insects.” It reminded the girl of her former country. At the end of her six weeks, she said, “I feel like I’ve come home.” The Wild Things staff frequently hear similar declarations. “Often children can feel at home in the woods in a way they find more difficult in the community they have landed in, where technology is everything, money is everything, they are at the bottom of the pecking order and there are massive tensions in the area. In the woods they are on a level playing field. They can just be kids again.”

<<Where children can relate to their source and roots>>

British-born city children belong to a country called Indoors: they ask Kate, “What’s mud?” or, “Why are there so many trees here?” It is often only in Britain that rural children from overseas are confined to city-centre flats. Their questions – “Are there elephants?” or, “Are there deadly snakes here?” – are rooted in experience of their countries of origin. For many, Kate says, the woods awaken lost memories and a yearning for home. “As soon as we light a fire, they say, ‘Ah, I know this’ or they point to a plant and get really animated. They are in their element.”

<<Physical Gains of attending Forest School>>

The physical gains are easiest to measure. In one study, a group of Scottish nine-11-year-olds were fitted with accelerometers to measure their physical activity during a typical school day and during a day at forest school. These revealed that activity levels were 2.2 times greater during forest school days than on normal school days that included PE lessons, and 2.7 times greater than on “inactive” school days. Scandinavian studies of outdoor schools have also found they improve children’s attentiveness. In 2017, a four-year study from Norway identified more inattention and hyperactivity symptoms the less time children spent at an outdoor preschool.

<<Academical Gains of attending Forest School>>

Perhaps most surprisingly, there is also hard evidence that outdoor schooling can produce better academic outcomes. A three-year study of primary school pupils who were “struggling to thrive” found a group who attended weekly forest school sessions achieved better overall attendance than their primary school-only peers, and markedly better attainment. The forest school pupils’ writing improved by 18% compared with 7% among comparably disadvantaged pupils; reading improved by 27%, compared with 22% among school-only children; and maths attainment rose by 27% compared with 11%.

For more information about the book and articles, look up

‘Children need to feel liberated and free.’ Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Wild Child by Patrick Barkham is published by Granta at £16.99. To order a copy for £12.99, go to

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