Know your knots! (free training)

Jar for collecting birch sap
Jam jar for collecting birch sap, tied on to the tree

On Tuesday, 4 May 2021, Jon will be leading a Zoom learning session for the Sussex Forest School Association at 7.30pm.

This is part of their online events series for 2021, where forest school leaders share their areas of expertise.

As Jon spent many years sailing professionally and then working in a chandlery, he’s got a great knowledge of rope work and will be sharing some easy knots that you can use in your forest school practice.

Check out the Sussex FSA online events page to book for the webinar when details are published!

Take a look at the knot board he created in lockdown as a project last summer!

Knot board
So many knots…

Spring Outdoor Scavenger Hunt with free printable

If you’re looking for spring scavenger hunt ideas, you’re in the right place!

The weather is starting to mellow, the days are longer. And after being cooped up during the winter months, it feels like it’s time to get outdoors.

Ways to use a scavenger hunt at this time of year

There are lots of ways to make use of a scavenger hunt during spring. Here are some ideas:

  • Use it as an incentive to get kids outdoors! In our experience, children love having something to tick off and find
  • Use it as a game for an outdoor spring birthday party idea
  • Take it on holiday with you and use it as something to do with the children if you are camping or staying away from home (or just use it on a walk if you are having a staycation)
  • Use it in your backyard — see how many items you can find in an area they know well
  • And, of course, use it in educational and forest school settings as an activity for children to opt into as part of their outdoor explorations.
Free Spring Scavenger Hunt Printable

I love this PDF worksheet! It’s so bright and attractive, which is perfect for encouraging children to get outside.

As someone who works with preschool children, it’s a perfect activity for small hands and little legs. A spring scavenger hunt for preschoolers is an easy activity to set up and do.

You can use it with your preschool or primary-aged children, with your own family, or in your Forest School setting.

This is the perfect time of year to be looking out for tiny buds, new life and more. What will your little detectives find in nature?

What’s on the PDF Spring scavenger hunt checklist

Download the printable list and take copies out with you so you can tick off the signs of spring. Take it with you when you wander around the woodland, forest, or even your local urban area.

Here is what is on the checklist:

  • Feather
  • Caterpillar
  • Blossom
  • Dew on the grass
  • Lichen on a twig
  • Bird
  • Worm
  • Puddle
  • Flower
  • Seedling
  • Nest
  • Something yellow
  • Pond life
  • Rainbow
  • Bee
  • Animal tracks
  • Bug

Tips for Spring scavenger hunts

It’s still a little bit chilly, so make sure everyone has the right kind of clothes. Layer up, and pack a sweater just in case.

Remember: If children seem to want to collect things, they should only collect fallen items from the woodland floor, and ideally replace them before they leave. Avoid taking things home with you, and avoid disturbing wildlife and living plants.

outdoors spring scavenger hunt printable

At this time of year, so much is growing that there is a lot of new life on the forest floor. If possible, try to avoid collecting anything as you don’t know what you might be disturbing.

And of course don’t collect living creatures and steer clear of mushrooms.

Instead, children can draw what they find. If you are feeling really crafty, how about making plaster of paris moulds of any animal tracks or horseshoe prints that you find?

Keeping the activity going

Some children are going to be super fast at finding items, and if you are in a nature-rich area they probably won’t have to look very far before they’ve found everything on the list!

As a parent, I know the feeling of ‘oh, have you finished already?’ And while we take a child-led approach, sometimes children might need a bit of help working out how to keep an activity going if they are really enjoying exploring and finding.

You can add extra things to the list — make up some additional items they need to find.

You can also ask questions about what they’ve discovered. That will also help them reflect and think about what they’ve seen, felt, smelled, heard and so on.

If you’re stuck for things to ask, here are some question prompts:

  • What did you find that is smooth/rough/prickly?
  • What did you find that is damp/dry?
  • Was there anything on the list you didn’t touch/pick up? Why?
  • What is the most delicate object you found? Why do you say that?
  • How would you describe [item]?
  • Where did you find [item]?
  • Why do you think [item] ended up looking like that? What might have happened to it?

How are you going to use this free spring scavenger hunt printable list? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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free spring scavenger hunt printable

Outdoors Winter Scavenger Hunt Printable

When you’re looking for winter scavenger hunt ideas, I think it’s important that we get outside!

Even on cold days, we can still go out and see some nature. A scavenger hunt is a good way to convince children to go for a walk on a bright cold day. It gives a bit of focus to getting out, especially if the weather isn’t great.

Here is a beautiful winter scavenger hunt printable. You can use it with your primary school children, your family, or in your Forest School setting.

There are plenty of things to look for in winter. Be a nature detective and find these items on your scavenger hunt! How many can you find?

Download the printable and take copies out with you so you can tick off the signs of winter that you spot on your travel around the woodland, forest, or even your local urban area.

  • Worm
  • Spider’s web
  • Mud
  • Acorn
  • Fallen leaf
  • Leaf skeleton
  • Squirrel
  • Beetle
  • Mushroom
  • Pine cone
  • Hole in a tree
  • Log
  • Lichen on a tree
  • Smooth evergreen leaf
  • Feather
  • Puddle
  • Shadow
  • Tree stump

Wrap up warm and get outside!

Remember: Only collect from the forest/woodland floor. You don’t actually need to collect anything. If children have a copy of the winter scavenger hunt printable, they can tick off what they find as they go.

However, if you’re out in the forest, and the children want to make a collection, then be child-led. The children can gather their items as they find them, and put them in a basket, or bring them back to the circle, or whatever they like.

Questions to ask on a scavenger hunt

Make the activity last a bit longer and build the children’s enthusiasm in what they’ve found by asking about the items.

Have a natural conversation, and let the children tell you about their scavenged treasures. If you need conversation prompts, here are some questions to ask:

  • What did you find that is smooth/rough/prickly?
  • What did you find that is damp/dry?
  • Was there anything on the list you didn’t touch/pick up? Why?
  • What is the most delicate object you found? Why do you say that?
  • How would you describe [item]?
  • Where did you find [item]?
  • Why do you think [item] ended up looking like that? What might have happened to it?

What to do with scavenger hunt items

If you’re with a big group, and they are keen to collect items from the list (obviously not the living creatures), you could end up with an amount of fallen leaves, twigs, feathers and so on. In our experience, children also collect things that are not on the scavenger hunt list!

Once your group has finished seeking and collecting, think about what you could do with the items. Could they be rearranged on the ground to make a pattern or a picture? Could you do leaf printing with any of the (non-skeleton) leaves?

How are you going to use this free winter scavenger hunt printable? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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Free Winter Scavenger Hunt Printable

Forest School Leader Corner: Listen, Read, Watch [August 2020]

forest school roundup

As the world deals with a pandemic and health crisis, our thoughts naturally turn to risk. We have rounded up something for you to listen to, something for you to read and something to watch all surrounding risk and forest schools.


Children of the Forest has a podcast about their very active forest school and their experiences. There is some swearing so it is probably NSFW. Gemma and Lewis are full of humor and advice.

Their most recent podcast is about the vestibular system and sensory inputs. Very enlightening and helpful information to have right now.

forest school risk assessment
The forest is a great place for exploring but also comes with risks


Forest Schools has a really great article on the risk and benefits of outdoor learning.

“Forest School is a prime example where children have the opportunity to learn through play, though the understanding and adherence to certain social and physical boundaries and rules, to understand the bigger picture, to know that on a holistic and emotional level, how the world works. It is a whole experience and as such, all the emotions are engaged during Forest Schools, and even though it may not always appear to be of benefit, the highly emotional content of the experience allows the storage of the session and its intricacies deep in the memory. The issue with childhood is that it sets us a foundation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that shape our beliefs, values, and attitudes towards the world and the opportunities that it offers to us as we grow up.”


The Forest School Association held a webinar on Encouraging Risk in children. They hosted special guest Dr. Nevin Harper to talk about his research on risk and outdoor play. It was a very interesting discussion on types of risky play and its benefits, as well as providing balance.

Hope you enjoy this month’s roundup. Have a suggestion for a future one? Leave it in the comments.

Tree Identification Guide Printable

tree identification guide

What kinds of tree are around you?

As well as being out in the woods, we think it’s important to know what’s there in the forest with us!

And that’s where this tree identification guide with pictures comes in.

How to use the tree identification guide

Simply enter your email below to access the printable. Then download it, print it out and use it in your setting.

There are two pages, and nine trees, plus space to make notes if you need to. It’s a tree leaf guide really, as it has photographs of the different leaves so you can spot the characteristic traits of the trees.

It’s designed in colour, but I know many people will only have access to black and white printing. It prints fine in black and white too, and if you print it double-sided it will fit on one sheet of paper.

Here’s how I use it.

tree identification guide printable

Tree identification game

This is a game to help children learn about trees. Before you start the game, make sure you do actually have the trees in your wood! See below for a list of the UK trees covered by this guide.

Split the children into three teams.

Give each team a tree identification guide. They will be finding three trees per team. You can cut the tree ID sheet into sections and give each team a section with only their trees on if that is easier for you (and them).

Each team has to find the three trees on their sheet.

When a team finds a tree they think is one of theirs, I get them to explain what features they used to ID the tree. They can talk about leaf shape, twigs, buds, bark and so on, linking the ‘real’ tree to the tree ID notes on their guide sheet.

If they get it right, they can read out a ‘fascinating fact’ about the tree from their sheet (and I learned something putting that guide together!).

The winning team is the team that finds their trees first.

You don’t have to offer a prize – we typically don’t – but you could if there was a reason to, or you were using the game as part of an outdoor birthday party activity or something similar.

Tree identification guide being used on a tablet

A British Tree ID Guide

Note that as we are in the UK, this is a British tree identification guide, covering the following trees:

  • Rowan
  • Oak
  • Hazel
  • Birch
  • Willow
  • Scots Pine
  • Norwegian Spruce
  • Sweet Chestnut
  • Beech.

These trees may also be present in your location, but check before you send children off looking for them!

Share the trees!

We couldn’t find a guide to tree identification that we wanted to use in our setting, or one that would be suitable for sharing as part of a Forest School Level 3 portfolio. This leaf identification programme is OK, but hard to use when you are outside.

So I made one and frankly I think it’s the best tree identification guide out there, if I do say so myself!

Grab a copy and see what you think! Enter your email in the box below to download the PDF and share the trees with your community.

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free tree identification guide printable

How to Create Forest School Risk Assessments

There are three types of risk assessment you should do for your Forest School: site, activity and daily.

You’ll need to create a document for each (or you could just use our template documents – the ones we use for our setting).

Enter your email address below to grab the risk assessment templates in Word format. There are 3 pages, one for each of the risk assessments you’ll need.

Forest School Site Risk Assessment

This type of risk assessment looks at the environment where you are carrying out your Forest School activities.

You record the details about the site, and the hazards they present to people using the site for activities. Then you note the level of possible harm and the mitigating actions you can do to prevent or reduce harm.

Record the level of harm presented by the hazard on site when the actions have been carried out. Hopefully that will be ‘low’. If any hazards cannot be mitigated and managed to a level you feel is acceptable, think about what other actions you can take to make the site or activities safer, or whether it is possible to remove the risk totally by doing something in a different way.

The site risk assessment will cover things like:

  • Streams
  • Dipping pond/dipping platform on pond or stream
  • Flora with berries or prickles e.g. nettles and brambles
  • Tree roots and stumps/uneven ground
  • Sticks
  • Dog poo/other faeces
  • Rubbish and debris (from humans, e.g. litter)
  • Fire circle/Kelly kettle
  • Rope swing
  • Darkness
  • Mushrooms/fungi
  • Stinging insects e.g. bees, wasps
  • Animals e.g. snakes
  • Tools
  • Boundaries and safety of fences and perimeter gates
  • Trees.

For each identified site hazard, log what you can do about it. Then note who will take those actions and when. In some cases, you’ll have to make an assessment and take action on the day e.g. assessing the water height in a stream. In other cases, you’ll be able to take action before the session e.g. clearing stray nettles away from the fire circle zone.

Here’s an example of snippet of our risk assessment template filled in for some of the risks in our environment:

Some of the risks involved in the Forest School site
forest school risk assessment
The forest is a great place for exploring but also comes with risks

Activity Risk Assessments

As well as an overall risk assessment for the whole site, you need to do risk assessments for each activity including tool use. Here are some activities where you’ll need to do risk assessments.

  • Collecting materials e.g. leaves and sticks
  • Using a bit and brace
  • Making a rope swing or a crane
  • Using a knife
  • Using a folding saw
  • Using loppers or secateurs
  • Climbing trees
  • Using ropes
  • Cooking
  • Toasting
  • Drinking
  • Lighting fires/being around fire
  • Taking part in organised games.

You’ll also want to create risk assessments for leader-led activities like weaving, crafts, although they are likely to be lower risk than child-led forest exploration and tool use.

Here’s an example of what our template looks like once it’s filled in for an activity, in this case: organised games.

The hazards and actions associated with organised forest school games

This video is a good example of children themselves working out a suitable approach to risk during an activity. While we do risk assessments as a very formal activity, in “real life” we’re assessing risk every time we take a step. The forest gives children the opportunity to test out their risk taking abilities and to uncover their limits.

Want a ready-made activity risk assessment template? Grab our free editable Word document below.

Daily Risk Assessments

Child-led activities can be spontaneous, and that’s what makes them fun, if sometimes unpredictable! It does mean you’ll be doing a lot of dynamic risk assessing on the day. You’ll use your knowledge and experience – and common sense – to assess the benefits and risk of activities the children are doing, enabling you to keep them safe.

The daily risk assessment is your way to check that today you can lead a safe session. You’ll be checking for:

  • Changes in the setting e.g. new things that have materialised since your last visit – this happens a lot on school sites!
  • Water height in streams – sometimes it will be too high to allow children to play in the water
  • Bee and wasp nests
  • Changes in the weather
  • Anything else seasonal or specific to the day.

Use a daily risk assessment as a reminder of the things to look for so that you can make dynamic decisions based on the environment today.

The risk assessments should be a practical guide for you – part of your handbook for running your Forest School. They can also be included as evidence for your Level 3 portfolio.

Forest school risk assessment templates for you!