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What are the different types of outdoor education available for children within the UK?

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Do you know the difference between Forest School and an outdoor Stay and Play?

Does it even matter...?

Over the last few years the world of outdoor education for children within the UK has increased hugely with different types of providers springing up all over the place giving more options for parents and guardians which is wonderful but also causing confusion about their benefits and qualifications required. So this article is designed to help you navigate the outdoor education world in the UK and decide what type of class or classes are right for you and your family!

Outdoor Education:

This can simply be described as education taking place outside. Nature Makers' art classes would fit into this description for instance as our classes largely happen outdoors and educate about nature whilst creating art. Other types of outdoor education are available such as outdoor writing workshops or music events. They are mostly adult facilitated and would focus on a more specialist skill. Schools may also do outdoor education rather than Forest School, by going outside to explore nature in a directed way.

This type of activity could be for the very young to older children and even adults.

This is a wide field and requirements on qualifications may vary. Nature Makers Activity Providers must have an enhanced DBS, training from head office, First Aid training and insurance as a minimum.

Forest School:

Forest School has an ethos of child-led learning through extended programmes of nature immersion, play and supported risk taking. Many schools now have Forest School Practitioners and there are independent business out there that run public classes and even have opened Nurseries or Primary Schools that are fully outdoors and led by Forest School leaders. To run a Forest School the individual must have a Level 3 Forest School Practitioner qualification in most circumstances which takes over a year to complete, in order for them to gain the correct level of insurance, an enhanced DBS and they must demonstrate best practice of their 6 guiding principles. These classes are mostly for children 3 years - 11 years however, they often extend their offering to younger or older children.

Some of our Nature Makers Activity Providers are qualified Forest School Practitioners or have equivalent experience and run similar sessions under our Earth School brand involving supported risk beyond our regular Nature Makers classes including fires.

Visit the Forest School Association website for more information.

Outdoor Stay & Play

Largely growing in popularity due to Covid restrictions of indoor social gatherings, stay and plays started moving outdoors. These don't look like your regular stay and play though. Outdoor Stay & Play sessions usually involve a theme, multiple stations for child-led exploration with a variety of toys or props to support the theme that change regularly. No qualifications are needed for these types of classes other than insurance. If you have been to one of Nature Makers Big Nature Play Day's then these are similar to an Outdoor Stay & Play and are lots of fun! They usually are for preschool children from 1-5.

Bushcraft & Survival skills

Sometimes combined and sometimes very distinct educational elements. These types of classes are for older children, usually 8+ and adults, to educate them about the skills needed to live in the wild and/or survive on their own. These might include tracking, fire lighting, shelters and foraging and tree ID.

To lead Bushcraft & survival skills classes leaders may have completed the Institute of Outdoor Learning Bushcraft Competency certificate or higher, however, this is not a requirement and meeting the needs of the insurance company is usually dependent on experience and other qualifications, they would also have a First Aid qualification.

Outdoor Activity Instruction

This type of outdoor education is activity or sport based such as archery, climbing and kayaking. It is usually for children 8+ and adults and teaches a skill that often has a progressive route such as certificates or qualifications. They would need instructors to have formal training qualifications in their specialist fields along with First Aid and insurance.

Whilst many of these outdoor education types have been here in the UK for years, others are relatively new and we hope this article has helped you in understanding what type of activity is right for you and your family and what should be the expectations around qualifications.

At Nature Makers we believe that your safety is a top priority which is why all our Activity Providers have First Aid training, enhanced DBS, initial and ongoing training and valid insurance.


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