Encouraging Positive Forest School Behaviour

The first part to Behaviour Management is ensuring you building create the right ethos and mission within your forest School. If you create a nurturing and safe Environment then you should see most children/clients model behaviour productive for the best outcomes from the Forest School Environment. Some things to consider when creating/leading your Forest School:

  1. Ethos and Mission – Have a clear vision in your mind of what you want the ethos to feel like. It can help to create a mission statement for your group, something that everyone can work towards. It is useful to create this ethos and statement with your group involved so that they have full ownership and understanding. One of the best mission statements I developed with a group was:
  2. Modelling – Model the behaviours and ethos that you are trying to foster. The impact of seeing the caring, considerate and respectful attitude modelled can be amazing. Often if you show a child the respect you are expecting, they will follow suit. If you are teaching rules then ensure you follow them yourself. 
  3. Postive enforcement of behaviours – As well as modelling behaviours yourself it is good to notice others showing these behaviours. The simple comment of ‘Looking at _____ sitting so well around the fire.’ Will suddenly get everyone else sitting well around the fire. Next time you sit around the fire they will remember the positive praise and be keen to show it again.
  4. Clear rules and boundaries – At Forest School we encourage free play and investigation, however often it is good to set of ground rules. For example you’ll often have a set boundary or rules for keeping safe. If creating rules, get the children involved for ownership and for better understanding. Try to rules positively, so rather than ‘don’t throw the saw after use’ you could phrase it as ‘place the saw in the box after use’.
  5. Be fair and consistent – If your group has developed rules and expectations, ensure you follow them fairly and consistently. Firstly, if you don’t a child/client will pick you up on it. Secondly, this helps children to know where they stand and they start to learn the limits. If you suddenly change the limits this can be confusing and aggregating for a child.
  6. Activity Planning –  Think carefully about the activities you have planned, don’t make them too easy or too hard. This can lead to disruptive behaviour, as they finish too quickly or they simply can’t do it. You may consider delivering the activity is small achievable chunks so that children aren’t demotivated when left just to complete a task in one go. Prepare materials and support options you can provide a child/child to support or extend their activity. Due to the open and free play nature of Forest School activities often children will be able to adapt the activity to make it more challenging or easier for themselves.
  7. Self-Learning – The nature of Forest School is an ideal opportunity for children/clients to learn how some behaviours will impact on themselves. Allow participants to learn the consequence of an action. For example it’s raining and you tell everyone to put their coats on. If a child/client chooses not to listen, they will get wet, cold and uncomfortable. Use this as a learning opportunity, not in a ‘told you so way’, but ‘we’ve learnt that the rain will make us cold and wet, what should we do next time?’.

These tips should help develop the correct attitude and behaviour you expect all participants to demonstrate. However, on some occasions, you may find you have children, who  occasionally blow or suddenly become particularly disruptive. Below you will find some more techniques that may help in these situations:

  1. The Childs Needs: Consider the needs of the child. Usually you will find when a child become particularly disruptive that there is a reason behind it, sometimes identifying the problem and working with the child to correct it can solve the issue. The researcher Maslow did significant research into the Hierarchy of Needs. His research proposed that there are five hierarchical needs every person needs starting with psychological,then safety, love/belonging, esteem and final self-actualisation. Often a child’s behaviour can be related to one of these needs and you can solve the problems by helping them achieve their need. Below is a diagram of the needs, for a printable version please click on the diagram:
  2. Giving them space: Often when a child has an out burst they can storm off, it is important to give them space and time too cool off. Keep an eye on them from a distance. You may find they will rejoin the group on their own. If you have a group , which is prone to these outbursts, it is important to have additional adults, so individuals can be followed if they decided to take themselves off a little way. 
  3. The Distraction Techniques: I have found this technique particularly effective. Don’t pay attention to the behaviour and start doing something that grans their attention of focus, a new activity, a magic trick, start creating something in their vicinity, there curiosity will eventually get the better of them.
  4. Discussion: With all these techniques, once the situation has defused it is important to calmly discuss the behaviour. If you have an agreed ethos or statement, this can really help to structure this discussion. End the discussion by reassuring the child that next time they will have a thresh slate and an opportunity to start again.   
  5. Reflect and ReviewWhen finishing a session, which has involved disruptive behaviours make sure you take the time to review with the entire group, talk about the behaviours and the impact they had on others, this will give the children/clients the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

EvaluationAbove you will find a variety of techniques based on research and some of my own tried and tested experiences, however there are many other techniques that people may try and use effectively. The temptation when coming from a classroom environment into the forest school mentality is trying to apply the same techniques and methods applied in the classroom. I have found however that using the classroom behaviour system, golden time,  behaviour charts and sticker charts to have little to no effect in the Woodland environment. Essentially, I feel this is because you are somewhere new, where you’re trying to encourage freedom and creativity, if you suddenly revert back to classroom systems you lose this essential element and potentially the child, who is always considered ‘badly behaved’, may lose out on the experience and become demotivated.