What happens when it rains at forest school?

8th March 2019

After running forest schools for nearly 10 years, we find ourselves answering some questions many times, so in our new series of blogs we plan to answer some of the most frequently asked questions and shed some light on the questions that never go away, starting with the weather.

So what DO we do when it rains at forest school? This is a question we often get asked and running projects in Yorkshire, its unavoidable that it will happen.  Our projects are all outdoors taking place in public woodlands with no indoor venue to escape to.  So the simple answer is that everyone gets a bit wet and muddy.  For most people, this is fine – it can be great in fact, but for some this is a bit of a surprise!  If school instigates indoor playtime if its raining or parents insist that you’ll catch a cold if you get wet, children can start to believe that there is something inherently wrong with rain.

But there is a great deal of fun to be had in the rain if we treat it as another of nature’s changing resources for play.  There are small streams to build dams in, slopes to slide down, mud pies to make. Faces are often painted with mud and this camouflage often becomes part of a game such as capture the flag.   But in case anyone is at risk of getting too cold, our forest school practitioners are skilled in adapting to the conditions.  We put up shelters so that there is somewhere dry to have lunch or do some craft. We can also have a campfire and make something warm to eat, such as toasting the sandwiches that kids have brought for their lunch. Toasting marshmallow is also an activity that kids always enjoy. Warming themselves around the fire, then being rewarded with sweet melted marshmallow and a warming cup of hot chocolate works wonders to warm up chilly kids on a rainy day.  If staying seated, its easy to get cold, so we encourage active games to keep warm. One of our favourites is Bee Tig where everyone has to keep moving to avoid being stung, which gets the blood circulating and lifts spirits.

One of the joys of forest schools is allowing children the freedom to break the normal indoor rules and be more adventurous.  We love to see children who start forest school afraid of getting dirty, overcome their fears and embrace the woodland environment, with all its creepy crawlies, dirt and mud, although sometimes we know they can embrace it a little too much.  Our apologies to any parents who have had to take a thoroughly muddy child home in the car.  (Top tip, have a bin liner for them to sit on!)  For some adults, the playing out in all weathers brings back memories of their own outdoor childhood:

“Thanks to all the practitioners! My boy was suitably muddy & wet!! 

“This was definitely the muddiest session yet, but this is absolutely one of the best things that they get out of it – I spent most of my childhood unsupervised in woodland around our house and lost more than one welly in mud – it was brilliant fun! ”         Parents of Holiday Forest School participants

But in the winter, getting wet can lead to getting very cold so the right clothing is very important. Having waterproof boots, waterproof over trousers and a good waterproof coat, to stop all the warm layers underneath from getting wet, is key to enjoying forest school in the winter.   However, in torrential rain, eventually the water seems to penetrate even the best waterproofs, especially where clothing joins. We rarely cancel forest school but in very strong winds when trees and branches might blow down and also if there is just no let up in the rain, we may have to cancel for everyone’s safety.  Sometimes we have one or two children who haven’t got enough layers on, or who refuse to wear their coats, or who don’t have a very waterproof coat or simply feel the cold. If this is the case and we have tried all of the usual tactics including hot drinks, running around and warming up by the fire, we may have to call parents to collect children who need to go home.

However, wet weather can provide great fun and also challenge the resilience of kids. It’s also a great lesson to learn, that bad weather doesn’t need to stop them getting outside. In fact, there can be even more fun to be had when it’s raining or snowing as long as you have the right clothing.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” Alfred Wainwright