AN INNOVATIVE approach to teaching which brings classroom learning to the woodland environment is been hailed as the latest weapon in the battle against childhood obesity.
Forest Research - one of the world's leading centres of research into woodland and forestry - has carried out an evaluation of the new approach, exploring the benefits of enabling children to spend regular time learning all aspects of the curriculum and undertaking physical activities in a woodland setting.
Active Woods: aiming to get people off their sofas
and out into the fresh air
With the Government promising to curb obesity in children by 2010, effective ways of promoting physical activity and well-being are becoming increasingly sought - and the Forest School programme combines exercise with improving confidence and self-esteem, motor skills, knowledge of the environment, team work and communication skills.
Close supervision allows the children to undertake more strenuous activities such as tree climbing and den building.
The use of the natural environment has also been suggested as a possible means of support for children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) - by increasing their attention spans when they play in green settings.
"A study in America found that the benefits children gained when using green space occurred not only during the time the children spent in green settings, but also lasted afterwards in a way that did not occur when they played indoors," explains Dr Liz, O'Brien, project leader of Forest Research's Environmental and Human Sciences Division.
"Spending time outdoors in this way has a really positive effect on children.
"At first the physical activity makes them tired, but as time goes by their stamina increases and you can really see the difference."
Children were also found to take the experience home with them and tell their families, often resulting in the whole family going to woodlands at the weekend and raising their activity levels.
Forestry Commission Chairman, Lord Clark, added: "Woods are great places for exercise such as walking, running and cycling and research has proven that woods and green spaces help reduce stress levels and boost morale.
"Being outside in the fresh air works your brain as well as your muscles and offers people the chance to get fit while enjoying themselves. It beats the gym, membership is free, and the whole family can come along."
- The Forestry Commission has launched its Active Woods 2006 Campaign, aiming to get people off their sofas and out into the fresh air. As part of the campaign, Forestry Commission rangers have planned a calendar of fun and invigorating 'Wear Your Wellies in the Woods' events to encourage children to explore the countryside's beautiful natural landscape - and get fit in the process. Find out more at www.forestry.gov.uk/activewoods