5 Reasons Phenology Is Great For Forest School

5 Reasons Phenology Is Great For Forest School. 

Mammatus clouds build on a stormy day over Cheshire, UK.

About Phenology

I discovered phenology through a Facebook post a few months ago.  It made sense straight away about things I was already doing.  Both within my Forest School practice and with learners.  Phenology is the study of seasonal and cyclical natural events, particularly as they relate to climate, plant, and animal life.  A simpler definition might be: observing nature and noticing the changes that happen in nature over time. 

Phenology offers a useful framework for comprehending natural cycles.  Phenology can be skilfully incorporated into Forest School environments to enhance outdoor learning opportunities.  Following are 6 reasons to consider including phenology as part of your Forest School practice.

Phenology involves observation of nature and its changes, over time.

Observational Learning

Encouraging students to track changes in their surroundings over time helps them develop a greater understanding of nature’s complexity and a closer bond with it.  Practicing ‘looking’ with sight and sound help us to hone in on what’s happening.  Also, noting the changes occurring, perhaps even on a weekly basis.   Looking at the weather and noticing it’s changing patterns, temperatures and wind movement all positive ways to observe.  Documenting these changes demonstrates a living, changing ecosystem.  

Fungi on a tree stump in the forest.

Phenology For The Senses

Several of our senses take the lead when it comes to phenology.  Sight and sound are the key senses engaged as we monitor the ever evolving woodland.  With our fast paced modern digital world slowing the pace, taking notice and really honing in on what is happening around them.  We do this at a micro and macro level.  Smell may also be another sense that is brought into play.  The smell of impending rain, fresh spring flowers and other enticing woodland fragrances can change over time.  Learners improve their critical thinking abilities when deciphering theses changes.  The comprehend ecological ideas like interdependence and biodiversity by actively engaging in phenological observations. 

Computer Keyboard

Cross Curriculum Links 

Phenology offers cross curriculum learning possibilities in a Forest School setting.  This is accomplished through effortless integration  with a variety of curriculum subjects.  These include science, maths, English, and art – with the possibility of hitting all subjects at different times.  The wonderful role of Forest School is that learning is not chained to a timetable or statutory curriculum targets.  Beyond a typical classroom lesson, it is often caught through play or activities that learners engage in.  In fact, play is a critical component of the Forest School experience and can provide opportunities for learners to engage directly with the woodland or natural space. 


Seasonal Awareness

Students have the potential to develop a sense of seasonal awareness and environmental responsibility.  They achieve this through being attentive to the seasonal cycles of plants and animals through phenological observations.  While the classic seasonal change is summer to autumn, the all seasonal changes have treasures to offer up.  Temperatures cooling or warming, leaves changing colour and falling from the trees, stormy winds blowing, pretty snow falling, and life giving rain falling are just some of the seasonal changes learners can observe.

A wind meter helps to monitor the changes in weather conditions at Forest School.

Short and Long-Term Monitoring

By integrating phenological monitoring into Forest School learning, students may follow environmental changes over an extended period of time, enabling them to become knowledgeable about issues such as sustainability and conservation.  If they don’t know how will they care about or for the world they inhabit?  The ability to to communicate about what’s going on around them enables learners to pass on information, knowledge and passion to others, persuading and involving others in this journey to a better natural world. 

Snow banked up against trees in winter.

Practical Phenology – applications for the woodland. 

So, the theory of phenology sounds good, but what does it look like practically?  Following are three applications of phenology in practice  within my own Forest School practice.  There will definitely be more and you may be able to expand further in your own setting. Realistically, it’s about adaption to your learners, the space you work within and the regularity with which you see your learners.  It might be weekly, monthly or yearly, but whichever it is, any time you gather is another opportunity to observe, monitor and record. 

Phenology Wheel

A recent tool that I’ve started using in this summer term is the phenology wheel.  I read about this on the Boyce Thompson Arboretum website.

This simple task can be adapted to your situation and requirements.  I made my own on a six week rotation which works with my weekly school classes.  Each class has a 6 week block of Forest School sessions.  

You can also do 12 monthly segments or other dates that suit your schedule and fit easily to divide a circle up.  ATT-Phenology Wheel

A phenology wheel is a good starting point for all learners to make notes and drawings of what they notice.  It stimulates their thinking and can be a prompt at different times of the year.

Observation Station

Every week we offer learners to engage in observation.  We provide binoculars, magnifying glasses and tape measures to fuel their curiosity and enable them to explore and follow their interests around the woodland.  We often follow this up with other activities and games that engage our learner’s observation skills.  Discovering worms under a log is a great way to engage our observation tools and discussion.

Awe and Wonder

Recapturing a sense of awe and wonder requires you to stop and take notice.  Demonstrating this through your own awe at nature is catching, so I always take the time to share things that capture my attention. Things that make me go ‘wow’!  Dancing butterflies intertwined in their own world or a robin foraging for food.  Snails hanging from branches and a rainbow stretched across the sky.  These all provide rich opportunities to marvel and wonder at our natural world.  See our blog on nature’s awe and wonder for more.








However you choose to engage with phenology, it’s a great way to get your learners observing.  The woodland is ever evolving in its cycles throughout the year.  Even if you miss a week, you can just pick up next time.  There will be more treasures to discover and take note of.  Want to talk more or have us come and do a phenology session at your setting?  Then drop us a line to continue the conversation. 

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