Evaluation of physical activity at Forest School
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While the health benefits of physical activity are commonly recognised, increasing evidence indicates that significant percentages of children, particularly girls, are not sufficiently physically active. Children spend a large proportion of their waking day at school; however their opportunities to be physically active during the school day, beyond the traditional PE lesson and break times, are limited. Increasing children’s levels of physical activity during their time at school may be a key approach to increasing children’s overall levels of physical activity. The aim of this study was to evaluate the outdoor education programme ‘Forest School’ as a source of school based physical activity. A review of existing research showed that there had been no rigorous evaluation of physical activity during Forest School sessions. A two phase mixed method design was used. The first phase used a repeated measures controlled design to objectively measure the amount, intensity, duration and frequency of the participants’ (n26 age 9-10) physical activity during Forest School. The second phase used semi-structured paired interviews (n24 age 10-11) to understand the subjective experience of the Forest School physical activity. The study was conducted in the central belt of Scotland. The results showed that during Forest School sessions the participants engaged in a significantly greater total amount of physical activity, at a higher intensity, and with a greater frequency of longer bouts, in comparison to the typical school days. The children were also shown to reach the recommended hour of MVPA during the Forest School sessions. The children reported enjoying and appreciating the opportunity to be physically active in an environment they had little previous experience of using. Existing barriers to physical activity in other contexts, in particular bad weather and low motivation, did not appear to be relevant at Forest School. The inequality in levels of physical activity and motivation to be physically active, between males and females, was shown to typically be lower on the Forest School days. The findings suggest participation in Forest School resulted in greater quantities of inclusive and enjoyable physical activity at higher intensities than otherwise experienced at school.