A Whanganui forest education project is in the running for a $25,000 grant from WWF.

Dani Lebo's forest school project has reached the finals in this year's WWF Conservation Innovation Awards.

She hoped to expand on her current work assisting schools and early childhood centres with outdoor education to provide primary schools with access to a forest school.

"Forest school is an idea that started in Europe in the fifties, I believe," Mrs Lebo said.


The philosophy is child-led, focused on teaching what the child wants to learn.

"If you can tap in to what they're interested in, they're going to learn a lot more."

Forest schools were common in Europe and other parts of the world, Mrs Lebo said.

"Our goal is to say this is a form of education that is working really well worldwide and take it in to the public school system."

Forest school would take place in the same outdoor area each time, so children could take ownership of it and see how the seasons changed the landscape.

Mrs Lebo, who is originally from the United States, taught Spanish as well as outdoor education before having children and setting up playgroup Nature Play.

She said it would be amazing to win the award, and the funding.

"I've basically been doing it for free for the past two years ... for me to do all that not getting paid is really hard."

If the project won, the WWF grant would be used for staff wages, equipment and to provide learning resources.

Mrs Lebo has been running Nature Play and forest-school style sessions at the Eco School for several years, with the help of her husband, Nelson.

She said she had now identified the barriers to schools holding regular forest school sessions.

"A lot of them are really easy to get past."

A lack of wet weather gear, health and safety concerns, lack of trained forest school facilitators and the need to link forest school to the curriculum were the main barriers.

Mrs Lebo said she was lucky to have the backing of many local parents whose children participated in her playgroup.

"We are really lucky, we have a really strong community of support here in Whanganui."

Awards would be given in three categories - engaging young people and communities, Predator Free New Zealand 2050, and an open category. Winners would be announced at a ceremony in Wellington on November 22.