I've been wanting to write about my latest project: becoming a certified forest school practitioner. In May, I took a 5 day intensive course in Huntsville through Forest School Canada. Over the next 10 months, I'll be completing various projects and practicum experiences.
Now, depending on who I say this to, I feel like a bit of a wacko. What is forest school? they ask. One person imagined groups dancing around a fire, pretending to be elves and fairies in the woods; another thought we'd set up desks and blackboards in the forest and have a full-time school.
I will try my best to summarize what I've learned so far about this philosophy (lots more reading and learning to come!).
Forest school is about:
Connecting to nature, to self, and to others. Connecting to a piece of wooded land on a regular, ongoing basis (once a week, usually) and learning to care for it. Instead of instilling children with a fear for all of the environmental disasters to come, instilling a love for the land, which will hopefully lead to efforts at conservation as they grow up.
"We cannot love what we do not know." ~ Richard Louv
* learner-centred, emergent, inquiry-based learning.
Chasing questions that come naturally from kids’ curiosity. Scaffolding the learning that has already happened. Observing carefully, and knowing when to insert some new information.
* cultivating imagination, resiliency, creativity, spirituality, and play.
* mentoring, teamwork, and building community.
Building strong adult-child connections that encourage this nature connection. Teaching conflict resolution skills in a group setting.
* risk taking.
Learning how to manage your own risks and challenging yourself by choice.
“Meaningful learning happens on the edge.” ~ Jon Cree
* slowing down, pausing to notice, and being mindful of the plants, creatures, and people around us. Learning about plants, trees, and ecosystems.
* building self esteem, emotional intelligence, and confidence by learning new skills.
Basically, it’s just the best kind of learning around! It’s something that more “primitive” cultures do naturally – mentor their young and help them to build skills while learning a connection to the land. Something our more “advanced” cultures can learn from.
There are different models for forest school. Some are every day preschool or kindergarten programs where children spend the majority of their day outdoors. Some spend half the day outside. In the UK, forest school programs are offered once a week for 3 hours or so for a 10-12 week block – all the way up into the high school grades.
One of the first things we were asked to think about in this course was: where was a special place for you as a child?
For me, this was my grandparents’ garden and the willow tree at my home. Learning the names of perennials and annual flowers, planting potatoes and corn, picking raspberries and sugar peas – these are wonderful memories of being outside and interacting with my grandparents and parents. Places where hours would pass and there was no such thing as boredom.
Reflecting on this experience has made think about my own children. I have no doubt they’ll learn how to be connected electronically. But I want them to know a deep connection to creation, to themselves, and to the people around them. I think that those relationships can only deepen through concentrated time spent cultivating those relationships.
First published by Rebecca on June 20, 2014.