My son is a bit of a wild child; he is high energy, spirited, always on the go. Some people view this as a bad thing but I happen think it makes life more exciting. He’s always on the go and so are we! Last summer, when I was home for 2 months with him, we spent a lot of time outdoors. Exploring different parks (we made it our mission to find a new park every week!), going to farms, doing forest walks, going swimming, playing with sidewalk chalk/paints, going to county fairs, playing soccer, and so on.
A year before, I was starting to do a lot more reading about outdoor play and being in nature and wanted to find more opportunities for him to be outside so I started to look into opportunities for outdoor learning and fun. I had discovered “forest school”.
The Child and Nature Alliance explains the premise of forest/nature school:
“It can happen on a part-time or full-time basis, with all different age groups, in all seasons. It can take place in any kind of natural space – a stand of just a few trees or a majestic forest, a playground or an endless prairie field, a creek in a ditch or a vast ocean shoreline, tundra, desert, mountain. Children can find magic in the most ordinary of spaces. What matters is that they build a relationship to a place, through regular and repeated access to it, in the way that is most fitting to them: through play. Children at play in nature – that’s at the heart of Forest and Nature School, whatever you call it.
Skilled educators support that play and the learning that inevitably emerges from it through close observation. They follow the child’s interests, probe their theories, ask good questions, offer tools and resources, and get out of their way! They view children as innately competent, curious, and capable, and see themselves as facilitator, guide, and co-conspirator, not expert. Forest and Nature School educators are committed to place and play-based, emergent, and inquiry-driven teaching and learning.”
Forest school is a concept which has been popular in the United Kingdom for some time but is only now gaining popularity in North America.
One study of the impact of forest schools on young learners, found that forest school experience manages the positive elements needed for risk taking. Furthermore, another piece of research discovered that “children who play in natural environments undertake more creative, diverse and imaginative play; which is seen as an important element in children’s development (Sobel, 1993; Grahn, 1996; Taylor et al., 1998; Derr, 2001; Kellert, 2002; Fjortoft, 2004).”
O’Brien and Murray continue:
Forest School provides an opportunity for regular and critical observation of the ways that children take advantage of given freedoms (within a controlled setting) to express themselves physically and verbally. Long-term contact with Forest School involving regular and frequent sessions is important in allowing children the time and opportunity to learn and develop confidence at their own pace. The more relaxed and freer atmosphere provides a contrast to the classroom environment that suits some children who learn more easily from practical hands on involvement, such as kinaesthetic learners.
Having done a chunk of reading about unstructured, outdoor play, I decided that forest/nature school is something that would be a great fit for our family. The problem? The preschool session (2.5-4 year olds) was on Tuesdays and that was one of the two days my son was enrolled in preschool while I was on maternity leave.
Not to be discouraged, I decided to do the next best thing…
START MY OWN VERSION!
I continued to do research – reading books and articles and searching Pinterest for ideas. Then I made a post in a local moms group to see if anyone would be interested in joining me! The principle would be simple: each week we would meet for 1.5 hours at the forest near my house. I’d have one planned activity (craft or other activity) and the rest of the time would be free play in nature. It would be completely non-profit; a fee of $10 per child to cover the cost of a weekly snack and some basic craft supplies.
I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested and it would flop but I put it out there!
As it turns out, over 20 moms expressed interest and in the end, 20 kids were registered with, approximately, 12-14 attending weekly.
Together, we did nature walks and scavenger hunts, built rock towers and made stick men; we made bird feeders, sun-catchers, and garden decorations. We climbed rocks, did balance walking on logs, and jumped in puddles! We threw rocks in water and examined worms and bugs! We got muddy and soaking wet and most importantly, had fun!
If you’d like to take a peek at our forest school fun, take a look at this little video I put together!
Who am I?
Hi! I'm Megan. 21st century learner and teacher. I am passionate about DI, assessment, student success and #edtech. My blog is where I share what is happening in my classes, my professional learning and sometimes things that are on the outer circle of education. Comments always welcome!