27 July 2014

The Perfect Education Model for Our Times - Forest Schools

Charlotte's beautiful eagle, after storytelling in the woods

I seem to do at least one nifty thing every summer that I want to share with you here. I've told you about my nature daycamps and growing wheat with my students and my community's Fall Fair Young People's Agriculture division. Well, this year it's the Forest School Educator training program I attended last week. 

Forest School Canada's Maureen Power and Jon Cree from the UK's Forest School Association spent a week with us, pretty much all in the woods (on an urban university campus, so it doesn't have to be in the wilderness), including two rainy days in the middle of the week. 

The magic of the program came partly from the wonderful synergy of the 18 participants, partly from the lovely wooded site that was chosen for the training, partly because the instructors work (and play) and teach so well together, partly from the great food, and partly because I was so ready for this. 

Forest School is as close to our species' original education "model" as you can get. It's based on regular and repeated access to the same natural space, whether for half a day per week or every school day. Children and adults spend their time in "their" woods or other natural setting in every sort of weather, year round. 

The kids play (play is a child's learning work) and the role of their teachers is to supply "loose parts" like tools and art supplies, and to keep the children safe while observing their growth and development. 

All the things we were learning and developing
It's not the same as outdoor education or environmental education where there is a pre-determined learning goal. In Forest School, the "curriculum" is emergent, which is to say that the children choose what they want to do next and so that's what they'll learn next. The learning is experiential, inquiry-based, play-based and place-based. 
Making a mallet (woodcraft and safety)

It might be climbing a rock or a tree (they'll learn courage and strategy, gross motor skills and pride of accomplishment) or sitting quietly in their magic spot with a journal (where they'll develop self-regulation skills, the gift of contemplation, and perhaps their writing skills and artistic side). 

Our week of training was a rich, warm, powerful, loving and learningful experience.

Here's what I know, for sure, in the depth of my heart. If our training course was a taste of what we can create in our own educational settings, then it's what I want for my students ... and for all the
human children in the world!

(For a history of this movement, check out Forest and Nature School in Canada: A Head, Heart, Hands Approach to Outdoor Learning.)

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?