As the technological world continues to progress, the possibility of losing touch with our natural world becomes more eminent. Starting in the 90s, early nature-based education programs have sprung up to reconnect children with the great outdoors. These small programs are now part of a global movement known as forest school.
“Forest school is essentially outdoor, nature-based learning that focuses on the holistic development of the child.”
Along with wonder and appreciation for their environment, children learn to expertially assess, value and take risks, make sensible and informed decisions. Kids learn about the natural world by experiencing it.
If nature bores kids (which it rarely does in practice), their creative muscles start to develop. It’s not long before they start paying attention to things they’ve never noticed until now. Like the pattern on tree bark, different species of insects, or the sounds mud makes when it swishes through your fingers. The natural world is full of playful learning possibilities.
Typical forest school activities might include:
- Sensory walks
- Shelter building
- Mini beast hunts
- Tree climbing
- Campfire cooking
- Nature art
- Games like Hide and Seek
- Fire building and lighting
- Puddle and mud jumping
To learn more about the spirit and vision common to this movement, listen to the story of The Playgarden, a forest school group in Florida.
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
In effort to experience something similar for ourselves, we joined up with some friends for a recurring meet-up at the same spot in the woods. No matter the weather — rain, snow, or sunshine — forest school will be open. The goal is to explore and notice how the same environment changes with the seasons. Like in the winter, how the stream freezes over but still trickles underneath.
Allowing kids to take more risk outdoors raises legitimate concerns about safety.
Keeping kids safe is a priority. But as counter intuitively as it may sound, this is best done by allowing kids to take more responsibility for themselves. If your stomach just dropped, take a deep breath. To help turn worrisome nervous energy into supportive and trusting confidence, Josée from Backwoods Mama, has some advice for us. Instead of saying “Be careful!”, she shares how we can actively coach kids through safety concerns.
Help Your Child Foster Awareness by Saying:
- Notice how… these rocks are slippery, that branch is strong
- Do you see… the poison ivy, your friends nearby?
- Try moving… your feet carefully, quickly strongly
- Try using your… hands, feet, arms, legs
- Can you hear… the rushing water, the singing birds, the wind?
- Do you feel… stable on that rock, the heat from the fire?
- Are you feeling… scared, excited, tired, safe?
Help Your Child Problem Solve by Saying:
- What’s your plan… if you climb that boulder, cross that log?
- What can you use… to get across, for your adventure?
- Where will you… put that rock, climb that tree, dig that hole?
- How will you… get down, go up, get across?
- Who will… be with you, go with you, help you if?
“The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.”
Keeping kids clean, however, is not a priority. You might want to have a change of clothes for everybody and a tarp in the backseat. Grandpa came to visit once and while searching for a girl’s lost shoe, got stuck in the mud too.
Set up your own forest school or you can subscribe to join us for our next one.
LIVE. EXPLORE. LEARN. R3IMAGINE LIFE is an emerging co-op community for homeschooling families to share adventures in self-directed learning and respectful parenting. If play is learning, then the world is our playground.