Why Mother Nature is the Greatest Teacher of All Time

by | Sep 29, 2021

“Our role is not to change or control the world as a human, but to learn from the world how to be human.”- Robin Wall Kimmerer

This past week, we welcomed our learners back into their home in the woods, through sun filtered tree canopies echoed in laughter and play. We welcomed them back into the magic of childhood under the tutelage of the greatest teacher of all: Mother Nature. 

When we enter Forest School, our bodies relax into their most natural state and research proves that being in nature is one of the best places for young learners (and everyone else!) Researched benefits of forest school and unstructured play state that children are:

  1. Are less likely to come down with common infections, since they spend little time inside, where viruses and bacteria thrive (Grahn, 1997)
  2. Have better motor skills, such as agility, balance and coordination (Fjortoft, 2014)
  3. Increased ability to perceive and manage risk (Savery et al, 2016)
  4. Engage in more imaginative and dynamic forms of play (Martensson, 2004)
  5. Are less likely to be overweight or obese (Boldermann et al, 2005)
  6. See improvements in confidence, social skills, language and communication, motivation and concentration (O’Brien, 2007)
  7. Become more resilient and confident, increasing overall well being (Blackwell, 2015)
  8. Experience positive emotions, restorative effects and lowered stress levels as compared to a conventional indoor school (Roe, 2014)
  9. Heightened self-awareness, understanding and respect of themselves and the natural world (O’Brien, 2005)
  10. Are less likely to experience ADHD symptoms (Isted, 2013).

As our learners transition from the inside world out, they enter a world of unlimited possibility, where their creative genius (here’s the NASA research stating that young children are actually creative geniuses before they enter school) can flourish in their own way and in their own time. In just the last week, learners began the following creative directives through unstructured, learner-led play:

aishling forest school zipline

  1. Learning the basics of whittling, a prerequisite to knife work. Whittling is fantastic because it builds strength in hands and fingers, which helps with handwriting and fine motor skills. Whittling also sparks a sense of calm, curiosity and creativity, as you’re uncovering a whole other world beneath the surface of the wood and that stick can the become so many things- a wand, a pencil or a fishing pole.
  2. Creating a woodland zip line out of rope going in-between two trees. This is science, technology and engineering, art and math (STEAM) in action. When one watches children at play, it’s impossible not to see them as scientists or engineers, asking and answering their own questions, engaging in experiments, figuring out fundamental truths about our world and each other.
  3. Creating community through the use of learner-led agreements. Community and play give learners a sense of belonging, responsibility, care and courage to stand up for what they believe is right. We do this by creating a manifesto where each agreement is created by a community consensus regarding The Forest School Way, which consists of how best to 1. Take care of ourselves, 2. Take care of each other and 3. Take care of mama earth. Every voice matters and is heard at Forest School.
  4. Den building is back! Dens provide so many creative and gross motor opportunities to create enclosures for dynamic and socio-emotional play. Plus the creation of dens is intrinsically tied to survival when outdoors. Furthermore, the materials available outdoors, such as soil and leaves, sticks and stones, are ideal for children to manipulate and experiment with. There are interesting and unusual places to hide, climb and balance. A whole range of elements to encourage imaginative, challenging and creative play. Den building allows children to interact with natural elements. They learn to negotiate, problem solve, resolve, manage and work as a team. Learning to work together can be difficult at any age but den building can be a way of learning to cooperate. During this process they are often open to other learner’s suggestions and learn from their own mistakes.
  5. Basic understanding of the ever important concepts of consent and boundaries. With unstructured play, always come physical play that may include rough and tumble play, an embodied and experiential teacher in consent and boundaries. At Forest School, we model consent and boundaries and give our learners the socio-emotional tools to undertake the Platinum Rule, which is: “do unto others as THEY want done unto them.”  The Golden Rule is a splendid concept except for one thing: Everyone is different, and the truth is that in many cases what you’d want done to you is different from what someone else wants done unto them. Societally, we are learning to grow and learn about others’ unique experiences. It’s not acceptable to treat everyone like yourself, because everyone has different struggles, backgrounds, privileges and blind spots. By asking our Forest School friends what they might want or need or by simply checking in with each other, we are working to foster a community of inclusion and belonging- for everyone.

As we can see, our learners have so much to offer to themselves, each other and the greater world around them. The sky is literally the limit for each of them and we can’t wait to see where they take us next week. As always, it’s our honor to hold space for our learners as we know they are our greatest hope for a brighter future. Mother Earth is so proud and so are we.

Forest School at Home Enrichment Ideas Include:

  1. Working with your kiddos to peel vegetables or fruits for dinner. This will allow them to become more comfortable when whittling and is a great way for them to be involved in their meal prep (and to eat more veggies!)
  2. Create a family manifesto at home. Talk about what’s important to you as a family and create agreements regarding how you want to be treated. Come to a consensus using a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” voting method. Print it out and place it somewhere where everyone can see and refer to when needed. Here is another example of how to create a family manifesto.
  3. Collecting sticks for a den in your own backyard or creating a mini den for forest fairies and gnomes. Here are some great ideas for indoor and outdoor den building inspiration. Wonder with them what den design would hold up best in the wind? What might help to keep the rain out?
  4. Continuing the conversation about consent and boundaries. At Forest School, when we hear the word “stop” or “ouch”, we all stop what we’re doing and check in with the learner(s) saying “stop” or “ouch”.  Mentors also mention aloud that they heard the word “stop” and that we agreed that we would check in with each other when we hear this. We also showcase what consent looks like when asking for a hug. Did you ask for a hug and did the person enthusiastically say “yes” with their words and body? We also show them what a verbal “yes” and a body movement “no” looks like (arms crossed, backing up), as this is not consent, even though it may sound like it. It’s a big topic and we’ll be sure to continue working on it together, all season long. We’re in this together!


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