Lesson of the Day: “Less is More”

by | Oct 7, 2020

“Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit experience and the last effort of genius.”
—George Sand

“Less is More” is a mantra that we all struggle with when it comes to our adult life. We have heard the phrase time and time again, but find ourselves always searching for more. Whether it be more clothes, a bigger house, more of this or more of that, we are almost to the point of being brainwashed by our society that we constantly need more stimulation and more material objects. This becomes an unfortunate characteristic that our society tends to imply also on our children. We see it with the superfluous amounts of toys and gadgets on the market, and then we see it trickle in through schooling systems. Children are expected to follow through with mountains of assignments given to them so that they seemingly will have a better academic understanding of the world. This system is now penetrating into even the youngest aged school children. Such high expectations end up discouraging them from being interested in some of the academic topics because the manner they are being introduced is too overwhelming.

At Aishling Forest School, our mentors are trained and educated in running the program as completely learner-led. What does learner-led or child-led learning mean? Mintz (2004, cited in Ricci, 2012) states that learner-centered education is “an approach that is based on the interest of the student rather than curriculum driven, where someone else has the idea of what you ought to be learning”. It is difficult for us adults to slow down and cut back on our expectations of children. We sometimes forget what it is like to be a child. This is where “less is more” becomes absolutely crucial.

We ask, what does child-led learning look like? Last week, we thought of some fun ideas but the children expressed interest in creating “wood cookies”. We quickly grabbed the tools and began teaching them tool safety and techniques and made our first “wood cookie” necklaces in the forest. The children expressed that they wanted to do more of that so we had grand ideas for some autumn themed projects the following week, maybe cutting some more “wood cookies” from an invasive species branch and creating “Harvest Moon” necklaces. Upon returning to the forest the next week, the children became deeply engrossed in building a new fort and creating new relationship dynamics amongst them. As much as our leaders and mentors were excited to assist the learners in creating more wood projects, we sat back and observed as we realized that this social play was exactly what they needed this week.Time and time again, the children show us that they are our greatest teachers.

Living in the present is most important and acceptance of things out of your control is key.

Which leads us to ponder, what are the known benefits of child-led learning? We see the lessons it teaches us, but what does it teach them? It ranges on their needs, sometimes it is socio-emotional lessons that need to occur, sometimes it’s gross motor, or fine motor skills. Sometimes its proprioception or vestibular senses that need to be engaged. Only the child knows, and we can only hold the space for them and follow their lead. According to Dr. Anna Housley, child-led activities are beneficial because they help children ”Figure out things for themselves. Learn how to take healthy risks. Find innovative ways to think about the world and how it works, based on their own self-led, intrinsically motivated interests. Practice necessary skills such as overcoming obstacles, creative problem solving (on their own or with other children), communicating their feelings effectively with others, and working with those who may have difference points of view. Experience the joy of self-discovery, the thrill of being able to pursue their own creative ideas without the dear of failure that usually arises when there is one, predetermined way to be “right” or to “win”.”

More and more studies are resurfacing showing us all the importance of learner-led schooling. In a research paper titled “Moving up the Grades: Relationship between Preschool Model and Later School Success”, Rebecca Marcon compared the three different approaches for their effect on children’s development and mastery of basic skills at the end of preschool. “Findings indicated that children whose preschool experiences had been child-initiated demonstrated greater mastery of basic skills at the end of preschool than did children in programs where academics were emphasized and skills were directly taught.”. Marcon followed up the studies when the same students were in 5th and 6th grade, her studies found that although no significant differences were found in academic achievement in fifth grade, the students’ report card scores in sixth grade were correlated with the type of preschool they had attended, such that those who had been in a child directed setting had GPAs 14% higher than those who had attended academically directed schools.

To the untrained eye, it might seem like it just looks like there is a group of kids playing in the woods, it might not seem like much. But really, at the end of the day “less is more”, those children are doing way more than any of us adults might ever be able to comprehend, study, document, and write papers about. At forest school, we watch that and we see the magic unfold, we see them develop all those socio-emotional skills and physical development, we see that. We also see so much more from the child-led model in that safe space held by nature with nurturing mentors. We see them learn to love themselves, learn to love each other, and learn to love mama earth. As mentors, we walk away at the end of the day learning those same lessons and we remember “less is more” with our hearts filled with gratitude.

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