A Look Inside the Magic of Forest School: A Practice in Being Human

by | Nov 5, 2021

“Uncertain times require personal responsibility, independence of thought, self-initiative, self-assertion, flexibility, creativity, imagination, and willingness to take risks.” —Peter Gray 

Aishling Forest School is a home for all, as we are part of Mother Nature and Mother Nature is the mother to us all, fully inclusive of each and every one of her children. Every season, we have a wide range of learners from various backgrounds and our goal is to celebrate each one of them, exactly as they are and to create a community where each learner has the opportunity to thrive as an individual and as a collective. Our Forest School is a grand container for practicing life as a human.

Over the last week, we have noticed four general themes occur at Forest School and they are:

  1. Engagement and enjoyment: Via our community games (such as Predator vs. Prey and Forest Fire), making fire from scratch, continued creative play, nature journaling and den building to name a few.
  2. Relationships and interactions with others: Learning through Rough Play about consent, boundaries and practicing conflict resolution and non-violent communication via our Community Agreements and peacemaking opportunities.
  3. Perception of self: Our learners are growing their inner landscape through risk taking and socio-emotional interactions.
  4. Beyond Forest School: Via gratitude practices for our community, our families, our ancestors, and our respect to the Unkechaug Indigenous Nation whose land we occupy and are current stewards of.

Some of the magic of Forest School resides in the opportunity for regular and critical observation of the ways that children can positively take advantage of given freedoms (within a controlled setting) to express themselves physically and verbally. These given freedoms are not normally afforded in structured settings and allow learners to pursue their interests and to discover their passions with enjoyment.

Each week, we introduce a new activity or idea for the learners to engage with (or not). Some of these activities include rope play, knot making, shelter creation, mud play, journaling, art, whittling, fire making and tree climbing. When we say “introduced”, what we mean is that the activity is presented and demonstrated to the learners, those who show interest are happy to join in and partake, those who are not interested are allowed to freely choose another activity. The freedom of choice is always present and no learner is ever forced to partake in any particular activity. We also strive to encourage inclusion within our activities and do not permit learners to exclude other learners from our group activities.

Additionally, during each class, we strive to include the theories of psychologist Daniel Goleman Ph.D on Emotional Intelligence, as nature provides the open space for learners to journey through the five components of emotional intelligence. These components include:

  1. Self awareness: encouraging learners to challenge themselves and take risks. This may be physical activities such as tree climbing that support awareness of physical self or reflective activities that encourage children to analyze their successes and failures
  2. Self regulation: Forest school promotes self-regulation in the same way as self awareness, by providing activities that challenge the child. It is only through experiencing situations that challenge their emotions will children learn to manage them.
  3. Internal motivation: Forest school sessions are child-led and promote motivation as they allow children to explore their own interests and learn in a way that suits their learning style.
  4. Empathy: Empathy is supported by developing an environment where all members of the group are equal and encouraging children to talk to each other about how they feel. We will also be implementing closing circles that focus on how mentors and learners felt and what they enjoyed and found challenging during the session.
  5. Social skills: Forest schools promote social skills by giving learners opportunities to work in different sized groups and with a variety of ages both younger and older. Playing games that involve verbal and non-verbal communication support development of social skills. When there are conflicts between learners during sessions, we don’t jump in straight away but rather allow them the opportunity to resolve problems and agree to compromises between themselves. Conflict resolution is an important social skill.

Coming full circle starting with nature as our foundation, rising to our young learners and then to our adult community of mentors and caregivers, where we can view ourselves as nature elders. As such, we foster our learner’s sense of wonder through our own curiosity and innate knowing that each child has a gift to offer this world and each other. As elders, we are often individuals who can help others learn to mitigate risk through knowledge of the environment and the ability to distinguish risks from hazards (Jayewardene 2013; MacEachren 2013). Some consider the relationship between the adults and children as one of the most important aspects of forest schools (Maynard 2007), which places a high value on incorporating a true respect for the child and developing relationships based on mutual trust.

The magic at Forest School comes naturally, as we utilize our connectedness to ourselves, each other and Mother Nature in a simple yet profound way and as an ideology based in trust, love and hope for a brighter future. Together, we can rise and rise again!

Here are ways to to re-create some Forest School magic at home:

  • It’s as simple as just spending time with nature!
  • Take your family for walks in one of Long Island’s beautiful nature trails, or on the beach, or around your neighborhood. Taking your time and not having a final destination or set number of steps to take will only add to the wonder and delight of being together outside.
  • Having a garden in your yard or plants inside your home (great for air quality!) is a great way to have children be involved in the magic of nature.
  • Nature has also been shown to be beneficial even if it’s just images of nature, so feel free to borrow some books about animals and trees from your local library, or make your movie night choice be a nature documentary. Some of our family favorites are Life in Color and A Life on Our Planet with David Attenborough, Chasing Coral, My Octopus Teacher, The March of the Penguins, Fantastic Fungi, Tiny Creatures and Dancing with the Birds.

 

 

 

 

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