Building Community (and Kingdoms) at Forest School
“Children see magic because they look for it.” – Christopher Moore
Most adults walk into the woods and see a pile of sticks on the ground, and only see the pile of sticks. Our Forest School learners walk into the woods and see a pile of sticks on the ground as a fairy palace waiting to be built.
And better yet, they build a kingdom of palaces to be shared and united as a kingdom, as opposed to the lonesome “palaces” we build for ourselves in our adult society of “you look after yours, and I’ll look after mine.” Just like magic, children see and feel interconnection and oneness.
During our first week of Forest School at the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery (CEED) in Brookhaven, our learners so beautifully demonstrated their sense of community connection and imagination. We watched the returning Forest School learners welcome our new learners eagerly. At Forest School – as always in life – nature is our common ground, the life-affirming factor that unites us as one.
Our Forest School locations welcome learners of a wide age range, from 3 to 9 years old. Most might wonder, “how could a three year old and nine year old play and learn together?” The forest best answers the question, and demonstrates that play is learning by offering a myriad of activities that inspire the children to think creatively, see things differently, work together responsibly, and solve problems. The fun is inspired and shared, which encourages the children to follow their flow, and brings smiles to our faces and fascination to our minds as Forest School leaders.
Additional researched mixed-aged learning benefits include:
- Nurtures early childhood learning and leadership
- Establishes a sense of uniqueness
- Builds cooperation rather than competition
- Grows confidence
- Introduces new ways to develop and grow
Some of the team play and learning displayed by our learners this week at CEED was building palaces out of sticks, allocating resources from pinecones to leaf crowns, assigning responsibilities to everyone within the imaginary kingdom, protecting each other from “troll attacks”, creating maps of their kingdoms in their leather-bound nature journals, tying and untying knots together, and of course, some rounds of “Tug of War.” All children played together and included each other, all on their own.
It is quite relieving, yet enlivening, to watch the children take responsibility for their play and learning. As Forest School leaders, we observe what the children take interest in and gently provide the support and encouragement for them to pursue their interests. We ask questions that there is no right or wrong answer for, but an answer that they get to decide and enjoy! Instead of telling the children “you can use this pinecone for that,” we ask the children, “what would you like to use that pinecone for?”
We as Forest School leaders are so inspired by the channeled inspiration we watch unfold within our Forest School learners. The magic of Forest School learning is that it is meant to be entirely child-led, meaning that the children decide how they are going to play and what they are going to learn that day. As adults, leaders and teachers, we learn how to trust the natural instincts of the children, surrendering our agendas of “they must learn this” or “it must be done this way.” We learn from the creative genius and the natural gravitation to magic and play that children are so connected to and adept at.
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