It’s So Much More Than Just Mucking Around in the Woods

by | Oct 14, 2020

There are fewer things in life as pure as the sound of children playing and learning together. Without realizing they are doing so, these learners are facilitating healthy brain development, increased body schema awareness and sensory processing. Children today are facing a dilemma which previous generations did not- the almighty screen. TV, tablets, smart phones, and other devices are filling the free time of our children resulting in long bouts of inactivity and minimal sensory input. Although technology does have its place in our society, children; and young children especially; require the physicality of playing outside in nature to foster healthy development.

The development of a child is an endless explosion of synaptic fireworks- every experience a child has shapes them developmentally. It has been long believed and researched that children do their best learning during play (AOTA.org,2020). From birth on, the child’s brain is receiving, processing, interpreting, and responding physically and emotionally to sensory information. Our sensory systems include the visual (what we see), tactile (what we feel/touch), auditory (what we hear), olfactory (what we smell), and proprioception (being aware of our body’s position and movement) (DeLaney, Pendzick, 2009).

They say the fresh air does a body good- an environment such as Aishling Forest School profoundly facilitates sensory integration development. Giving the learners the freedom to explore their surroundings with flexible limits and with little direction permits our learners to be curious, which in turn leads to learning and development. The nature of Forest School is purposeful and unique because it aids sensory integration in a truly natural way. Take the simple act of walking through the woods- the stimulus being experienced by the learner is beautiful and immersive. The sensory input while in the forest can be experienced individually, while also simultaneously. “Input from each sensory system can inhibit or stimulate every other sensory system” (DeLaney, Pendzick, 2009). For example: When one of our learners inhales the smells of the dirt and fresh air, while looking upward toward the flickering canopy of green leaves, they also need to be aware of their body while walking through the forest as to not trip over a stray tree root, or bush. Feeling the breeze on their face and skin while simultaneously watching the effect of the breeze on the leaves and branches of the trees. Hearing their boots crunching over the deciduous foliage on the ground or becoming aware of the wildlife after hearing a squirrel crashing from one tree branch to the other. Maybe it is the faint sound of a woodpecker searching for food by relentlessly pecking at tree branches. How curious that the sound of deadwood is different from that of a live tree, these learners are learning and making connections without even realizing they are doing it. That’s the magic!

worms at forest schoolAll these seemingly simple experiences are creating synaptic connections in the brain and throughout the central nervous system creating complex and well-equipped sensory processing. The more experiences your little has away from screens and without sitting for long periods of time is developmentally beneficial. Whether one of our learners is sloshing around making a beautiful chocolate mud cake, gently handling mini beast friends or testing their own limits of balance and bravery trying to conquer the rope bridge- they are creating crucial connections in their brain and body. These connections are laying the foundation for all future experiences and subsequently their reactions to these experiences. We have seen repeatedly the resilience of a learners who is testing their own personal limits and trying new things. The self confidence and personal growth of the learners who come to forest school is truly inspired and continually growing from the first day, to the last day.

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