The Power of Child-Led Community

by | Dec 7, 2020

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”- Margaret J. Wheatley

When among the trees, it’s natural to understand the web of connection and community. The connection of its leaves, the mini beasts to the deadwood, the birds and their nests and how the rhythm of the weather and the seasons play a pivotal role in all of our lives, as students of Earth School. Our mission at Forest School is to deepen the connection not only to ourselves but also to each other and the bigger world around us, in the greatest classroom of all with nature as our teacher. The crux of our mission is creating a container in which socio-emotional development is an intentional and significant part of what we do and in creating a space where learners feel empowered and invested to bring forth their highest self.

As mentors, we’ve learned through careful observation that one of the keys to socio-emotional development is co-creating a culture built on community. Strong communities have members who have shared goals and experiences, who feel empowered to contribute, who trust one another, and who feel understood and capable as individuals. These attributes enable teamwork, a willingness to negotiate, cooperation, and the ability to draw on one another’s skills. (National Association for the Education of Young Children)

Translating this idea of community into reality presents a unique opportunity and one that young learners are ripe for, as they are eager for the responsibility and the chance to have more control over their own worlds. Outside of their families, our Forest School family is a new world in which each learner is an active member, not only among our forest family but also within our “home in the woods” and the greater natural world around us.

aishling forest school, child led communityOver the last 2 weeks, we have taken a lot of focused “breaths in” and have participated in “community meetings” about our forest school guidelines and natural consequences. These guidelines have become a deeper extension of our “Forest School Way” and how best to communicate, implement and synthesize 1. Taking Care of Yourself, 2. “Taking Care of Each other” and 3. “Taking Care of Mama Earth.” This Forest School Manifesto is a community culmination of our shared belief system and is meaningful to the learners because it is in their language and is framed in the lens through which they see the world.

We are incredibly proud of our co-created Manifesto and excited to share with it with you, as these guidelines extend far beyond the scope of Forest School and into the world of our learners as they journey through this one wild and precious life.

The Aishling Forest School Learner’s Manifesto: Created By and For the Fall 2020 Learners + Mentors

Taking Care of Ourselves:

  1. Think before you act
  2. Put on more layers if you’re feeling cold
  3. Be careful with tools and sharp objects
  4. Don’t do things that hurt others- like hitting, kicking, biting or name calling
  5. Don’t do things that are really out of your comfort zone- like climb a tree too high
  6. Drink water if you’re thirsty and eat when you’re hungry
  7. Stay healthy- eat good and healthy foods
  8. Don’t be someone you’re not. Always be you
  9. Don’t touch or eat something if you don’t know what it is
  10. Don’t touch fire
  11. Use the word “STOP”. Walk away from a bad situation and get a trusted grown up if you need more support. If you need a break from a situation, take space, get centered and start again
  12. If your backpack is too heavy, make it lighter
  13. Ask for help when you need it
  14. Share if it makes you feel good
  15. Wash your hands and try not to spread germs

Taking Care of Each Other:

  1. Respect each other’s boundaries
  2. Help our friends when they need it
  3. Share what others might need- like gloves or socks
  4. Help someone up if they fall down
  5. Be patient with others and take turns
  6. Don’t hurt others – with your words or with your hands
  7. Remind your friends about the Manifesto
  8. Stand up for others
  9. Say nice things and do nice things-like giving hugs
  10. Share your art with others
  11. Let your friends have an opinion that might be different than yours
  12. Ask before taking something

Taking Care of Mama Earth:

  1. Don’t pick too many flowers. Just 1 of each flower. Ask the plant first and listen for an answer
  2. Don’t pick the first or the last
  3. Pick up after yourself and others. Don’t litter
  4. Don’t break branches off of trees
  5. Don’t cut down trees if you don’t have to
  6. Respect animals and their homes
  7. Make sure you put your fires out completely
  8. Be grateful for Mama Earth

We’ve noticed that over the past week, our learners have been invested in their manifesto, as these guidelines have helped to nurture feelings of ownership and accountability. We’ve seen learners refer to the manifesto, ask other learners, “Are you ok, do you need space?”,“Can I help you with that?”, “Wow, you’re a wonderful artist”, as their socio-emotional skills are enhanced through the framework of a co-created community. Forest School and young communities of all shapes and sizes provide a unique environment for learners to experience mixed-aged peer relationships and to create their own community of learning. A strong community is one in which learners feel empowered and valued, and one in which they ultimately thrive.

We’d love for you to take this idea of community to create your own family manifesto and for you to share it with us!



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