Transformation: From Oldest Learner to Youngest Leader

by | Oct 20, 2020

“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” –Seth Godin

One of the many benefits of Forest School is that we can tangibly notice and comprehend the transformation that occurs within the spirit of our learners. Each learner goes on their own journey throughout the course of the season and the forest offers them the time and space to explore and become more and more confident in themselves. John Muir once said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” This is not a quality that we can quantify and report statistics on, but simply an observation that we see in each and every learner in their own way. As we round the midpoint of our Fall 2020 forest school season, we begin to see guards let down, true personalities break out of their shell, lessons learned that help us understand what others need, deep growth, transformation, and an increase in confidence. We also see the metamorphosis of the oldest learners blooming into the youngest leaders.

Our older learners are realizing their roles amongst the mixed age dynamic. Some of our older learners might be the youngest in their family, they may be the oldest in their family, in the middle, or an only child. No matter their place in their family or origin, each learner is embarking on their own magnificent and unique journey of childhood. Wherever they stand in their own journey, they grow into their own special roles at forest school. The older learners who may have shied away from younger learners in the beginning are now showing their natural abilities as wonderful role models.

This week the forest held a home place for the learners during a dark and chilly downpour of a mid-morning rainstorm. Their resilience shone through as they created their own shelter under the bending boughs of a grove of burning bush. They declared their space “The Nest” and all were welcome. As leaders, we observed the older learners take on the role of young leaders and it was an honor to witness the transformation.

“Throughout most of human history, children played with other children in multi-age groups. Dr. Peter Gray, scholar, research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life  notes, “Even when they are not playing together, younger children learn from older ones by watching and listening. They see older children climbing trees or solving puzzles, for example, and then they want to do that, so they work at it by emulating the older children’s actions.” In fact, from his research, he asserts that children are much more likely to learn from children who are a little older than them than from adults.

The benefits are not just for the youngest of the group. Mixed-age play allows the older child to assume a greater sense of responsibility and practice nurturing in real time. They show a better sense of maturity and develop leadership qualities that can only be learned through actual experience with leading others.” (Play, Thrive and Learn)

At Forest School, we see this in action each class. Last week, the young leaders invited the other learners of all the ages to join “The Nest”. There was a room delegated for each learner, a communal mud “kitchen”, a grand entranceway, and a functioning “sewer” they built. They worked diligently to build their ideal community, working together in union, in perfect cooperation. The elders set the example, as there was no us and them and there was no directing or forcing onto others. The older learners went out of their way to consult with all the learners before any decision was made in “The Nest”. Each elder would propose an idea, then look to the other learners and say, “What do you think? Is that a good idea?”. Or we would overhear them reach out to connect with the young learners stating, “Do you have any ideas of your own you would like to add?”. There is a wonderful quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that says, “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”.

Aishling Forest School has three basic guiding principles called “The Forest School Way” which include: 1. Take care of yourself, 2. Take care of others, and 3. Take care of Mama Earth. These guiding principles aren’t always easy to follow, especially as our  “Take care of others”  guideline can be difficult for young minds to remember. Using your heart, however, does not seem to be difficult to remember, as it seems to naturally bloom from the soul while being held in the sacred space of the wild forest. Our older learners guided from their heart stepping over into the threshold of leadership and we couldn’t be more proud of them for being who they are, growing alongside each other on this beautiful wilderness journey through this big world together. We hope these lessons learned in the forest remain tucked inside their heart in every place they go and are applied to every friend they meet.



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