Article by Tricia Edgar, filling us in on an innovative educational movement – forest school.
It’s a rainy day, ranging from drizzle to downright pouring. Down by the creek, the children are playing, discovering the delights of the speedy water striders that skate across tiny ponds. As they stomp through the puddles back to the place where they’ll meet their parents, they’re wet – and happy.
Forest School Movement
The forest school movement began in Europe many decades ago, and it’s gradually drifted over the Atlantic to land in places across North America. In Vancouver, the forest learning movement is expanding, with programs such as Fresh Air Learning, Soaring Eagle Nature School, and a parent and child group called the Vancouver Forest Nursery. All of them encourage unstructured exploration in the forest, and in a city where it rains from October to March and beyond, the programs run rain or shine.
What is forest school? It’s a venue for exploration, and what the children learn very much depends on what’s going on outside that day. At Vancouver’s Fresh Air Learning program, the forest, the children, and the facilitator collaborate to set the curriculum. Is it snowing? Is it muddy? And how about those water striders? At forest school, mud is on the curriculum, and rainy days mean lessons in shelter-building and better streams to play in. The muddy puddle transforms into a mud kitchen, complete with eggbeaters and whisks, ready to create “chocolate” puddings and cupcakes.
Connecting Your Child With Nature
At forest school, children explore on a child’s scale – while the children may not move very far, they learn about a particular place at a much deeper level than they would if they walked past it on a hike. Their discoveries are different too. Vistas that adults appreciate might be abandoned to focus on the really big worm that just crossed the path.
Many children grow up in urban areas, with little access to free play in the outdoors. How can you connect your children with natural places? Be enthusiastic about exploring in all sorts of weather, and head outside. Find a place to play – one that you can return to time and time again – and see where your children’s interests take them. You don’t need to know everything about nature, although a good field guide or some research at the library can help your kids investigate what they’ve discovered.
In this expensive city, many families live in small spaces, without a big vacant lot next door. Vancouver is full of natural beauty, but it can be hard to find places to play and the time to do it in. Forest school and free play in the outdoors gives kids the opportunity to connect with small natural spaces and enthusiastic people who love the outdoors, growing a generation of children who are comfortable in natural places and get to know them deeply.
Forest School Links
Fresh Air Learning
Soaring Eagle Nature School
Vancouver Forest Nursery
Tricia Edgar is the founder of Fresh Air Learning. For nearly 20 years, she has worked as a nature educator, developing programs that explore the streams, forests, plants and animals of the temperate rainforest. She is a permaculture teacher and a volunteer with several sustainable food-related organizations, including the North Shore’s Edible Garden Project. Tricia is also a writer who focuses on science and sustainability.