Things I Learned in Forest School
One of the wonderful things about being a facilitator in a program with a philosophy centred on a play-based, child-led curriculum is that I'm continually learning new things. As facilitators, we hold space for the children and provide them with certain boundaries, rituals and routines that help them maintain a feeling of physical and emotional safety. And we provide them with songs, stories and materials to inspire them and spark their imagination.
But so much of the 'work' of forest school is created by the children themselves. We listen to their ideas, and their visions, and their stories and we let them design their own learning experiences. And we are constantly delighted by what they create.
Here are some of the things I learned in the last month of Fresh Air Learning in Vancouver.
Rope, string and yarn are likely the most rich, open-ended materials available to humans. We continued our exploration with finger knitting, and made many more bracelets, necklaces, scarves, head bands, weapon holsters and other various things. We also learned that one child took her new skills and knowledge outside the forest and taught other children how to finger knit. Additionally, another child brought a new technique to forest school and patiently taught the new trick to the facilitators and her peers.
Ropes and string were used for bows, pretend fishing rods, imaginary prisons for capturing people, decorations for magic wands, spider webs to climb and leashes for imaginary pets. We played a skills-based game with some children that involved tying ropes into as many complicated knots as possible and then getting someone else to untie them. As is often the case, the children took this activity to an entirely unexpected place. The knotted ropes transformed into 'energy balls' that the children included in their imaginary games.
I also learned that a single bubble wand can become a tool for exploring physics, earth science, turn-taking, leadership skills and personal space. Why are the bubbles different sizes? Why do some pop immediately and some last longer? How do I catch a bubble? What does a bubble taste like? When is it my turn for the bubble wand? How do I make bigger bubbles? How can I keep my friends from bumping into me when we chase bubbles? How do I stop people from popping the bubbles that I make? Learning things together and exploring possible answers in a team environment contributes to greater understanding and camaraderie.
Another learning came from observing the appreciation children have for plants and the recognition that children love plants not just for eating but also for their beauty. They displayed a reverent captivation with the jewel-coloured salmonberries in the forest. And they were thrilled with the taste and appearance of the small harvest of carrots and lettuce at the farm that they grew and tended themselves. Generally, we discourage picking wildflowers out of care for our environment. But at Southlands farm, we were encouraged to pick the buttercups because they can be toxic to the animals. The children created crowns and necklaces out of buttercups, picked some to give to their friends and caregivers and, of course, created many games out of gathering, storing and preparing the buttercups.
Lastly, I am so grateful for learning more about the complex relationships that can be formed between children and animals. The gentle care, compassion and concern that the children display for their animal friends on the farm is a joy to observe.
I've been so blessed to learn alongside the children in forest school this year. As you take your children out into the forests, beaches and farms this summer, I wonder what you will learn?
See you in the forest,