Forest School as an educational process
Forest School is a pedagogical method born in Scandinavia which has now spread to most of the world. Its practices are not aimed only at children, but are inclusive and encompass also adults. What it essentially does is provide a wide exposure to the outdoors over extensive periods during which participants develop a variety of skills through hands-on learning. The very process shows its positive impact only after an extended period of time. In particular with children, it very importantly nowadays provides them with a break from a technology-heavy lifestyle. Unfortunately most modern children barely get to enjoy time outdoors. In particular since the beginning of the pandemic a year ago, increased screen time has proven detrimental to child development.
The skills acquired in Forest School come through collaborative work with other peers and practitioners. The experience teaches children behavioural boundaries between peers and other adults. The focus is on learning and not on performance, therefore giving children the opportunity to participate in what they learn and, in a way, take the lead in their own learning experience. By encouraging the taking of calculated risks, forest school aids participants to know their physical boundaries and slowly broaden them. As practitioners are only there to observe and at times guide, at a certain point the relationship between learner and practitioner is transformed.
All participants get to develop an all round, holistic set of skills, from cognitive, physical and linguistic to emotional and social competencies. In turn, children use these skills to enhance their learning experiences in formal education and also at home and in activities with the family. Forest school children tend to encourage – and usually convince – their families to go on more excursions and generally spend more time outdoors.
The fear of accidents and being held liable if something goes wrong has significantly decreased outdoor activities in schools. Additionally, the amount of bureaucracy involved in organising such activities and the wide range of indoor activities available has minimised the exposure children have to natural environments. Studies have shown that because of the almost non-existent exposure to nature and outdoor activities, children suffer from mental fatigue. Through an array of pleasurable experiences Forest School provides a safe ground to take risks and develop decision-making and creative problem solving to deal with dangers involved. Those skills are paramount to a child’s development.
The learning atmosphere during a Forest School session creates the perfect condition for collective learning and learning through playing. The freedom and ownership that is given to children to pick the activities aids with the steady increase of their self-esteem. Studies based on practitioners’ observations have shown that children are feeling increasingly confident with their motor skills and appear more motivated and inquisitive compared to before attending Forest School sessions. Other observations include improvement of concentration levels and self-respect.
By giving the opportunity to children to explore their natural surroundings they feel more connected to the environment and the earth. This is very important, as environmental identity is socially influenced and can be personal as well as collective. The empirical contact with the outdoors enhances the forming of their environmental identity through satisfaction deriving both from play and aesthetic appreciation. The natural world becomes more striking as children become more knowledgeable about it. As a result, children tend to care more for the earth .
Written by Konstantinos Tsiompanos, January 2021
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