The following is from a short essay I had to write on how forest school supports the learning and development needs of children. It is part of my portfolio of evidence for the training as a forest school leader. Havent had it makrked yet so it may not be the right answer, but its my answer
“You cannot teach anybody anything. You can only help them discover it within themselves.” Galileo
The above quotation attributed to Galileo for me summarises the particular contribution that forest school can make to an individual’s learning. Forest school is not an environment in which teaching in that narrow sense of instruction is undertaken, rather the individuals is supported to discover their own innate ability to learn.
This may mean discovering the confidence to express skills that they already have, or may have learnt in an indoor environment but have not practised for fear of failure. For instance, I find that games that involving mathematical skills are really interesting in a woodland / outdoor environment. Small children who hesitate over numbers indoors suddenly seem to grasp them with confidence when it is part of a seeking or collecting game.
Children do much more of their learning through play than adults and it is important in forest school that opportunities for children to play in a way that is self directed, rather than the goal or task direction that adults are often more comfortable with. Adults can then use the structure of the session and their individual observation of the child to support specific desired learning. For example, mini den building is a game that is often used in a forest school programme, and adults can use this to support children to learn about habitats, as well as co-operation skills if the game is played in pairs.
The following is an approximation of a dialogue with children on my forest school programme who were asked (after the boundary setting and risk assessing) in pairs to think about a woodland animal and find or make a place where it might like to live. They were then free to move about the woods within the agreed boundaries until they found a place for their animals – the adults role was to manage the boundaries, supervise and if needed support. This dialogue happened when I noticed two boys aged 6 sitting chatting without any obvious sign that they had made a den.
Me – Hello boys. Where is your den?
Children – Here (poinitng to a hole in the earth)
M -That’s very nice – Who is it for?
C- It’s for a rabbit
M - Will the rabbit be cosy in your den
C- Yes, we got some leaves for its bed, and the rain can’t get in very much.
M – Will it be safe from predators that might want to eat it?
C – Yes, because it down a hole and it could stick its head out first to make sure nothing is about
M - That s very good – What might want to eat your rabbit?
C – A bear or a tiger
M - Do you think there are tigers or bears in this wood?
C – No
M - What else might want to eat it?
C – A fox
M -Yes – I think there might well be foxes in this wood and other things that might want to eat a rabbit like a weasel. Do you know what a weasel is…….
We went on to talk about how they had made the den and they also spoke of where the rabbit might go when it was out of its den – their imaginations building up a whole rabbit family and way of life in the wood and the nearby fields. In the time they had left they then went off to look for places that rabbits might go in the woods.
These two boys had not asked or needed any support to complete the task they were set, but they did need a little support to think about what it meant and to take it beyond the task into an imaginative game that could then support other learning opportunities.
“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”
This famous proverb is useful in thinking about how forest school supports individual learning. Learning the skill of learning is more important in forest school than the content of learning. Teaching can give a gift of knowledge but often people can only make use of that gift if they have developed skills needed for learning independently.
Learning how to learn is what is behind the ‘Assessment is for Learning policy’ in UK education and one of the drivers of the curriculum for excellence
The ethos of forest school makes observation the most important role of the adult – observing what and how children do / learn and then supporting them from where they are.
Most learning is not solitary and involves engaging with others, this means we have to be able to get on with other human beings. Getting on with others requires a set of emotional and social skills as well as a sense of yourself as different from those around you. Self confidence, self knowledge, self belief are all central to how we learn and developing these attributes means taking risks. Outdoor and woodland environment offers many opportunities for children to safely take risk with their learning, and for adults to support them in this. The high adult / child ratio means that children with particular self esteem issues can be supported differentially without being singled out. The opportunities for discussion and review also mean that emotional and social aspect of the time in the woods can also be brought out.