June 28, 2013

Forest Schools Connect Kids With Nature

If early childhood education was like this when I was small I wouldn't be a kindergarten
 drop out today. All photos: Chad Hipolito

Ask most kids and they will tell you that recess is the best part of elementary school. Why? Because it takes place in the great outdoors, free from the confines of big walls, tiny windows, and someone else's agenda. I felt this way myself as a grade 3 student waiting to go outside and play marbles with friends, and I still felt like this after becoming a teacher.

A serious student of nature records observations in a forest floor book.

There were a lot of things I liked about teaching. Being inside all the time wasn't one of them. Sure there was the occasional field trip like voyageur canoeing on a major historical river that ran through town, or going on the year end camping trip, but it was all inside all the time otherwise.

How can kids learn about and care for nature if they are never in it and haven't developed a relationship with the natural world and found their place in it? How can they save nature if they don't know what they are missing?

Not a desk, computer, or television screen to be seen.

Forest schools are one answer to nature deficit disorder which afflicts nearly all of us, students, teachers, and parents. The solution proposed in this philosophy is learning through playing in nature. It's kind of like recess all the time.

In my community, this has taken the form of a Nature Kindergarten where the children spend most of their time exploring local forests and beaches. Even in the rain. I would have loved it as a child. I would love in now - these are teaching conditions that would agree with my desire to spend as much time outside in nature as possible.

"Amid the heavy downpours of winter the kids notice the puddles, they notice the quantity of worms has gone up. No one asks when is it time to go inside." 
- The Nature Kindergarten's school principal.

The outdoor classroom is a great place to play, learn, and connect.

If I had the benefit of this style of learning when I was young I wouldn't have ended up dropping out of kindergarten. My introduction to institutionalized education did not work for me, being the wild child that I was. I found it all far too restrictive, and I resisted being forced into situations that did not feel right to me.

Being in nature is the antidote to the afflictions and restrictions of modern living. Children are just as susceptible to the ravages of a chronically artificial indoor life as the rest of us. Maybe more so.

That is why getting kids into nature more often, as in the forest schools, is so important. It is one way to inoculate our little ones, and prepare them to value, protect, and enjoy their natural surroundings. It is a way to protect them from acquiring nature deficit disorder later in life.

No blackboards or closets here. Thanks for holding that, tree.

“When they come home really dirty, that means they’ve had a good day.” 
 parent talking about her Nature Children


  1. Anonymous6/28/2013

    What a fantastic concept!! This wild child hated school from day one also. There was a very large tree outside the window of my school 3rd and 4th grade. Both teachers chastised me for staring out the window at that tree. The activities there were so much more interesting that those in the classroom. I felt like a caged animal in a classroom. Summer was like heaven, no schedule and the freedom to run.

    Hope that this kind of program becomes more widespread.

    1. They might have encouraged you to write a poem about the tree. Or a song. Or interpretive dance.

      School was not my thing until I hit university. Then I loved it.

      Today learning is one of my favourite things in life, along with summer, having no schedule, and having the freedom to run.

  2. Anonymous6/29/2013

    It's not as progressive as a forest school, but here is a link about the new playground at the school where my little one will start kindergarten in the fall:

    The school has incorporated an earth-friendly ethic into the curriculum-recycling, composting, no-waste snacks

  3. Anon, Thank you so much for leaving a comment and the link. I particularly liked the following quote from the article:

    "The earlier a child forms a relationship with nature, the better the environment will be.

    “When playgrounds incorporate natural things, it definitely plays on their curiosity,” said Jean Turney, an education coordinator with Forest Park Forever. She works with teachers about how to use Forest Park and their own community as an outdoor classroom. “They play and fall in love with nature and then want to take care of it.”

    Every school should have natural play areas on the grounds, rather than endless expanses of carefully manicured lawns.

    Your little one is lucky. Do let us know how it goes.

  4. At Green Gables, we believe education is a natural ‘give and take’ where we learn as much from children as they from us; that our children transform us as we transform them.
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