Forest and Nature School and Resilience

This is a story about a nearly-retired classroom teacher and a newly-certified Forest and Nature School Practitioner, one and the same. I was first trained as an early childhood educator 35 years ago. Since I started the FNS practitioner training in November of 2018, however I have reflected on how the Forest School ethos not only represents what I believe in as an educator, but as a person. My upbringing and personal values combined with my educational background are grounded in an ethos that runs parallel to that of Forest and Nature School.

Most of my childhood memories involve smells, sights, sounds, textures and tastes even – think wild berries and strawberries, pine sap, hazelnuts, or a drop of nectar extracted from a clover blossom. I remember lots of time spent both alone in the woods, and with friends embarking on wild wanderings and adventures, imagining possibilities, solving problems, and negotiating ideas. The FNS practitioner training prompted much reflection involving my own learning in childhood, and how it impacted the values I would develop as I grew into an adult and as I trained as an educator.

My teaching career started at college studying Early Childhood Education. I had six years of University after that, but my holistic approach to educating young children is at the core of who I am as an educator, and I attribute that almost exclusively to my background in ECE. When I received that training in the 1980’s, any high-quality early learning program had a carpentry centre. Children used real tools to build real things. An absence of a carpentry centre would have been as obvious then as walking into an early learning setting now and not seeing a dramatic play area or a sensory table. Now, the research acknowledges that there is value in “risky play”. The learning environment, indoors and out was a product of the children’s imaginations and collaborations using what we now call “loose parts”. The evidence of learning was everywhere in the form of children’s art, print and construction projects – maybe the environment wasn’t pretty or cutesy, but it belonged to, and was meaningful to, the children.

Food was prepared together and eaten together, using all of the senses to explore both the processes and the products. Children passed food to each other and to the adults sitting with them. They served themselves, or at least were trusted as capable enough to try. Family and diversity were honoured and celebrated. Ultimately in these centres, there was a sense of community. As well, all areas of development, all intelligences, all senses, and all modalities of learning were acknowledged when early educators planned provocations in science, math, literacy, music, art, movement and so on. The environment inspired deep learning where an educator’s values were imparted as part of the process. I believe the product of that approach and philosophy laid a real-life foundation for the children to become resilient learners. Sadly, early learning environments such as these are now the exception rather than the rule. Approaches to children’s learning such as this are considered “alternative” rather than the norm. The FNS practitioner course has inspired my continuous reflection on learning environments and what they say about our ideas regarding the role of an educator and on our views of children.

Taking the Forest and Nature Practitioner training has confirmed for me that by meeting children in a wild space to learn and develop it’s an opportunity to get back to my ‘roots’ as an educator. Children and educators learning together in meaningful and interconnected ways without the distractions and restrictions of a manufactured, adult-led environment. I can support, guide and offer children the opportunity to, or rather acknowledge their right to, experience, initiate, explore, inquire, persist, fail, create, collaborate, negotiate, problem-solve, challenge, and build meaningful relationships with others. In “Forest and Nature School of Canada: A Head, Hands, Heart Approach to Outdoor Learning”, FNS is said to involve curriculum which ‘pulls’ out, rather than curriculum which ‘pushes’ in. The idea of pulling the curriculum out, implies the child’s capacity for inquiry and self-led learning. As an educator, I believe I need to use my skills to pull out the curriculum for a child to gain knowledge and skills, but also to develop the characteristics needed to be a resilient learner. And at a time in our history when we’ve all been called upon to be more resilient than we’ve ever had to be, I now feel an obligation to do so.