What is a Forest School?
A Forest School is an educational approach that gives learners regular opportunities to develop confidence, self-esteem and self-regulation through hands-on learning experiences in natural outdoor environments. Though most common in Europe there are Forest Schools all over the world that share these guiding principles.
· We value child-led learning, constantly adapting the curriculum to the interests of the children and the opportunities presented in the moment.
· We value play as fundamental to healthy development and learning. Each day has time for unstructured free play.
· We value giving learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to their growing edge.
· Forest Schools aim to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident and creative learners.
(Adapted from the Forest School Association website)
What do you do when it rains?
Playing in the rain is a joy and full of unique learning experiences. In order for children to be able to fully engage in wet weather, appropriate gear is important.
On rainy days children come to school in rain boots, rain pants and a rain jacket. Teachers bring tarps, blankets, and warm tea and explore from under the protection of the tree canopy or other shelter. In case of severe weather we use a variety of nature and community centers as our meeting place. Any change in location is communicated to parents ahead of time.
Why do you move locations during the year?
Many California Forest Schools alternate locations through the seasons and our practice has been to move to a warmer, sunnier area as the weather cools down. Here are some of the reasons behind our move:
- Safety. The first reason for the change is safety. Winter weather that is generally wetter and windier makes us extra cautious of falling trees and tree limbs. In tour winter location, the trees nearby are mostly oak, acacia and cedar, much lower growing trees than the majestic redwoods and pines.
- Warmth. Although there are Forest Schools all over the world that meet in snow and freezing conditions, we would like to set our students up for as much comfort as possible. Although definitely more beautiful to the eye, our Fall location is much colder because of the shade and canyon.
- Impact on the land. The last factor that has strongly influenced our decision to temporarily change locations is the impact of so many little hands and feet on the land. Our meeting areas have a creek running through them, which is fabulous, but it is also a delicate ecosystem. The creek banks are prone to erosion especially during the rainy season. We feel that giving our beloved land a rest is beneficial for the land, and thereby our school's, continued flourishing.
How do you address kindergarten readiness?
Children are naturally engaged in learning all the time. We offer a rich environment with teachers who are carefully observing and supporting each learner. Every element of education is present in the Forest School experience it just often looks different to those who are accustomed to seeing learning strictly in a traditional classroom.
Each day is structured to include group time, free choice and planned activities/projects based on the children’s interests, which they are invited to participate in. Through storytelling, games and songs children learn math & literacy as well as social skills and experience good old fashioned joy. Nature and math go hand in hand, we are constantly counting, measuring and sortingthe objects around us. During Forest School children also use a variety of hand tools and construct bridges, forts & fairy houses. These are the kinds of hands on skills that really engage children's joy of learning and will help our little ones to have the foundation of experiential learning that they need. Obviously, this is an immersion in the natural world that nourishes the scientist in each participant.
Most importantly, our low teacher to child ratio enables us to really spend time scaffolding each child’s social and emotional development. This is what kindergarten teachers want most from incoming students.