A friend and colleague of mine recently visited the UK and returned laden with some great discoveries. One such discovery is linked to the Forest Schools innovative educational approach to outdoor play and learning. The idea; which originates from Scandinavia, where engaging with the natural environment is a cultural norm; is to use nature and the outdoors as a medium through which long-term sustained learning occurs.
Similar to the New Zealand early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki, the Forest Schools have a holistic approach which encompasses physical, intellectual & cognitive, linguistic & language, emotional, social and spiritual developmental outcomes.
Their approach to learning is about allowing children to learn ‘in’ and ‘from’ nature. Nature is the teacher, so the focus is on free play, self-directed learning and is essentially about giving children freedom and choice, in order to become competent and effective lifelong learners throughout the lifespan.
In order to do this, children need to develop a sound self-esteem, emotional well-being, and social skills. It is important that they are able to function competently and confidently in as many social situations as they choose.
Sarah Blackwell, a Forest School director, speaks of their method of teaching and learning as “an inspirational process that allows children to access the outdoor space in order to grow and develop into successful, well-rounded, happy individuals”.
This educational approach is not limited to early years education. It is equally successful in primary and secondary school settings, and for educational work with children and adults with special developmental and learning needs.
See www.forestschools.com for more information on this inspirational approach to teaching and learning.