Our increasing detachment from nature as a result of our modern lifestyles (with their integral focus on consumerism, urbanisation and automation) has led to concern for our physical, emotional and mental health. Thankfully, pro-active reaction has led to the formation of many groups and activities aiming to get us to re-connect with the surrounding natural world. In this brief article, printed recently in the Sustainability Column of the Northern Standard, I explored the rise of the Forest Schooling phenomenon.
There is no doubt that today’s children are missing out on old fashioned outdoor fun and adventure. Could ‘forest schooling’ use nature as the place for learning as well as a playground for society’s youngest?
A DAY PLAYING IN THE WOODS IS A GOOD DAY
The Forest School Association (UK) describes Forest Schooling as ‘an inspirational process that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees. Forest School is a specialised learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland education. Children play, whittle, make crafts, build dens, watch the seasons go by, jump in mud and cook around the fire. A day playing in the woods is a good day.’
While the concept has spread quickly in the past decade, outdoor schooling can be traced back to the 1830’s when Friedrich Froebel, who founded the kindergarten movement, noted the importance nature played in a child’s development. Similarly, bodies like the Steiner School and other educational movements have sought to incorporate nature into the curriculum. However, Forest Schools seem to push the boundaries to the maximum.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -George Bernard Shaw.
Until a year ago, I had never heard of Forest Schools or nature creches. Learning and having fun outside is the perfect antidote to hours in front of the television screen or cooped up in confined spaces. After reading an Irish Independent article about the idea, something clicked in me and it just made sense to get children, especially preschool kids, into the great outdoors. Whilst profiling a day in one of Ireland’s first Forest Schools, based in Wicklow, the journalist in question encountered ‘18 little people, the youngest of whom is just two and a half scampering around the woodland paths with big smiles on their faces…’
It is easy to understand why the kids were having so much fun; playing on the friendship swing/in the outdoor theatre or climbing ropes! The five acre site has a rabbit-hole where the children look for signs of wildlife, a fairy tree, a vegetable patch where the kids plant carrots and strawberries and fallen logs used as seats and balance beams. Fully trained instructors and a regular creche fee, make the service feasible and accessible to all.
To date, there are a number of successful Forest Schools across the island of Ireland. The application of the Forest School concept varies; in some cases, it is employed as a full time day care service for preschoolers while in other instances such as Ranelagh’s Multi-denominational School (Dublin), it is a module for primary school children, taken within ordinary school hours. And more recently Wexford County Council has teamed up with Agenda 21 to make Forest Schooling available in the South East.
One-off Forest Schooling activities for children (from 2/3 years up to 10/12) and Forest School for Families events (parents and children play together in a learning and supportive environment) run intermittently throughout the country at approx. €10 per hour/per child. Costs depend on numbers, venue and insurance.
A FOREST SCHOOL IN MONAGHAN?
A group of parents wish to explore the interest and feasibility of running a Forest School in Monaghan at a not-for-profit basis. Research into the training for instructors, insurance and venues is underway to see if a Monaghan Forest School can happen.
If you are interested in getting involved/keeping up-to-date on progress/learning more, find the Monaghan Forest School group on Facebook. Alternatively, contact 086 8303392 with your name and the age/number of kids that might attend. If you work in childcare and are interested in training to be a certified Forest School instructor, check out Earth Force Education.