Branching Out Be Inspired

In 2012 I was studying for my Bachelors Education in Fredericton at UNB when I discovered this great thing called waldkindergarten, which literary means learning in the forest, or the child’s garden.

I was so excited about it that I did my final presentation and exit interview on forest schools, and how important they are for children. After the interview, I was essentially told that I was a little too passionate about “this outdoor education thing.”

While forest schools are common in countries like Germany and Sweden, I was informed by one professor that “it would be very hard for a principal to be okay with you in his or her classroom.”

“It’s a little far-fetched,” another told me. Even today, one of the biggest barriers to forest school is this stigma that the outdoors is somehow scary or dangerous. When you go outside, the fear says, you will get hurt, or you will get lost, or you will break something.

In reality, once you are informed, the outdoors really is a great place. This is why we’ve worked so hard this year to educate parents that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

In reality, once you are informed, the outdoors really is a great place. This is why we’ve worked so hard this year to educate parents that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Since the first week in September, we’ve gone through four seasons—four very drastic seasons, including an intense winter—and our children have come out of it just so strong.

It’s rare that we’ll ever hear them complain about being cold, or about being wet: they just know what to do now. We’ve given them strategies, and now they’re responsible for their own condition: they’re responsible for keeping themselves warm or dry, and they have access to their bags, so they can change if they need to. In this sense, we have amazingly independent children.
Copyright © Terry Kelly

The biggest change I’ve seen in children attending forest school is, in fact, their ability to cope: to cope with the weather, to cope with one another, and to cope with the environment that we’ve placed them in.

It doesn’t hurt that our children are very fit. They run (and run and run). And they play and climb and dig and build all day long. We do have a little peaceful part of the day when they get some downtime, but for the most part, they’re moving. And at the end of the day, they’re tired!

At this age, it’s really important for us to let them have this experience—to learn to love this environment that we’re in: to love the trees and love the birds and the flowers and the ants and the slugs because, if we don’t teach them now, they’re never going to love it. If they don’t love it, they’re never going to want to protect it.

It’s truly exceptional where are right now. Our children are learning about all these beautiful plants coming up in the spring. In a classroom setting, you don’t get that reality. You don’t get to see the bunch-berries. You can look at a picture, sure, but why not explore the real thing? You don’t get to follow deer tracks when you’re stuck between walls.

This explains why, at forest school, we call the environment our third teacher. Educators have a role to play, the forest has a role to play, and children also actively contribute to their own education by exploring the woods around them. A lot of forest school is actually child-led learning: if they’re interested in making bannock or climbing trees, as teachers we get to guide them through those things, and then to interact with them based on their interests.

When they’re caught up in this imaginative play, we rarely need to get involved to solve problems. They’re very good at giving each other the space, or letting each other know what they need, which is amazing to see. Our children really do have exceptional problem-solving skills.

They’re also incredibly independent and social. Occasionally, we just sit back and watch: we’re so proud, so amazed at these little humans who are so comfortable in the woods, who love their friends and who absolutely love where they are.

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