‘Bred in captivity’. A phrase I couldn’t get out of my head after I read it and I couldn’t unread it. It went round and round in my brain leaving me with an unsettling feeling, like I was missing something. Its author, Tim Gill is a passionate advocate of outdoor learning. I delved further into his work which led me to discover the savior of my belief in the current education system that is the Forest School approach.
Forest School has existed with quiet confidence and success in Europe for quite some time. In the UK it takes a slightly different form, adapting itself to each region. In my county, a very rural area, its just starting to flourish and grow. I took an incredible 18 month Level 3 Forest School Leader course with The Greenlight Trust so that I could offer Forest School to 2-4 year olds in my setting. Now, sometimes you attend a CPD course and you drink tea and nibble on a biscuit and you think ‘oh that was nice to get out and meet new people’, well this course was nothing like that. The only way that I can describe it, is like a colossal shift of my metaphorical plates. Everything changed after that first day, everything. I drove home along tiny green back roads with my head spinning like a bobbin.
Back in my setting, my entire established pedagogy had shifted. It was now totally and absolutely child-led with a blatant disregard for ‘school readiness’, I wasn't making children school ready anymore, I was building adults.
Thats the incredible thing with Forest School, it looks beyond the stage of each child. With the correct ethos, it generates brave, resilient, risk taking prospective adults at an incredible rate. I was giving children the tools to cope with things in their life 5, 10, 15, 20 years into their future.
The EYFS and Forest School work together so beautifully. As early years practitioners, we really are so lucky to have a loose, play-based curriculum where we can actually use our imagination and skill to interpret the framework for our own unique children. I began to feel mournful for the children in Y1 and beyond who miss out on our approach. Surely all children need to play and not just at break and lunchtimes? How often do these children get to play without adult eyes supervising them? How often do they feel that they are truly alone and free? My children in Forest School, are free to explore out-of-sight, we set agreements and boundaries together so the children know how far they can wander and we have safety games so that I can do a sneaky head-count.
I began my Forest School sessions with children who didn't know how to play without plastic prompts and adult support. Now they create fairy houses from sticks, see dragons in the clouds, spot the many different shades of green in a single leaf, smell something other than ‘just outside’, track animals in the mud, climb trees, balance on ropes and interpret a bird’s song. I haven't taught them those things, I merely gave them the chance and space to build the skills and the confidence to try.