Stories from my personal journey learning about and delivering Nature-rooted programs across three different countries

What does it mean to get 'schooled'?

Caylin (Forest Schooled)
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When I started this blog about a year ago, I assigned the term 'Forest Schooled' two definitions that made sense to me. You may have noticed these on the homepage:
1. educated or trained in the forest school ethos
2. taught a lesson related to forest school (the hard way)
Now, a year later, I wondered whether these definitions still described what I meant by 'Forest Schooled'. Here's my thinking and why I decided there might be a little more to it...
I collected some birch bark with a couple of kids the other day. They were interested in firelighting and wanted to experiment with different materials and methods. We went into an area of birch trees and found one with bark that was flaking and easy to peel. We asked each other a lot of questions and had a great chat as we peeled off small pieces for our fire. Here's a little snippet of what was said:
“How do you know which one is birch?”
“It's called silver birch, so there's a clue in the name.”
“Why does the bark peel like that?”
“As the tree grows, old bark peels off. It's a bit like us shedding old skin.”
“It feels like paper, that's probably why it's good for firelighting, huh?”
“Which twigs are from the birch? Are they the purple-y ones”
“I've used birch for firelighting before. They have an oil on them that makes them burn better than twigs from some of the other trees.”
After about 10 minutes, we made our way out of the birch trees to go back to camp and start our fire.
Now I'll be one of the first to say Forest School is “not really school”, but there's no denying that, although unplanned, those 10 minutes had been a mini 'lesson' on silver birch trees. We'd used inquiry and discussion to learn more about identifying trees and understanding certain characteristics and uses. So, could you say that this silver birch lesson was a little bit like school?
This relates to the topic of semantics (our use of language and the meanings we assign to words). Though we try to avoid any discrepancies by giving dictionaries the authority over a word's meaning, it's not that straightforward. Quite often, our conceptual understanding of a word's meaning will still vary from person to person and place to place!
Using the word 'school' as an example, we're all very familiar with the use of the word as a noun – a place where education takes place (i.e. My child goes to school. She learned to read at school, etc.)
However, when 'school' is used as a verb, it takes on a different meaning. To summarise the online English Oxford Dictionary, to 'school' is to train or educate someone. When you change the verb 'school' to a past tense, it becomes 'schooled', which describes someone who has undertaken training or education in a specific activity or particular way.
So I think it's arguable that, by learning in a Forest School way, we could consider ourselves as being 'Forest Schooled'. Hence, definition number one:
1. educated or trained in the forest school ethos
However, there's more to the word 'schooled' than what the Oxford Dictionary has to say about it. The word is used in slang too, often to describe how someone is taught a lesson, the hard way. In other words, they got their butt kicked by the experience they had. Getting schooled is often associated with losing, being defeated, or failure. There's potential for embarrassment and humiliation in this use of the word – if you let it.
I believe you can avoid those negative feelings if you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and laugh a little (or a lot!) about the struggle you had or the mistakes you made. I try to do this when the children say or do something that challenges me. For example, one time a 3 year old walked past me holding up a stick saying “Bang! Bang!” I assumed he was pretending the stick was a gun. So, when he approached me I asked, “What have you got there?” He stopped, looked at me, looked at the stick, then looked back at me and said, “A stick,” and walked away to carry on with his play... The experience definitely made me consider how I could interact with a playing child differently the next time!
If you can find the humour in metaphorically getting your ass whooped (even by a 3 year old) and appreciate that you learned a valuable lesson from it, getting schooled can be a very positive experience – that's the approach I try to take anyhow. So that's where the second definition of 'Forest Schooled' comes from:
2. taught a lesson related to forest school (the hard way)
So all that describes my thinking behind the two 'original definitions' of Forest Schooled. But, lately I've been considering whether there could be a useful third definition that's been missing... and a recent experience with a little girl and a puddle helped me develop this idea a little further.
Anna, who is about 7, was playing in some muddy puddles. I want to emphasise the word muddy here as some of the puddles were up to knee deep and the mud in and around them was extra thick and sticky. I'm talking about the kind of mud you are risking losing a shoe in. Luckily Anna didn't lose her shoe, but she did lose something else....
She challenged herself to walk from one end of the biggest puddle to the other and when she got to the middle of it (the deepest part...), she lost her balance. In she went, getting soaked up to her chest. She squirmed around and, struggling to get herself up, called out for help. So I rushed over and helped pull her out. I wouldn't say she enjoyed the experience, but she's a resilient girl who took it in her stride, laughing a little as she tried to wipe herself off. Then she said with a snort, “I am NEVER doing that again!”
Anna's experience is a good example of the times when the lessons we learn don't come from the people around us, but rather from the environment we're interacting with. You could say that Anna got her butt kicked by that muddy puddle. It 'schooled' her. And to be honest, she's not alone! I've had days where I've slipped in mud too. I've also tripped over tree stumps and fallen flat on my face. And there have been many times I've been utterly drenched by the rain, had my fingers immobilised by the cold, or both at the same time (this is the worst combination since your useless fingers can't even tie up a tarp to attempt to stay dry!). I think these trying moments in the great outdoors add a new meaning to the term, 'Forest Schooled'...
3. challenged, educated, and humbled by the features and forces of the natural world
P.S. Does 'Forest Schooled' mean something else to you?

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