My Forest School Evolution...
I grew up in Hawaii where the fair weather lends itself to an outdoor lifestyle. I therefore spent my childhood mostly outdoors, usually barefoot and with the mentality that if it started to rain it was time to GO outside. I can honestly say I didn't own a coat until I moved to the UK for my year abroad when I was 20 years old... Sorry, I'm really not telling you this to rub it in! But I think it helps explain why I now love working in the outdoors. A childhood spent discovering and exploring nature usually leads to an adulthood with an inherent appreciation for the natural world. And this was definitely the case for me.
I've been working with kids in an educational or outdoor field since I was just a kid myself really! From 12 years old I started tutoring the younger children at my school in math and reading and carried on with this until about the age of 16. From then I got a job working at a local resort as an Activities Host where I provided outdoor activities for tourists during the day (like Hawaiian crafts, hula dancing lessons, historical tours of the property) and led a children's programme in the evenings (playing lots of outdoor games!).
In university I worked with international students, helping them learn english and conversation skills as well as led tours of the campus for prospective students and their families. During my summer breaks I worked as a camp counsellor at a summer camp in a National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. It was a family camp where families would spend a week taking part in all sorts of outdoor activities in a beautiful and remote mountain location. I led daily activities for the kids (canoeing, archery, bouldering, hikes, arts and crafts) as well as weekly overnights where the children would spend a night away from their parents camping out in a pair of 'teepees' we had set up next to the lake. Campfires, games, songs and just general silliness were a big part of that job.
I thought it might be a good idea to write a little bit about my personal 'evolution', which led me to discover Forest School. I thought it might help put into context why I've ended up so consumed by it that I've created a whole nerdy blog all about it! So here's a little bit of history about where I started and how I've ended up here - hope some of you can relate!
About Me - Why Forest School?
When I moved to the UK in 2013, I began work as a Field Teacher as well as an Education and Community Assistant for two different national nature charities. As a Field Teacher, I was based at an education centre on a nature reserve and school groups would visit for the day, taking part in hands-on activities linked to the national curriculum (like bug hunting, pond dipping and bird watching). As an Education and Community Assistant, I helped with events where the public (usually families) were encouraged to take part in educational activities at their local nature reserve (more pond dipping, bug hunting and bird watching!).
From there I moved on to working at a local environmental charity focused on promoting the use and appreciation of the city's parks and green spaces. At first, this job consisted of taking classes of school children out to their school's local park to take part in activities based upon the national curriculum (science, maths, and literacy based lessons in the outdoors). We also did a little bit of Forest School on the side, which I began helping with more and more as time went on. This was my first true introduction to Forest School. I'd heard the term before, but did not understand that it wasn't anything like 'school' until I actually took part in it for myself. Then as the weeks and years went on, the cogs started to turn, concepts and ideas began clicking into place and I well and truly caught 'The Forest School Bug'. I then decided to take the leap and pursue training to become a qualified Level 3 practitioner.
Recently, I decided to put together a list of pros and cons for every role I've ever worked in. I did this as a bit of a self evaluation to, quite honestly, figure out what the heck I'm doing with my life! But what I learned from the process was really interesting. It helped me pin down what I felt was really valuable in terms of working with groups in the outdoors.
In summary, these were some of the cons from all of my past experiences:
Lack of flexibility - restricted by the curriculum and/or organisation's own objectives, some children are uninterested in the subject matter and become disengaged or distracted which adults often perceive as 'misbehaviour', tending to scold or punish the child(ren)
Working with large groups (more than 15 at a time) – difficult to build relationships and provide enough resources, results in emphasis on behaviour management which restricts children's freedom and capacity to learn
Rushed daily schedules – lack of time for children to finish projects or work at their own pace, can impeded on children's development of motivation and concentration skills
Working in an uninspiring location, like an area of mowed grass - lacks natural resources and limits creativity
And these were the pros:
Frequent contact over a period of time – building relationships and a sense of community
Inspiring natural location with lots of natural resources - opportunity for plenty of creativity!
Transmitting knowledge of crafts, skills and culture in a hands-on way
Small groups and high staff ratios - opportunity for working 1 to 1 and taking on a mentoring role
Providing chances for children to take part in exciting adventurous activities
Time for children to explore and pursue their own interests, engage in play, silliness and fun!
Informal, flexible approach to education – children can have fun and learn at the same time!
Looking at the pros listed above, you may notice that they very much resemble the 6 Forest School principles. I promise (hand over my heart!) that I did not write this list with the principles in mind and it blew me away when I compared them and saw just how similar they were. But it did help explain why I enjoy Forest School so much!
Now, I know that was a bit of a long-winded way to describe how I got to where I am today! So in quick summary, I see Forest School as a culmination of all the things I've learned I value from each of the jobs I've had in educational and environmental work throughout my life. It seems to take the most rewarding parts from each of the roles and puts them all together into a powerful package (an ethos!) that truly resonates with me. The result of all the lessons and self-discoveries I've learned (and am still learning!) along the way has led me to dub myself 'Forest Schooled'.