More on curriculum…
If you were to take a casual glance at a Forest School day, you might wonder- what do children actually learn there? The question is understandable. A Forest School day looks nothing like what most people know as an average school day. The learning that takes place rarely happens in an organized fashion, with workbooks, or a chalkboard and definitely not with desks. Yet without all of these things, we learn.
Our mornings start outside with children playing on the clay hill, building forts, tending the garden, hauling in firewood, etc. Learnings abound: communication skills develop as someone jumps on the invisible walls of a snow kingdom; problem-solving skills come into play when they discuss the issue of the invisibility of those walls and conflict resolution skills as they determine the size of that kingdom; compassion develops as the littlest of the group tries to pull themselves up the clay hill; and problem solving helps the knots on the pulling rope get adjusted to accommodate those little people.
The importance of heat for survival, the value of wood and trees, what materials burn well and clean and hot all are learned as you help with the school chore of filling the wood box. Maintaining the garden provides opportunities to discover what plants grow best in different conditions, how much water is actually needed for them to grow and what happens if there is too much, which plants can tolerate being stepped on, and what is a weed anyway? The feeding of the birds in winter teaches us about migration, social hierarchies, survival, adaptations, flight, etc.
Time in our individual sit spots helps us gain appreciation and connections with the natural world. It allows us the chance to sit in silence, with this incredible person (self) and to feel peace. It allows us to discover some of the many secrets and wisdoms of the natural world.
All this learning happens while we are “playing” outside. Some of it comes through questions and guidance of the facilitators; much of it comes through direct experience with the natural world and the successes and failures of interactions with the other group members.
Circle is our most formal setting for learning. (The rest is mingled throughout the day.) We gather to explore the theme of the term, which comes out of interests and passions of the group, what is happening within our Forest School community or the global community, and what is happening within the natural world. Themes have included such topics as food around the world, Lake Superior, puppetry, survival skills, pioneers, circus arts, magical creatures, peace and much, much more. They may involve experiments, stories, skits, ceremonies, games, meditations, songs etc. They are interactive and hands on.
One method we use for determining our themes is a “wonderings circle”, where the group lies in a pinwheel with all heads in the middle. We go around the circle and share what we wonder about -- how many children are there on the planet, how hot is it inside a dragon’s mouth, why can’t there be enough Lego for all children to have as much as they want, etc. Wow, so many incredible questions. So, we take a wondering and go with it. Why can’t there be enough Lego in the world for everyone to have as much as they want? What a question. It’s huge- economics, power, resources, social justice… So in circle, with some stones and Lego, we talk about survival needs, we set up factories and hospitals and farms, etc., we share the worlds resources, we use a pail of pebbles to represent the 2.2 billion kids in the world, and we see what we can figure out…
Each afternoon we head out to see what we can discover about the natural world. It might be that we find the most amazing mushrooms and decide that together we are going to create a Forest School mushroom book. We take the cameras and figure out how to take good pictures. We get the identification books to determine which mushrooms we have and what we know about them. We write poems about certain mushrooms and stories about a favourite. One of the older kids comes up with Mushroom legends for the area. At the end, together, we have created a wonderful book
Or maybe, we follow the stream through the forest. We see what kinds of things we can make boats out of. What is important for a boat to float? What happens when we divert the water or create dams? What critters live in the water and how do they survive?
Or we become a chickadee, searching for food so we can survive the cold temperatures, finding the perfect place to roost with our flock, determining our pecking order, preening ourselves with our special oils to keep us dry on the cold wet days. The possibilities are fun and exciting and endless.
Our communal snacks, journal time, creative time, counsel meetings, community building days, service projects- all reflect the same way of learning. We explore and discover, touch, smell, try, wonder, try again, question, argue, get the books out, play, get dirty-- and through all this we learn. Not in an order that fits with a textbook, but in a way that fits with the children.