What’s the first thing you think of when I say ‘learning’ to you? Books? Classrooms? Pupils and teachers? Probably not playing on the beach.
At Little Gulls, our approach to learning is inspired by the Forest School ethos. We’re not a traditional learning establishment, we don’t deliver education in the traditional manner. But we do provide education, we provide learning, inspiration… it just looks a little different from the norm.
The Forest School approach, that we use at Beach School is playful. Playing is learning and by providing a safe, but inspiring environment for play, we allow our Beach School participants to have the time and space to make their own choices. It also plants the seeds of creativity. So approach to learning is learner-led (or child-led). My role as the Beach School’s Forest School Leader, is not to teach – it is to facilitate learning. There are no prescriptive learning activities at Beach School – I set up activities, but these are completely open to interpretation by the participants. Our learner-centred approach means that participants may also enjoy and learn from something that isn’t on my session plan. They may (and often do) not do anything that is on the session plan at all. My job is to observe and record what they did enjoy doing and use this to inform my planning for future sessions – so we build upon the tasks and experiences participants enjoyed – not just what was in the session plan.
It’s vitally important that we support participants by providing a safe environment. Not just through our rigorous risk assessment process, but ensuring participants feel mentally emotionally safe. We only use appropriate dialogue and non-violent communication. Everyone is treated equally and fairly, with respect and understanding, regardless of age, individual personalities, culture, interests, needs and abilities. There is no teacher/pupil dynamic to enable building an environment of trust, which allows participants to have a truly free choice. They have autonomy and they are respected.
Just because Beach School does not look like a classroom or a traditional learning environment doesn’t mean our participants are not learning. In this blog series, I hope to share with you what education is actually taking place, how our experiences are enabling crucial early development and most importantly how the Under 5s, naturally, are facilitating their own learning.