The Forest School philosophy is about connecting children (and adults) to their natural environment, creating opportunities to develop creativity, confidence, resilience and learning, as well as promoting ways in which children can experience risk.
Forest School is often described as a child-led process, but I think it is much more helpful to think of it as being learner-centred. We want to give opportunities for creativity and confidence building and it is shown that the optimal place for this is in child-led play. But that is not going to happen with learners that are unable to participate due to developmental reasons or learning differences. Being expected to ‘lead’ in these cases may cause complete reluctance to participate or cause anxiety.
In these cases it is particularly important to remember that Forest School is a process and the process is moving from adult-directed to child-led. By being learner-centred, we are reminded that some learners will require more adult-direction than others. As long as we are still supporting and scaffolding the development of confidence, creativity and resilience, this is still Forest School. It’s a process, and it will take some time to find the right balance for your setting. Here are some tips that may help:
1 – Ensure your learners are able to communicate in the Forest School setting.
Please feel comfortable to bring any communication tools or techniques your learners may need and to use them – be that anything from visual cards to electronic devices. Communication builds confidence and confidence is essential.
2 – Do something you enjoy
There are normally a variety of suggested activities available at a Forest School session. If you are supporting a learner who is reluctant or unsure, then find something you would like to do and lead by example. You can support activities by stimulating inputs. Remember, that in Forest School there is no right or wrong. Modelling activities is an important part of Forest School and you are going to be able to convey more enthusiasm for something that you are enjoying. Forest School is for everyone and if you are participating you might get something out of the process too.
3 – Do not worry about outcomes.
While there may be a number of suggested activities in a Forest School session, none of them are compulsory. If we are making insect homes, for example, it is not necessary for every participant to make an insect home. If a child wants to spend the whole session digging, that is fine. If a child wants to spend the whole session lining up sticks, that is fine. There are no learning outcomes of a Forest School session. If any assessment is taking place, then it is likely to be just an assessment of their well-being and their involvement (using Leuven Scales is very common).
4 – Don’t be afraid to feedback
Forest School sessions can fly by, but do not be afraid to give feedback to the Forest School Leader. Reflective practice is a critical part of the Forest School process and as an extra pair of adult eyes, you may have important observations or insights that the Forest School Leader hasn’t seen and would welcome.
I hope these tips help with participating in Forest School sessions. Please let me know if there are any others that you think of.