I am a Forest School Leader, but I am not an outdoorsy person.
At least I used to think that was the case… I have dyspraxia, which means things like tree climbing, tool use and even moving around uneven spaces do not come very naturally to me. I don’t learn very well from visual instructions. You will rarely find me whittling, not unless I have a big box of plasters to hand…
But I love being outdoors. Being outdoors lights me up and restores my mental health. My dyspraxic brain sees and feels outdoor spaces in a unique way. It is an incredible problem solver and has huge empathy. So you won’t find me happily climbing up a tree? That doesn’t mean I am not experiencing a huge amount of joy down on the ground.
Naomi @intersectionalmotherhood recently facilitated a brilliant conversation about the dominance of Forest School in Outdoor Learning provision. One of the things that troubles me is that we only seem to value a narrow range of outdoor experiences. Despite following most of the Forest School ethos, my practice has been criticised for not being ‘Forest School’ enough. However, I couldn’t meet the needs of my learners (and my own needs) by only offering Forest School style experiences and that would exclude us from developing our own relationship with the outdoors.
Forest School can be empowering for many, but if we are looking to truly diversify the outdoors, we must recognise that different humans experience being outdoors in different ways. These are all valid, they are all important. And they can all be joyful learning experiences.
I would urge the outdoor learning community to consider neurodiversity when developing programmes. We have a huge role in shaping perceptions of what being ‘outdoorsy’ is. Nurturing connection with nature is key, no matter what that looks like or where it takes place. If well-being and involvement levels are high, does it matter if someone doesn’t like touching mud?
If we want to build genuine long lasting relationships with the natural world, which is urgently needed in this climate crisis, the outdoor experience can not be limited. We must make all people feel like that they too can be ‘outdoorsy’.
This post was originally posted on Instagram: Come and read some of the conversation it sparked here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CTtgoR8MnUf/