Nature as a Practice

There is no great difference between a stone-age body and a modern one. Movement and time spent outdoors improves health and well-being for practitioners and pupils alike. Developing young people’s motor skills, ability to co-ordinate and awareness of their own body is all part of the benefits of outdoor learning and Forest School practice.  We know that outdoor learning develops self-autonomy and confidence. It provides opportunities for rich and varied spoken language and the ability to communicate with others and express thoughts.

We want to make sure that the purpose of education prepares children for the ‘outside world’, where the application of their skills, knowledge and understanding and character will all be needed to thrive. The ‘classroom’ for us, is a range of places and spaces where learning happens, both within and outside the school grounds.

“The evidence is compelling that learning outside the classroom helps children flourish and reach their potential. It boosts social mobility, helps develop confidence and resilience, engages children and young people with learning, and improves their health and wellbeing.”

Natural Education Sector Partnerships 2019

As an outdoor practitioner and primary teacher since 1992, I have experienced first-hand how teaching in the outdoors affords huge benefits for young and older members of our communities. We collated some information from our Forest School at Ringmer Primary with the reception year that shows how self-esteem has increased in all 37 pupils who attended the Forest School.

The teachers reported reduced noise levels, an increased understanding of topics, an awakening of interest in nature, an increase in exercise and more fun. This hands-on approach brings laughter and a life-long lust for learning.

self esteem graph

Figure 1.3. Initial overall self-esteem score compared with final overall self-esteem score for each individual child. Participants 1-15 are girls and participants 16-37 are boys.

At The Outdoor Teacher, we have developed the idea of the Forest School Continuum, where at one end of the continuum we have a child-led ethos, that is supported by the Forest School approach and at the other we have an adult-led ethos, which is more usually the outdoor learning approach.  We think that it is our role as professionals to provide as much person-centred education as possible within our context, using our expertise to link the learning we observe back to the curriculum where appropriate.

Snow to Water

For example, with ‘technology’ you could invite children to take part in an activity known as ‘Snow to Water’ where the purpose is to discover how the water quality differs depending on where you take the snow from. Take 15 minutes to fetch snow and allow time for it to melt (use buckets) and then see what’s floating in the water. You can filter the snow using a coffee filter. Let the children hypothesis about how the water looks and why, and how it relates to where the snow was taken.  

Birch Leaf Detergent

Get ready for spring and make a batch of nature’s detergent from birch leaves! Make your own detergent by collecting fresh birch leaves in a plastic bag then add 100 to 200 ml of water. Shake the bag until white foam forms. Let the pupils wash their socks by putting them in the bag and shaking it a bit. The socks will smell nice once they are dried! You can discuss the impact of laundry and detergents. How is animal and plant life affected?

There are also endless ways of teaching mathematics and English in the outdoors too! It may feel daunting to take practical ideas and link them to formal education settings – but with a little inspiration and guidance there isn’t anything you may offer in the outdoors that doesn’t have place within formal education. Using our heads, hands and hearts really does make for a rich and fulfilling learning experience.

Our ‘Forest School Activities Online Course’ is full of ways to offer exciting ideas that link to education. Watch out too for new online courses as they appear, and many more that will be coming over the coming months!

Marina Robb

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    forest school activities online course

    The Forest School Activities Training

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