Google+ bakers and astronauts: Forest Preschool / Experience

03 February 2009

Forest Preschool / Experience

In December, I got the go ahead from my director to sign up for a workshop at the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife, Scotland. The workshop was entitled "New Year, New Ideas", and it was a really eye-opening experience. I had seen photos of this school and other ones -- most inspirational for me were the ones I found when searching flickr for "waldkindergarten". Take a look at those ones here.

At the beginning of the day, we were given a few minutes to think of three things that we wanted from the day. In the cold and the quiet, and looking at the morning campfire, I decided on inspiration, beauty, and nature through the eyes of the young child.

One thing I found beautiful was the traces of children you could find all over the forest. Scraps of fabric were marking trees and bushes; dens that were carefully built by teachers and children together were hidden throughout the ten-acre forest. The children and staff gather in the morning outside of the forest, and they decide together where they will spend the morning. They refer to locations throughout the forest by landmarks, like the quarry, the yellow tarp, and the fire pit.

I could picture children in these dens -- I can't think of a better place for imaginary play and thinking. For the first time at a teacher workshop, I could picture my students there, moving sticks and branches and balancing them up against fallen trees. I have never gotten that kind of inspiration from a classroom I have visited.

Many people wanted to talk about health and safety - how do you handle those things at an outdoor school? First, the issues are vastly different from an indoor school. We worry about children going up the slide, they worry about children finding the 20 foot cliff. Outdoors, it is all about allowing children to take risks and learn from experience. Children know not to run at full speed towards a cliff. It is more likely that they will climb a little too high in a tree and fall out, get a bruise, and remember that the next time they climb that tree.

In one popular gathering spot, the yellow tarp, there is a space that looks like a natural ampitheatre. My mental picture was of read-alouds and acting out stories, but it is meant to be used how the children want to use it. But they have this rope, attached to a tree at the top of a five foot rock, for the children to support themselves as they climb up. I did not think I had the physical strength, but another woman did, and laughed the whole way up. The things we grown ups are missing out on...

{side note: This woman is a mother of two, and was at the workshop because she never thought she would be an anxious mother and she is. She was hoping to cure her paranoia. Rock on.}

So, these children are outdoors from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm, and the average child attends three days a week. That is quite a long time, especially in the cold and the snow and, in January, the darkness. I thought about that while I packed my long johns and wooly socks and sweaters and waterproof coat and wellies. But that seems so secondary to me now. Children all over the world spend their days outside learning. The mentality that the weather is bad when it is raining or snowing comes from the words and actions of adults who don't like rain.

I've never been interested in getting more plastic toys for my students, watching movies at school, coloring in photocopies, or choosing what children will do all day, every day. So this school made sense to me. I can see how I can implement ideas from this school into my own teaching.

Back to the forest we go!
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