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Cultivating Growth: The Community at the Heart of Forest School education

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

We recently celebrated our forest school community with our Second Annual Community Celebration (this would have been our fifth if it weren’t for C19!). Leading up to the event we reflected on what a community is, what unites us, why it’s important and a central part of the Forest Schools ethos, and what benefit it brings to those who are part of the community. This was so that we could design a community celebration to achieve the goals of fostering community cohesion, creating a sense of belonging, and connection to one another and the environment through our shared values and beliefs.


Read on to find out more about the role of community in a forest school and how we are working hard at Wildlings to bring people together after the division of the pandemic. We also include a section on ideas to do at home and school to extend the learning and some options for essential reading.

What is the Community for Learning in a Forest School?

Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for development and learning.” Forest Schools Association, Principle 6.

A community for learning within a Forest School is the foundation upon which the ethos is built, forming part of one of the six founding principles of practice. The community is a collaborative, inclusive network of individuals—children, educators and practitioners, volunteers and parents, and the wider community—who engage in shared educational experiences in an outdoor, nature-based environment. This community emphasizes learning that is learner-centred, hands-on, and reflective, encouraging exploration, risk-taking, and problem-solving in a real-world context. The community is committed to principles such as life-long learning, raising children respectfully, play is valuable learning, and so on. The approach is holistic, integrating social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development. It fosters a sense of belonging, connection, and stewardship and aims to cultivate life skills and values that resonate beyond the immediate educational setting. If you are reading this as an adult accompanying a young toddler at Forest School, this is why we encourage you to have a go, experience alongside your child as a learner too, we are all in this journey of life together.

How do we benefit from this community?

"The school is primarily a social institution... Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living." - John Dewey, "My Pedagogic Creed" (1897)

The role of the community within a Forest School is to have a deep, positive impact on the development of all members of the community and its shared mission and goals. This communal learning environment offers a multifaceted educational experience that significantly contributes to the cognitive, social, and emotional growth of children, by providing opportunities to:


Cognitive Development:

  • Learn from the shared experiences and knowledge of every community member.

  • Interact socially, which plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition.

  • Tackle challenges and solve problems with peers and adults alike, developing critical thinking skills.

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the world around them through tangible, hands-on and meaningful interactions.

Social and Emotional Growth:

  • Navigate life from a secure base, it takes a village to raise a child and Forest School can be part of this village.

  • Explore and take risks with participants knowing that they are in a safe space and they have the support of a nurturing community. This sense of security fosters resilience and adaptability.

  • Interact with diverse individuals, learning valuable lessons in empathy, cooperation, and conflict resolution.

Holistic Child Development:

  • Outdoor educational programs, which include community engagement, correlate with improved academic performance, behavior, and interpersonal skills.

  • The hands-on, community-centric approach of Forest Schools has been shown to enhance motivation and self-esteem.

  • By valuing every participant's voice, Forest Schools cultivate an inclusive environment where children not only learn about the natural world but also see their place within it. They grow up with an ingrained understanding that their actions have an impact, fostering a sense of environmental responsibility and a commitment to community welfare.

By valuing every participant's voice, Forest Schools cultivate an inclusive environment where children not only learn about the natural world but also see their place within it. They grow up with an ingrained understanding that their actions have an impact, fostering a sense of environmental responsibility and a commitment to community welfare.

The striking thing about this photo above is that these children do not all know each other, they attend completely different programmes, are the children of staff or siblings of Wildlings enrolees. However, they are all connected by Wildlings and felt safe and confident enough in the environment created at our Community Celebration to all team-up, work together and have a go at winning the tug-of-war. An all too rare event in these days of disconnection and a delight to see.


How we do it at Wildlings

At Wildlings, our work and mission extends beyond the forest, weaving into the fabric of family and community life. We believe in creating tangible, lasting connections between our learner’s Forest School experiences and their everyday world. By extending learning beyond the forest we help learners to reflect, to shape habits, values, and beliefs which stand them in good stead for a lifetime of learning that started the day they were born into the world. We aim to cultivate the ability to have positive experiences and seize opportunities in the great outdoors to help our participants seize opportunities and live full and exciting lives. Here's how we are working towards our aims:


Bringing the Forest Home: Tangible Learning Experiences

During our sessions, we focus on hands-on activities that children can take and nurture at home. This includes creating mini wormeries, which teaches about composting and soil health; constructing mini gardens with easy-to-grow plants that attract insects and foster an understanding of ecosystems; and building bee houses to support pollinators, emphasizing biodiversity and environmental stewardship. These projects are both educational tools and serve as physical reminders of the lessons learned in the forest, allowing the children to bring a piece of their Forest School experience into their homes.


Involving Families: Strengthening the Learning Community

Recognizing the vital role of families in education, we invite parents to join our end-of-term Forest School sessions. This immersive experience provides parents with a first-hand understanding of our teaching methods and the benefits of outdoor learning. Additionally, we host an annual community celebration, free and open to all, to foster a sense of belonging and pride among the community.

Service Learning and Community Engagement

We also extend our ethos through service learning opportunities. For instance, our upcoming beach clean-up in January 2024 will support a healthy environment and also instil a sense of responsibility and community service in our community. These activities reinforce the values we teach and show children the actual impact they can have on their world.


Shared Experiences and Making Lifetime Memories

Our newest initiative will be an overnight camp-out for our club families at Wildlings. This event will allow families to fully immerse themselves in the Forest School experience, creating unforgettable memories and deepening their connection to nature and the community.


In essence, our approach at Wildlings is about creating a comprehensive educational experience that extends beyond the forest. By involving families, engaging in community service, and bringing the learning home through practical projects, we reinforce the values and skills taught in our Forest School, making the learning experience holistic, meaningful, and enduring.

 

Extending Wildlings' Learning Beyond the Forest: Ideas for Home and School

You don’t have to have a Forest School or be an expert at outdoor learning to bring some of the benefits into your children’s lives. Here’s some ideas you can try at home, or at school:

  • Nature Journaling: Encourage children to keep a nature journal. This can be a simple notebook where they draw or write about their outdoor experiences, observations in nature, or reflections on what they learned (at Forest School, or a family day out to a nature park). It's a wonderful way to nurture their observation skills and appreciation for the natural world.

  • DIY Eco-Projects: Engage children in creating simple eco-friendly projects at home or school. This could include building a small rainwater collection system, creating a butterfly garden, or making bird feeders from recycled materials. There are many books with fantastic ideas in them, we love the range Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall and the book ‘Nature Play at Home’ by Nancy Striniste.

  • Plant a Family or School Garden: Gardening is a great way to connect with nature and any container can be the start of bringing more nature into your lives. Start a small herb garden, vegetable patch, or a flower bed. Gardening teaches children about plant life cycles, responsibility, and the joy of nurturing living things. Many plants in the tropics grow easily from cuttings, almost anything with a green stem actually! Try taking some cuttings of Borage, Mint, Thai Basil, Mexican Petunia, Snake Weed or Pagoda Flower as a starting point. Put in water until you see roots, then add to moist soil and compost. See our blog on creating Children’s Gardens in small spaces for guidance.

  • Outdoor Exploration Activities: Regularly plan outdoor activities like hiking, bird watching, or nature walks. These activities don't have to be elaborate; a simple walk in a local park can be full of learning opportunities. Encourage children to observe, ask questions, and explore. Take a look at our blog on Upping the Fun Factor in Family Nature Walks for ideas.

  • Community Service: Participate in or organize community service activities such as tree planting, community clean-ups, or wildlife conservation projects. These activities reinforce the values of care and responsibility towards the environment and community. If you are enrolled in any of our Forest School programmes (those at any of our dedicated Forest School sites or in schools) please consider joining our next beach clean-up event.

  • Crafting with Natural Materials: Use materials found in nature (leaves, twigs, stones) to create art or craft projects. This not only fosters creativity but also teaches children to see the beauty and utility in natural objects. Have a look at our Nature at Home Series of activities developed during the pandemic for inspiration.

  • Eco-Friendly Practices at Home and School: Implement eco-friendly practices like recycling, composting, and conserving water. Involve children in these practices to teach them about environmental stewardship. Children can help to create signs and reminders to foster eco-conscious behavior at home or school, such as to conserve water, turn off lights, or recycle waste.

By integrating these activities into everyday life, we can work as a community to extend the learning and values from Forest School, enriching children’s education and our own lives with experiences that cultivate a lifelong connection with nature and a deep respect for the world around us.

Further Reading

If you are keen to learn more about this topic, we can recommend the further reading below:


  • Knight, S. (2013). Forest School and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years. London: SAGE Publications. This book offers a comprehensive overview of Forest School principles and their application in early years education.

  • Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books. Louv's influential book discusses the importance of nature in the lives of children and the growing disconnection from the natural world.

  • Striniste, N. ((2019). Nature Play at Home. Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children with the Natural World. Oregon, US. Timber Press Inc. A wonderful book for any adult with children in their lives who have their own outdoor space to play with.

  • Warden, C. (2012). Learning with Nature: Embedding Outdoor Practice. London: SAGE Publications. This book explores the concept of outdoor learning and provides practical strategies for embedding these practices in educational settings.

  • Walmsley, N. & Westall, D. (2020). Urban Forest School: Outdoor Adventures and Skills for City Kids. Lewis, UK. GMC Publications Ltd. Fantastic practical ideas for connecting city kids with the great urban outdoors.

 

About Claire

Claire is the Founder and CEO of Wildlings, an environmental scientist by training and an environmental sustainability consultant and educator by trade (aside from being a busy mum to two sometimes wild children). Claire enjoyed a very outdoorsy childhood collecting acorns, making daisy chains and sifting dirt to get the perfect pile. Once upon a time Claire was an enthusiastic ultimate frisbee player and before Wildlings taught pre-school sports classes. Claire is on a mission to help City kids experience a wilder childhood through the Forest School approach to learning and founded Wildlings in 2019 offering outdoor activities for children and families in Singapore to do this.


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