Principle 3: Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners
Children need to be empowered to explore and take risks from a young age. There is no better environment to do this than the outdoors. A capable teacher will set firm boundaries for safety while still allowing students to strike out in this new and strange environment. Over time the mud seems less scary, the hills more scalable and slowly students begin to see themselves as capable and active agents in their adventures. These four concepts: Resilience, confidence, independence and creativity are cornerstones of the Kindergarten Program and key to developing self-directed learners. they are also painful buzzwords that get thrown around to the point of meaninglessness. This post looks at how we can put some meaning back into these critical aspects of healthy development through engaging in the outdoors.
Resilience: Pushing through discomfort
Indoor environments are designed to eliminate environmental stressors. We control the temperature, eliminate biting insects eradicate pesky vermin. We keep the lights on at the same levels throughout the day and keep out the rain and mud as best we can. We attempt to make our school environment as safe as possible to eliminate all possible risks. All of these are laudable goals, as there is something to be said for creating warm, quiet, comforting spaces for learning. However, if we spend too much time indoors we lose the potential to learn the resiliency that comes from facing the unpredictability of the outdoors. The result? We become less adventurous, less willing to take risks and more affected by the hardships in our lives.
Resilience is the ability to overcome unforeseen obstacles. It is critical that we expose students to things that challenge them at a young age. Over time, our students can learn strategies for dealing with discomfort in the outdoors. They learn to not throw their mitts on the ground in the middle of winter. They learn to be at peace around bugs and mud. They learn that even if they get wet and cold or scraped and bruised, they will come out of it on the other side. This helps them trust us when we tell them that things will get better when they are feeling down or that they can take on new challenges that they have never seen. If we can build a sustained and progressive level of challenge into our programs, then we will see children become more resilient over time. This can transfer into all areas of their lives and can help move them towards our next goal: Confidence.
Confidence: Believing in your abilities and taking risks
Confidence is the belief that you are able to meet a challenge, achieve a goal or complete a task. It is a belief in one’s own ability. It is also a key ingredient to self-directed learning and growth mindset. Those who belief that they can do something will be intrinsically motivated to tackle challenges as they arise and seek out new challenges themselves. Forest School takes this to a different level in the younger years. Students are encouraged to climb trees, build fires, use knives and build shelters. Getting nervous? Here: watch this video… All of this is done in a controlled environment, but the message is clear: You can and should try to challenge yourself, because with practice, you can do it!
Confidence in the classroom can be fostered in the classroom. But what happens when students leave that controlled environment? Confidence in life must be taking from real world experience. Taking children outside and encouraging them to challenge themselves will translate better into their lives outside of school. If students are encouraged to explore and question the world around them, they are more likely to seek knowledge and challenge themselves at home or as they go about their day. This confidence will then feed back into their efforts at school. This is one of the main arguments for strong extra-curricular programming and experiential education opportunities. There is a case to be made for beginning this process of confidence building outside of the classroom as early as possible. Building confidence then leads nicely into the final two buzzwords, independence and creativity.
Independence and Creativity: The primary goals of education
These two concepts are put together on purpose. To be creative, students need to feel like they have permission to do so. This permission can come from the teacher, but it is in the end much more important for the student to feel empowered to do so on their own. When a student has the confidence to be independent and think for themselves, then their ideas spring to life. Bringing students into the woods and allowing them to explore and take control of their own adventures will lead to those students building stone dams in the river. Their creativity will drive them to build forts, create fun and original games and to search for signs of life. When the students get back into the classroom, they will be compelled to engage in their creativity and try new things.
If you buy into the idea that resilience, confidence, independence and creativity can fostered through outdoor learning, check out this site for more ideas. Now, lets move on to the 4th principle.