Bundling a giddy bunch of primary school children into wellies, anoraks and waterproofs and heading for the great outdoors doesn’t sound much like school. Isn’t school a place to sit, be quiet and to learn? A place to follow the lesson plan and do as you’re told? That may be education as we know it, but a silent revolution has begun and it is creeping into schools across the country.
The Forest School Association was officially launched in 2012 as schools began to recognise the benefits of outdoor play for children. Now over 12,000 teachers and professionals are trained to lead forest schools in the march towards nature appreciation. And the benefits? The list is endless.
Here’s me (on the left) and my sister, having a jolly good time outside
Although the movement is still fairly new, the idea of forest schooling is decades old. Poets from the Romantic Era, such as Wordsworth, philosophers and educators, such as Margaret McMillan, have all recognised the importance of a connection with nature. It’s these ideologies that lead a group of nursery nurses from Bridgwater and Taunton College in Somerset to take an inspirational trip to Denmark. Here they learnt about the Scandinavian friluftsliv way of life (‘the open air culture’) which encourages child-centered outdoor play. On returning to Somerset, they were buzzing with new ideas, desperate to try this new way of teaching and so they launched the first ever Forest School.
Fast forward to today and the movement has grown enormously, fuelled by concerns that children born into a technological age are losing their connection with nature.
Simple activities, like jumping over a stream, stomping through a muddy puddle or scrambling up a bank are overwhelming for a generation that has been bubble-wrapped. Though these activities may sound like simple outdoor play, they teach a host of important life lessons. Children learn about risk, they build self-confidence and develop team working abilities. Building a den isn’t just good fun, it is a lesson about how to use your resources, work in a team to achieve your goal and demonstrates the benefits of hard work. Outdoor play also teaches children that they can have fun with absolutely nothing. It gives them a chance to use their imagination and develop their creativity. And for kids growing up in a technological age, that’s an important lesson – you don’t need technology to be able to play!
Most importantly, nature schools teach children that we are a part of nature. Too often today we exploit the natural world without much consideration for the consequences. But it is our job to prepare future generations for the environmental challenges they will face. They must grow up to appreciate that we are not the only inhabitants of this earth, so when they build cities and develop further, they will take all species into consideration.
At the most basic level, nature schools teach children that they are a part of the natural world and that we, like all creatures, rely on it, so we must protect it. And in my eyes, that’s an invaluable life lesson. So to all parents and kids out there – pull on your wellies, don the anoraks and get outside!
Muddy knees and a bright coloured flowery jumper pretty much sums up my childhood!
For more information about the benefits of nature for child development, why not read my blog Cows Hibernate in Winter.