Thursday, November 3, 2016

f is for forest

A few years ago I was lucky enough to attend forest school training and become certified as a forest school leader. Each year since then has been a bit different in terms of how we access outdoor learning. Some years, weekly trips to the forest seem to take hold for me, our teaching team, and the students. Other years it seems like the routine just doesn't stick. Beyond our personal commitment - I'm sure the weather, level of interest, classroom dynamic, and likely much more...all play a role in our commitment to outdoor learning.

And maybe that's okay...

Just like with any project that takes hold of the group - there are conditions that nurture the interest.

Adding lots of "extra sugar" to the forest cupcakes

This year there is such interest and commitment toward our weekly outings. We have three teachers, which allows each of us to go out with a small group of three to four children one day a week. These small groupings have been so conducive to developing relationships (among the children and also children and teachers) as we intentionally plan who will go to the forest each day. An additional benefit is that a smaller group remains in the classroom.

With fewer children in the classroom we also notice the room exudes a calmness and play is often more focused and intentional.

observational painting in the classroom

How we begin each outing:

Before our outings to the forest it's always nice to come together as a small group to set our intention for our time together. One new tool I am trying this year (thanks to a colleague's suggestion) is the 'Zoom In' Thinking Routine. You can read more about the routine here . Essentially, you choose an image and cover it in sections. You slowly reveal portions of the image, discussing along the way. You can see below from our documentation panel the first image we used, here. Our teaching team is really enjoying this tool as a conversation starter. Whether we use this Thinking Routine or another - or simply sit for a brief chat - we find it important to find common ground before heading to the forest.

Forest Ideas

Here are a few ideas that we have enjoyed this year in the forest. As a note...We always try to follow up on the interests that emerge from the group - or connections happening in the classroom. 

1) Write a simple story about your walk! We created simple 4-page books and drew pictures along the way. Each group shared their forest journey (book) during morning meeting and children chose a title for each book. This simple idea reinforces the idea of: 
  • using images to tell a story 
  • telling (and retelling) an experience/story 
  • authentic use of language 
  • beginning print concepts

They came up with a pretty spot on title!

2) Find a climbing tree and climb! We always take time to practice the important skill of climbing. We use photo and video documentation to revisit and discuss how to safely climb. This year as we viewed a video of one student climbing, children noticed how important their hands and feet were to help climb, they noticed how we look with our eyes to know where to climb, and they noticed people stop climbing when they can't find a next spot to climb to. That's pretty accurate! We also have one teacher rule: You can only go where you can climb...this way you know how to get down (teachers will not pick you up and place you in a tree). Taking the time to insure children learn how to climb safely and feel confident in their skills allows for safe risk-taking in the forest.

3) Bring out some bowls, cups, muffin tins, and more to encourage some forest cooking! We add other pretend play items as well at times, like: silk scarves, animal masks, anything you don't mind getting a bit dirty.

4) Bring some snacks to the forest! We read the book A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton and took inspiration from the story's ending. Spoiler alert: they drink tea and eat biscuits! After reading the story in the forest we had a picnic of our own, enjoying biscuits and tea that we brought with us in a thermos. How fun to have a snack outside!

5) Bring flashlights outside with you to peek in the nooks and crannies of trees, stumps, and bushes. What do you find?

Do you find time for outdoor learning and exploration? What do you and your children enjoy doing in the forest?

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