Forest Preschool: Early Childhood Education
Written by Amanda Cook
What do you want your child to learn during their earliest school experiences? A conversation is budding, and parents/caregivers are invited to guide where the trail of early childhood education may lead. Place based learning has become a priority for many early childhood programs developing in the forests of the Pacific North West. The new forest school pedagogy diverges from the government standard focus of universally applied, developmentally appropriate practices. Rather than assessing children's success based on a system of progressive stages of development, the new pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) manifests meaningful learning experiences for children based on their unique abilities and interests, with disregard to any assumptions of universality. This new pedagogy is deeply rooted in the knowledge and priorities of our common ancestors, it is the type of learning that connects children to their culture and environment, through real life learning experiences.
Real Life Experiences and Emergent Education
Forest preschool programs are more than a field trip. Most forest schools operate completely outdoors: nature is the classroom and children are viewed as capable of creating their own learning. Educators maintain safety and meaningful group experiences as children are given the freedom to play. Play is important for preschoolers and educators alike, it is the tool box of learning. Through observing preschoolers play, educators may understand what the children are ready to learn next. This approach is called emergent education, and allows for a balance of freedom and framework in designing the ever changing curriculum of a forest school.
Forest school educators mentor children's connection to nature through interpersonal respect, reverence for nature, inquiry, song, music, games, storytelling and plenty of free time to explore. Themes develop naturally in nature and the learning is always an adventure. Children are able to evolve on their own timeline, equally challenged and held by the bonds of a place based community.
Grow in Relation to their Environment
Returning to the familiar forest locations every week, children grow in relationship with their environment and experience change with the seasons. Learning through the pedagogy of the land, lessons from our environment, is the indigenization of early childhood education. Perseverance is alive in a child's experience on a wet winter day at nature school, an interest in edible plant identification is sparked by the thrill of the first huckleberry, and countless hypotheses are made over the daily happenings of banana slugs on the move. Every community is as unique as the ecosystem that supports it, acknowledging the lessons to be found in nature is a step towards preserving it, and a brick displaced in the unremarkable Euro-Western colonial concepts of early childhood education.
The Nature School Way
Parents, caregivers and community members, you are invited to participate in trail building this growing network of alternative education offerings. Consider choosing independent and empowering preschool programs that truly support the whole child, rather than flocking towards government regulated programming. Choose to support your child's journey into society the nature school way, and find yourself embraced by a community that is bound to be making the world a better place.
To find out more about Forest School philosophy and where you may find a forest preschool in your area please visit the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada
Amanda Cook is an early childhood educator, radiant child yoga teacher and nature preschool teacher. She is guiding the way in experiential nature based learning on the West Coast of British Columbia and travels the world to share her passion in early childhood education.
Catch her on Instagram @flowersforseekers