The biggest myth surrounding Forest School or Bush Kindy is that you need a forest or a large wild bush land space, or to be situated in a rural setting. I can speak from both my own experience and that of many Forest School Leaders, when I say that this is certainly not the case!
Many wonderful urban Forest Schools take place in small on-site outdoor areas, local parks or in natural pockets of green space a short walk from schools or childcare services.
Recently, I had the pleasure of joining some of the Kindergarten children at Kurilpa Community Childcare Centre for one of their off-site Forest School sessions, run in the inner-city suburb of West End in Brisbane.
Here Forest School sessions take place in a nearby small local park, surrounded by houses and residential roads. For the children however, every session is an exciting wild adventure!
"Allowing children to have time for unstructured play in nature has always been something we at Kurilpa Community Child Care felt was integral to childhood, yet we were unsure of how to provide the children at our service this kind of opportunity regularly. Our centre is in an urban, built-up environment and though there are parks nearby, there are definitely no large "wild" spaces. After attending the Level 3 Forest School Leader training, I felt empowered to find a space that we could use despite feeling that we had nothing suitable nearby - and lo and behold we found a space that suits us perfectly!" - Hannah Powell, Forest School Leader, Kurilpa Community Childcare Centre.
The walk to the session site alone is significantly developing their resilience and risk management! The children walk from the centre as a group and they learn how to safely cross quiet roads together on the way to start their Forest School adventure, carrying their own bags. Treasures found along the way are collected to add to their ‘journey sticks’, further enriching the memorable experience.
On the day I visited, following a quick recap of the Forest School rules at base camp, we tried our hand at safely using potato peelers to whittle sticks into pencils. We then went searching for insects and found the biggest, juiciest caterpillar. We climbed the trees and even began creating a large cubby house.
The academic, physical and emotional learning taking place was endless and hugely evident throughout. The children learnt additional lifelong skills of treasuring their environment, such as not ‘picking or licking’ anything growing at Forest School. The children furthermore respected their visible boundary and were doing a wonderful job of negotiating themselves safely around the environment, looking out for potential hazards.
"We are seeing huge benefits for the children already after running several trial sessions, including changes in their ability to work collaboratively, self-regulate and focus for longer periods of time. So far they have been able to climb trees, make paint with charcoal, use tools such as hand drills, saws and peelers, build a cubby with large sticks that they found and on our last session we built a fire and roasted marshmallows!" - Hannah Powell, Forest School Leader, Kurilpa Community Childcare Centre.
At the end of the session, children exemplified competence and confidence in taking ownership of their learning, successfully making decisions and leaving nature as they found it. The children took charge of taking down the boundary rope and packing their own bags. They discussed together what they would like to do next session, strategies to keep their newly built cubby safe and what resources they will need for next week.
"We are very excited to begin rolling out forest school sessions two days a week for all the children at the service to get to participate in - even our babies!"- Hannah Powell, Forest School Leader, Kurilpa Community Childcare Centre
If you are inspired to develop Forest Learning at your service or school, remember you do not need access to a ‘forest’ or large wild space. The Forest School ethos is all about making the most of any natural space and materials you have on or off-site, and developing an area over time. It is an extremely rewarding ongoing journey. It’s a journey that often begins with just a humble mud pile in the yard and some natural loose parts. The magic will evolve and grow from there!
More Nature Play QLD Forest Learning information and workshops for educators: www.natureplayqld.org.au/programs/forest-learning