How COVID19 has forced us to adapt and re-evaluate education

The past few months has been a difficult time for obvious reasons on so many levels for children and adults alike. We have been dealing with our emotional responses to the pandemic, harbouring concerns for those within our family and friendship bubbles, as well as those in the wider community. We have also had to respond practically to the crisis with regards to adapting our behaviour, changing our habits to do what we can to ensure our safety. Perhaps equally as important has been the measures we have had to put in place to continue effectively educating our children.

When lockdown measures were put in place, there seemed to be a brief period where the majority of the population looked towards the home-educators they knew, as if Lockdown Learning was obviously going to be the same thing?! Very quickly, it was realised this was not the case. As a forest school, we work with many home educators and their children; a diverse minority whose approach as individuals differs from family to family. Parents are not typically  sat at home structuring their children’s day to the n’th degree whilst trying to keep their professional work afloat either, but are investing time and thought into a varied programme of learning through numerous activities both in and outside of the home. Experiential learning, creative tasks, being outdoors and bringing the ‘classroom’ wherever they choose to go. The opportunities are endless. Before I worked in forest schools, I had little knowledge of home education, yet fairly quickly my preconceptions changed as they and their children educated me. Lockdown Learning is not what typical Home Education looks like.

Throughout lockdown, as individuals and families we have clearly had different constraints and considerations to how we continue to educate our children whilst remaining at home. Some of us have continued to work, either at home or elsewhere, some of us are single parents or split parenting, our options may be limited by our location in cities, towns and rural areas, the list goes on. One thing I believe we have in common for the most part however, is that we have changed our focus and priorities on what to educate our children and how best to go about doing so to promote a positive mental health. First and foremost we want our children to be happy, and so tailoring our programmes to the individual has been key to make the experience both fun and beneficial. We may not have teaching qualifications, but by no means are we unqualified to teach; we know our kids and what floats their boat, we know their passions and interests as well as they’re behavioural habits and in a holistic sense we can gauge and judge what they need and when they need it, regardless of whether the children see or understand the benefit and purpose at the time.

Please don’t get me wrong…..there have been days where my own kids have not been in a space to do what we may have planned. Even when these plans have been adapted to reflect their mood they have been discontented. We cannot expect our children to be the image of perfection at the best of times, let alone in a climate far from perfect.  There have been many positives throughout this difficult period, and we should have our eyes wide open to them. As I sit writing this, the wildlife is having a party, the air is clearer and the noise is less. My mind is more free to wander and wonder. There’s a separate blog entry somewhere here for how our slower pace has positively impacted our environment, though I’ll get back to the point. This slower pace has enabled many children to explore their creativity, and apply the knowledge they have and all the learning they have done before. They may now more than before, be able to (and happy to) sit in peace and just be………looking at the world around them for inspiration, being lost in the moment before making their own ideas and decisions about what they may want to explore and what they may want to learn about. Through doing so the seeds are planted that evolve into new hobbies and skills that serve them for years to come and they become aware of their potential and  more confident in its application.

Lockdown Learning has been a whole new ball game, taking bits and pieces from other approaches, and through  watching my own kids throughout, it has given me hope that the positives we have seen can be continued post lockdown, particularly in mainstream education. The Forest School approach to learning focuses on and utilises many of the positives mentioned above, and as I’ve sat in the woods writing this, I can almost hear the kids going about their journeys. I’ve really missed it. The social development of our kids is one thing we have not been able to nurture effectively throughout. It’s a shame that such an important aspect of childhood has been put on hold for our children, and it’s the first focus I will have as a Forest School leader on returning to some level of normality where children are free to roam the woods.

I don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen. I don’t know how speedily things will return to normal in the woods. I do know that we won’t be doing anything until we have put all possible thought in place to ensure that children are safe to return to sessions, as well as sessions being run in a way that promotes our values and aims, drawing on many of the positives mentioned in this brain-fart. When it happens, hopefully before long, it’s going to feel amazing.

But when that time comes and you are keen to get back to the woods for forest school sessions, or if you have shifted your view in what makes up a complete education for your kids and are interested in getting involved in our forest school programmes, please join our mailing list and keep up to date with developments and be the first to know where we’re back! You can also find more information on our Forest School Webpages

Stay safe.

Nick Murphy 
Senior Forest School Manager

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