Letting go of the reins – the benefits of child led play
As forest school leaders we are always evaluating our children’s environment and their learning opportunities, but as leaders we need to be careful not to be drawn in by the expectations of today’s society and clutter children’s lives with objects or provide their entertainment.
I started working for the Outdoors group as a forest school leader in 2017, my background was in childcare and like many other child based organisation it had become very adult led and structured so It was great to be working with children where they were free to explore and walk their own path, but the personal battle I have had as a forest school leader to give control and content of play over to the children has been hard. I have had to learn to not interfere or interrupt a child at play to implement activities which I have planned that can be conventionally measured by a learning outcome but instead just understand the lessons they are learning from their outdoor experience.
We know that nature is a source of wonder and inspiration for children, and essential for their health and development. Regular contact with nature inspires children to connect with their surroundings and builds a sense of belonging and responsibility.
Child led play is fundamental within the forest school environment. Children’s natural curiosity is what drives their learning.
Independent play with little to no adult interference allows children to develop skills that they will carry with them through life, such as problem solving, self-confidence, motivation and direction, creativity, social skills, imagination, risk management and limitations, team work, physical agility and to manage their own capabilities.
It can be very frustrating and/or uncomfortable for adults to watch a child struggle with tasks or hurt themselves and not intervene. If we keep interfering with play to help a child to accomplish a task they are struggling with then we interfere with the process of a child’s development, a child cannot problem solve if we jump in to solve the problem, if we stop planning activities we allow children to use their own creativity and to direct themselves, children’s social skills develop when we allow them to plan with their peers their own activities and to deal with conflicts and learn to compromise.
Those personal battles that I had were not just born out of the concern as to whether the children were learning but also out of what would other leaders, parents, helpers etc see, would they see the learning opportunities that we see or would they just see a group of kids messing around and leaders watching on?
What I have learned over the last 2 years is, the most important part we play as leaders is to be a child’s safe space, to be seen, and to be available if support is needed, but to make children feel safe enough, within their space, to just play and learn at their own pace as if we were not even there.
Date: 4 June 2019
Author: Debbie Miller, Okehampton Forest School Manager