In the five years that I have been running Forest School, I have met and talked with hundreds upon hundreds of people; the children of all ages who visit the woods, the parents of those children, the grandparents, the teachers and teaching assistants, head teachers, support workers, enablers, not to forget the lovely cashiers at the shop I purchase stock from who enquire about what has been happening in the woods this week …..the list goes on. Time and again I have the same conversation with folks who are not overly familiar with the concept of Forest School and the underlying ethos and approach. Through these encounters, I can hand on heart say I’ve never had anyone tell me they don’t see the point.
Within this blog, I am not going to address what methods of learning are better or worse, or what may or may not be catered for in the mainstream; it’s too broad a spectrum of debate and I shall save that for another article! What I will address is that Forest School promotes a holistic and nurturing approach focussed entirely on the individual and their own learning journey. It is this notion that everyone I meet is inspired by.
For a number of reasons, the forest school leader training was the most valuable course I have ever done.
The practical aspect of the course was an absolute joy. I hadn’t realised it, but adult life had deprived me of the level of exposure to the beautiful outdoors that I was so familiar with as a child. Doing an educational course surrounded by like-minded people beneath a canopy of Oak was an incredible experience that I will never forget. In retrospect, I was in the same shoes that my attendees now wear. This was my learning journey. The processes of all those practical tasks completed that week were as important as the outcomes and I had discovered skills that would benefit both myself and others from then on.
Other trainees that joined me that week had come from a variety of professions and backgrounds and their diversity and variety of motivation for embarking upon the course became my gain; folks from mainstream educational settings, a youth councillor, one chap that worked in rehabilitation centres…..they all gave me a different angle to think about when writing the coursework and I found myself able to appreciate the breadth of demographic that Forest School was able to have a positive impact upon.
Every now and then somebody may infer that my job is to come and play in the woods. Sometimes that is exactly what I do. Often that is what I want it to look like, because if what my group is doing appears to be simply having fun, then my training has paid off. Whether our attendees are children or adults, as Leaders we are striving to create the environment that enables people to thrive, and facilitate a space whereby development can happen at the pace of the individual. If this is what is happening when it appears we are simply ‘playing in the woods’, my work is done.
“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world” John Muir.
Author: Nick Murphy, Exmouth Forest School Manager