Monday, June 16, 2014

So what is Forest School?

The first time I ever heard of Forest School was from the following Ted Talk about hackschooling.

The name sounds AWESOME, right? What's not to love about something called Forest School... even though I had no idea what it was. The Wikipedia article was not all that helpful and is only really helpful if you live in the UK. And in reality, none of these definitions came to be what our Forest School is like. Every Forest School is different as defined by the varied locales and the individuals who attend. My most promising lead was from my friend Jerritt, who attended Forest School with her kids!... and lives half a country away. So it became evident that if I wanted the Forest School experience for my kids, I was going to have to create it myself.

So then, what is Forest School? It is fun, it is educational, it is freedom to explore, it is turning nature into a self-guided classroom, it is wet, and it is often muddy. The first step to starting a Forest School is to find the right forest. Wild, but maybe not too wild and relatively conveniently located since the idea is to visit the same place year round at least once a month but possibly more often. While many excellent choices were around the KC Metro, since I was going to be the "leader" of this muddy band of nature lovers, I chose a location close to me. The park where we go has a rocky bottomed creek, bluffs full of fun rocks to climb on and lots of beautiful green... all behind a park with ample parking and a play ground. The nature area is hemmed in by the park, a neighborhood and two streets so the kids can safely roam without getting lost. The creek always leads back to where the adults are. On the other hand, when you are in the creek bottom chasing tadpoles, those "civilized" spaces might as well be miles away for they are not intrusive to the peace of the nature area at all. 

We go year round... every second Tuesday and any (bonus) fifth Tuesdays. Rain or shine or snow. (We do skip dangerous weather). Because the creek is in a small dip (it's not really deep enough to be a valley), the temperature there is often warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer and the winds aren't as strong. Once there, the kids just... go. They play. They explore. They swim (even when it's 60 degrees out and the water has only just thawed). They get muddy. They get SOAKED. No agenda, no curriculum, no lesson plan. Nature teaches them. And even the most screen-obsessed kid jumps in with both feet, literally and figuratively. It's a beautiful thing. There are no rules (though parents are encouraged to require a buddy system of exploration). Every family lets their kids explore with the supervision with which they are comfortable. If I have an interested audience, I'll point out different plants and explain their medicinal and culinary uses. But mostly, it's all kid lead exploration. And in a couple hours, worn out and wet, we'll ascend from the creek bed reconnected a bit to nature and to ourselves. 

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