The “C” word at Forest Schools

It would seem obvious that the “C” word would not be synonymous with Forest Schools. In fact I distinctly remember that point being hammered home during my Forest Schools training, way back in the day when having lots of bill hooks and a 9m fire circle was considered de rigueur.

Shelters made to repel solar radiation following on from an emergency landing on Planet 9

Many thousands of children, hundreds of sessions, tens of clients and units of years later (see what I did there?) I find myself considering the “C” word more and more. It is, I think, an inescapable fact that schools are a major client of independent Forest Schools practitioners, CIC’s or, in our case, charities. Further to that, schools have their own agendas and pressures both educational and financial and are rightly desirous of getting as much “bang for their bucks as possible”. What does this mean for Forest Schools practitioners and Forest Schools programmes? Possibly that we (who must also eat) must visit the dark side and when required design our programmes with an eye, or half an eye, or maybe both our eyes firmly on the National Curriculum.

But “Lo!” you might cry “Is it Forest Schools if we use the “C” word?”. Well possibly not, but ponder on this, while children in the woods carrying out activities linked to their curriculum topic may not strictly be behaving in a child led and child centered way, they are probably having more fun than they would in the classroom.

Fun=learning.

They are probably moving over, under, around and through nature. They are distracted by it and encouraged to be so. They are in the weather, experiencing heat, cold, wet and wind. They are increasing their own resilience, taking risks, working together to solve problems, speaking out, showing enthusiasm through their willingness to engage. Learning without realising, motivated intrinsically. And at the end, through the benefits bestowed upon them by nature and the outdoors, better placed to reflect and evaluate, to take the emotional risks which are often so much more important than climbing a little higher up a tree. All of that sounds familiar. All of that sounds like Forest Schools.

WIllow withies bent into shape to make a bender shelter
WIllow withies bent into shape to make a bender shelter

In an ideal world, every child is outside for much of their day, developing holistically through play and becoming all that they can be in a supportive environment. In reality most children go to school. Most Forest Schools takes place in school, delivered by teachers. Exposure is only a few hours a year if the child is lucky. Anything that helps bridge the gap between child and outdoors should be encouraged and supported whether it is maths in a wood, poetry at the beach, sports, gardening, Forest Schools, playing out, curriculum outdoor days. Anything I can do to support that I will do (apart from running) (and football) (and maybe not cricket)

Forest Schools is great, a great idea and everyone should do it, but the debate over what does or does not constitute Forest Schools*  should never be used to stifle opportunities to Be More Outdoors. (see what I did there?)

*Of course it is entirely possible that this debate is in fact an internal dialogue and I have completely wasted my time arguing with myself. Again.