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Saturday, 19 October 2013

Child Development in Forest Schools

Children and young people are living in the ‘most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth’ (Robinson 2010) however for many young people much of this stimulation comes in the form of video games and TV, Forest School is an excellent way of introducing children who may not have the opportunity before to the most stimulating environment that exists, THE OUTDOORS!
Many educational professionals advocate the use of displays, posters, and other things which enrich the environment in their classroom, even including music, and scented candles to create a sensory rich environment (Jensen 1998).   But the perfect environment for learning already exists THE OUTDOORS!
Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory identifies distinct stages in a child’s development and suggests that at the 3rd stage of Psychosocial development which takes place during preschool years children begin to assert control over the world through play and other social interactions, successful development at this stage equips a child to lead others and feel capable. Forest school activities which focus on the social development of a child should then ensure that these requirements are met and the very nature of Forest Schools, encouraging children to learn and develop through play  which the individual or group of children directs themselves means that this development will be aided by taking part in Forest School programs. In fact the word used to best describe the activities during this period of a childs development which will most help his or her development is EXPLORATION ( 2011). This stage of development is where children will develop initiative and if in a Forest School setting they can develop the initiative to break their normal boundaries and take part in more adventurous activities it will set them up for life to be proactive and enthusiastic about achieving their potential. It is my opinion because of the modern shift towards sheltering young people from the outdoors environment and trying to put more and more control and restraint on activities which may be perceived by parents and policy makers as risky that need to explore is not met and even young people well into secondary school and even beyond would benefit massively from being given a chance to take part in Forest Schools where the boundaries are different and they have the opportunity to take the initiative and make of the experience what they want whether that be self-motivated and governed activity or learning specific skills or subjects which are relevant in an outdoor setting but also in everyday life. Eriksons theory goes on to break down the development of a person up until maturity and death and there is no reason that Forest Schools in one form or another could not help development at any stage this process.
Another relevant theory within Child development relevant to Forest Schools is that of Jean Piaget, but it is my opinion that this theory is relevant to Forest Schools only in that Forest Schools goes against Piagets theory. Piaget theorised that intelligence developed in the same way across individuals however Forest Schools gives participants the chance to choose their own way to develop, with a much more open agenda than classroom based learning participants can choose to work as groups or individuals and there is also a lot of choice as to exactly what they do with their time on a Forest School course, with the teacher being there purely as a facilitator to allow the participants choice of activity to be possible. Unlike a classroom where despite any teachers best attempt at ensuring differentiation between the needs of individual learners, teaching in a classroom setting does put a limit on this however in a Forest School setting there is no such limitation and differentiation can truly be seen working as it should with learners who want to learn outside learning outside, those who prefer to be inside retiring to a shelter or building their own, those who work best in groups developing the social skills  to gather likeminded people around them to form a group and chose activities to be involved in while people who are more comfortable working on their own can do so. It is also an excellent pressure free way of breaking boundaries such as helping those who work poorly in groups develop better teamwork skills.
The general ethos of Forest Schools and approach to teaching is best described by the humanistic learning theories. The humanistic school teaches that emotional and personal development should be valued higher than academic achievement based on formal testing and grading. It teaches that learners should be allowed to pursue their own interests and talents in order to develop according to their own agenda (Petty, 2004, pp. 16-18) (Hunt, 2009) (Patterson, 1977). This certainly applies to Forest Schools and while delivering Forest Schools courses (see the evaluation of the Forest School course I delivered in my portfolio) I found myself adjusting my approach and recognising that I should have been even more humanistic in my approach to delivering the course. That approach is what make Forest Schools for the participants. The benefits of this approach can be seen among learners and it is clear how this kind of approach supports student development, with the children able to pick their own activities much of the time and manage their own risks Forest Schools are the ultimate form of discovery learning. The concept of discovery learning is basically that the most effective way of understanding a principle or subject is to allow a learner to solve a problem related to that topic  (Bruner, 1966) (Bruner, 1971). As teams and individuals children taking part in Forest Schools will be confronted with numerous ‘problems’;
·         Shelter building
·         Camp fire preparation
·         Scavenger hunts
·         Blind trails
·         Team games
All these things contain an element of problem solving and although the forest school leader will support the participants throughout it is by discovering their own solutions that the children will develop most. While not bound by the rules of a classroom or the constraints of a strict curriculum these discoveries will come thick and fast in such a stimulating environment as the countryside.

In fact with so much stimulation in the outdoor environment I believe it is impossible for children not to benefit and develop as a result of any outdoor activity but the Forest School program with it’s balance of education and adventure makes the most of that opportunity.  


For a full reference list see my full essay at; 


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