My children's Forest School experiences have had a profound effect on me. It's difficult not to appreciate how the children thrive in such a minimal, natural environment. No shelves lined with materials, nature is the prepared environment. Learning with sticks, bugs, worms, rain and, mud! Wet and dirty. Windswept and sunkissed.
While inside our home is Montessori outside it's starting to look a little different. We have found inspiration for our outdoor environment in Forest Schools. What Forest School ideas have we applied to our home environment?
Art and Crafts. There are an endless amount of crafts we can do with natural materials. It's time all of us to look at our waste and while we don't want to be restrictive on our children's use of arts and crafts, there are often many materials that can be used that are natural and compostable. Gum nuts, leaves, sticks, wool, unbleached cotton, wood cookies. Our Forest School arts and crafts have been some of the most creative I've seen. "Forest School uses natural resources for inspiration, to enable ideas and to encourage intrinsic motivation." - Forest School Association.
Outdoor Environment. While we have our art easel and water table outside the rest of the environment is inspired by our Forest Schools. Wood stump seats and table. Logs for balancing on. Waterproof blankets to sit on while keeping us close to nature. A wheelbarrow, a shovel for digging. Buckets of water for mixing. Playing outside while it's raining (with no thunder) is encouraged, it's the norm. We don't have a forest but we can create a loving outdoor play environment. We can have a nurturing outdoor play space without formal play equipment, my children have never been closer to nature. "Forest School aims to foster a relationship with nature through regular personal experiences in order to develop long-term, environmentally sustainable attitudes and practices in staff, learners and the wider community." - Forest School Association.
Risky Play + Bushcraft. As Montessori parents, we are familiar with risky play and work. All three children have from a young age learnt to use real knives, use real drinking glasses, they have learnt to cook with heat. This play and risk extends to outdoor play. Our children use saws, whittling knives and mallets. All children are encouraged to climb and balance. I'm now also more open to risky play with dirt and sticks. "Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves." - Forest School Association.
Trust and a Child-Led Approach. These are fundamental to the Montessori philosophy however my observations in Forest School environment have been different. At Forest School it's much simpler, do they need more mud/water, I can see that Otis needs more information on tying knots and is interested in foraging. Choice, for the child, has never been easier, the outdoor learning environment is a yes space, all materials are robust and it is completely child-led. As there may be one correct way to use Montessori materials, the child can use the outdoor space and materials in any way they wish. "A learner-centred pedagogical approach is employed by Forest School that is responsive to the needs and interests of learners. Play and choice are an integral part of the Forest School learning process, and play is recognised as vital to learning and development at Forest School. Practitioner observation is an important element of Forest School pedagogy. Observations feed into ‘scaffolding’ and tailoring experiences to learning and development at Forest School." - Forest School Association.
The Forest School approach complements Montessori so well, you can read more about the Six Principles of Forest School here. I would like to encourage all educators and parents to embrace all-weather play, I know many of you already do!
"Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath it's shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping." - Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child.