“Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher.”
– William Wordsworth (from The Tables Turned)
It’s no secret that the “connecting children to nature” movement is strong and growing quickly. There are wonderful examples of schools and preschools that are embracing it fully. Forest Schools have actually been around a long time, starting in the mid 1900s in Sweden and Denmark. (And frankly, wasn’t the forest our first school, as a species? But I digress…)
While this is a more recent development here (the first opened in 2008), we do have them now in Canada.
These schools aren’t everywhere, but educators are increasingly recognizing the value of nature-based, hands-on learning experiences for children. If you need convincing of the benefits of nature, check out the rest of my blog.
As a completely immersive forest school isn’t always possible, practical, or even desirable in some cases, many schools are starting to incorporate natural play spaces and elements into their existing grounds.
For example, at one Early Childhood Education Centre, the staff just introduced a whole series of natural elements into their playground, including logs and stumps to balance and climb on, a “fire pit,” plenty of mulch, sticks to build with, and pine cones, stones, and other loose materials to manipulate. Staff asked for donations of hostas and phlox to plant around the edges.
Not only do the children get hands-on contact with natural elements, but the design also employs the theory of “Loose Parts” which proposes that creative play is greatly enhanced when children have a variety of materials to manipulate.
Here is a post that explains the theory of Loose Parts (first introduced by architect Simon Nicholson) and their importance in creative play.
As the play area at this particular preschool was already in a location with beautiful tall trees and plenty of shade, this was a natural transition. While there is a new industry that revolves around designing and building sophisticated and expensive “natural playgrounds,” many smaller changes take relatively little time and money (when compared to traditional equipment). Professional consultations or installations are not always necessary and many of the materials can be donated or collected for free.
“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”