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Forest School Benefits in Early Childhood

Tuesday Forest School & The Benefits of Green Space in Early Childhood:

Last spring as the weather warmed, our Maternelle students enjoyed Forest School every Tuesday morning through the end of the school year. Every Tuesday was an adventure for the students! They got some exercise, explored new surroundings, engaged new vocabulary, collected treasures, and sketched their observations. Throughout the spring, they saw a variety of wildlife: a raptor with a snake in his claws, ducks, wild turkeys, geese, a woodpecker, and a red cardinal - to name a few. The children loved these weekly nature excursions and learning outdoors! Along with the joy that taking school outside brings, forest school offers children a plethora of benefits. Let's explore them!

First, What is Forest School?

Forest School Benefits in Early Childhood

Forest schools have been part of a Northern European tradition for more than 60 years. According to the Norse proverb, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” In forest school, learning is done outside. Children might walk along with teachers pointing out or naming various local flora and fauna. Then, they play. They might have a snack.

Green Spaces Shape Children’s Developing & Lifelong Health

There are many benefits to bringing students learning outdoors. Recently Dr. Lindsey Burghardt, the Chief Science Officer at The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, spoke with @wbur about how the environments in which children live affect their developing biological systems and lifelong health. In the interview, they discuss how adding green space into the child’s environment supports healthy development as children grow.

6 Benefits of Forest School:

Physical Activity

Children are able to get physically active outside which not only improves overall health but also helps with self-regulation skills while engaging curiosity. Physical activity allows children to improve fine and gross motor skills. Coordination and agility are improved as children navigate the steps, logs, and natural obstacles of the forest and playground. Collecting natural treasures like rocks, leaves, and sticks activate fine motor skills.

Respect for Nature

Interacting with their surroundings affords children the opportunity to appreciate and study nature in a meaningful way. The cycle of the seasons takes on personal significance if studied first hand. Witnessing a caterpillar in real life hurriedly munching along on leaves brings new dimension to storybooks. Seeing wildlife in its natural surroundings gives children context and background knowledge for animals that might be studied in the classroom. Engaging with nature fosters appreciation.

Hands-on Play-based Learning

Forest School collaboration
Collaboration meets play in Forest School.

Hands-on, play-based learning is important in the early childhood classroom. Hands-on learning not only promotes fine motor skills, but provides opportunities for children to make mistakes, experiment, and learn through play. “Their life expectancies are longer and their social-emotional capabilities are more robust when they have a chance to learn through play and deep relationships, and when their developing brains are given the chance to grow in a nurturing, language-rich, and relatively unhurried environment,” Christakis eloquently explained in a 2019 interview with Edutopia. The interview continues explaining that a “steady diet of free, unstructured time and access to open-ended materials that allow for storytelling rambling and plenty of time to just mess around and make their own rules,” is important for the developing child. The open-ended materials in nature are endless. It is also in such environments that children are able to work together and practice collaboration and teamwork skills. These opportunities arise organically as they search for the right sticks to build a structure or the perfect leaf to compliment their stick man.

Cultivating Imagination

There are many wonders, known and unknown, of the natural world to be discovered at a child’s leisure outside. The natural world has long inspired modern innovation (see children’s book: Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature). It is well documented that the brilliant Leonardo Da Vinci took nature as inspiration for many of his inventions and scientific research. Natural wonders might be explored in the classroom together or carried on beyond the classroom to cultivate new areas of interest at home.

Promoting A Sense of Calm

It goes without saying that being outside brings a sense of calm to children and adults alike. Studies show that time in nature will reduce “nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood,” according to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, in an interview with Yale’s School of Environment.

Self Discovery

Forest School raptor with snake
A raptor spotted with a snake in his talons during Forest School

Observations in nature fuel discovery and inquiries in the classroom. What are raptors? What other things do raptors eat, beside snakes? How does increased rain in the spring affect the forest plants? How does it affect animals? Many topics can be observed even without a formal classroom discussion. Self discovery drives curiosity. Furthermore, discoveries that are made first hand are especially memorable.

More adult books and information about Forest School & Nature Study:

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