In forest schools – commonplace in Scandinavia, Germany, the UK and other European countries – learning is play-based, child-led, and takes place outdoors, without the confines of four walls. The outdoor pedagogy of these nature preschools and kindergartens is still a novel concept in North America, but whether you’re homeschooling or sending your kids to daycare or public nursery school/preschool you can incorporate the principles of outdoor learning at home.
This is the first post in a new Rain or Shine Mamma series about taking learning outside – please join me in my journey!
The benefits of learning in a natural environment are many. Researchers studying forest schools have found that outdoors, children hone their motor skills, engage in more creative play, have fewer conflicts, stay healthier, learn to be more independent and develop a compassion for nature and wildlife that is likely to last a lifetime.
So what’s not to like about outdoor pedagogy?!? Possibly just the fact that it has yet to catch on in this part of the world. There are only a few forest schools, or forest kindergartens, in the US, and zero of them are anywhere near us. So when I was faced with the choice of sending the Little Naturalist (who is 3) to traditional, part-time preschool this year or continue with our regular routine at home, I decided to go in a different direction.
I may not have the opportunity to send the Little Naturalist to a forest school, however I knew I could make a decent DIY version and hold off on formal education for another year.
Since I believe so strongly in the benefits of outdoor play, my kids already spend a great deal of time outside. But starting this school year, a few hours of our time in nature will be a little more directed than normal.
The goal is to introduce the Little Naturalist to the same academics that she would normally encounter in traditional preschool: shapes, numbers, the alphabet, etc. However, she will be doing it in a “classroom” that boosts her desire to explore, activates all five senses and leaves plenty of room for unstructured play. And, equally importantly, she will be learning at her own pace, since the outdoor pedagogy emphasizes that all children learn in their own unique way and at their own pace.
We actually started a little bit already last year, by making stick letters and alphabets, and this school year we’re starting out with a fun take on counting and numbers. This activity can be modified as you please, but the list below shows what we set out to find and do in order to practice counting to 10.
Counting to 10 with nature
Time: About an hour
Materials: A list of 10 items and/or tasks (see below). A pen and clipboard is helpful but not mandatory.
Place: Any natural area (modify the list to suit your surroundings)
What to find/do:
1 Log to balance on
2 Large rocks to jump from
5 Different types of flowers
6 Small rocks to throw in the creek
7 Laps around a tree
8 Tree nuts
9 Blades of grass
As we set out toward the woods, the Little Naturalist was thrilled with the task. And even though I came up with the activity, she had a lot of freedom in how to execute it. For example, she decided that she wanted to collect some of the samples in an egg carton, which was fine. She also actively searched for and chose the items on the list. Throughout the session, I tried to be attentive to what caught her interest. This time, it turned out that the ant home we found under an old log was the most fascinating item on the list. However, the ants were soon forgotten when she found – and caught – a small toad in the grass. It seemed like a fitting end to our first day of DIY forest school.
For more ideas on outdoor pedagogy, please check out my Pinterest board Learn from Nature!