“Why are we learning outdoors? … To wake up our brains” is the loud chorus from my Grade 2 students at Little Falls Public School. Outdoor learning is an integral part of their daily lives. These students come to school prepared; dressed in layers, with their water bottles, hats and splash pants, they are ready for a day of active learning. This preparation is as important as completing homework or remembering to bring their school planner.
I started the Forest School program at Little Falls two years ago after reading Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. Louv talks about the absolute imperative of reconnecting children with nature to protect children’s personal well-being and to ensure that they care about their natural world. I was inspired by the message and convinced by the research.
The belief behind Forest School is the non-radical notion that we must ground children in their immediate natural surroundings. Children must know and appreciate what’s in their own backyard to recognize the real value of the nature that is part of their daily experience. Children of today seem to carry with them a vague yet intense concern for the health of the planet, an unfocused, unnamed worry that their world is under siege. They have heard about animals in distant lands becoming endangered or extinct, air and water being polluted and global warming devastating our planet. These same children can tell us more about animals in the rainforest than those that inhabit their own community. Their questions are about places and concepts far removed from their actual experience.
The disconnect from nature seems to be growing with the strong embrace of technology that envelopes the lives of children, keeping them focused up close on screens rather than being wide lens observers of natural cycles of life.
Reconnecting children with nature is the goal of our Forest School team at Little Falls. We believe that our students need to get plugged back in to nature and get to know the local flora and fauna, seasonal cycles, weather systems and environmental issues in their home communities. Through nature awareness education we hope to refocus each child’s understanding through the lens of the natural world.
In Forest School our day is filled with living things and the core routines that embed the children in their natural spaces. Following the familiar coyote call to gather outdoors to greet the morning, we join together to sing the morning song in a tight circle, before heading off to visit our tree friends on the schoolyard. Later, we come back to the log circle to share stories of recent adventures and observations from our wanderings. These