Risk & Adventure in Early Years Outdoor Play: Learning from Forest Schools

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Description Table of Contents Product Details Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! Issues considered include: - being outside in 'bad' weather - the importance of risk-taking - the benefits of rough and tumble play - observing and assessing children in this mode - how these experiences improve children's learning - explaining activities to parents, colleagues and managers - ensuring health and safety requirements are met - the role of the adult in facilitating these experiences.

Industry Reviews 'the book has considerable strengths as a resource for Early Years practitioners, and the staff of a setting could well use it to support the systematic development of their outdoor provision, discussing and using the activities and points for practice incorporated into each chapter' - Valerie Huggins, Early Years 'Chapter 8 of this book is one of the most sensible pieces of writing I have read on risk assessment. With a further book on Forest Schools in the pipeline, the author is leading by example in the drive to get children and practitioners outdoors, enjoying the many benefits that nature brings' - Early Years Educator 'I cannot imagine an author more qualified to write about outdoor play in the early years It is recommended in particular to practicing early years educators who would like to - as the back cover implores us -"incorporate the wilder and riskier elements of outdoor play into their planning"' -Educational Review This is a clearly-written, well-structured book that is full of useful suggestions for activities, implications for practice, and sources for further reading.

Acknowledgements p. All Rights Reserved. In Stock. Play Matters Investigative Learning for preschool to grade 2. I thought I saw a Understanding and Supporting Young Writers from Birth to 8. Science in Early Childhood. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem.

Return to Book Page. Learning outside the classroom is an essential part of early years education, and this book looks at the opportunities the Forest School experience can offer young children for learning outdoors, and how this fits into the early years curriculum. By offering clear guidance on what the Forest School approach can achieve, and how you can make the learning opportunities happe Learning outside the classroom is an essential part of early years education, and this book looks at the opportunities the Forest School experience can offer young children for learning outdoors, and how this fits into the early years curriculum.

By offering clear guidance on what the Forest School approach can achieve, and how you can make the learning opportunities happen in your setting, the book shows you how to incorporate good practice into all outdoor play activities. Get A Copy.


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Paperback , pages. In our public school, there was plenty of free time during recess and lunch; we were left to our own devices, able to play however we wished on the playgrounds, in the fields, or under the trees. My budding skills as a natural scientist were developed by collecting insects, fish, polliwogs, and rocks; climbing trees; digging in dirt; sliding down hills; and splashing in waterways, with what felt like all the time in the world.


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A rusty coffee can was a place to store random treasures on my bedroom shelf. My family embraced the sciences and I was allowed to keep small animals for a week before returning them to their natural homes. My love for outdoor play continued into my teens. At age 13, my family moved to a California state park where my mother had gotten a job. My sister and I could play in the walnut orchard behind our house. We often rerouted the small creek, walked our dogs wherever we liked, and rode our BMX bikes all throughout the park on weekdays when park visitation was low.

This is all to say that my sister, friends, and I felt a sense of freedom throughout our childhoods. Adult attention was largely absent and we were trusted to be safe and to come home when we noticed that it was dark enough out that cars were turning on their headlights. I consider myself fortunate to have enjoyed a childhood quite similar to those of pioneering scientists and natural historians.

Harry Greene , John Muir , and Jane Goodall are among those who have written about how they spent their childhoods with all the land and time before them, without constant adult supervision. Time and space to explore, freedom to make choices and mistakes, space to become enthralled and scared alike, with focused and rigorous activity. This connected them with life, cycles, and seasons, and created pathways to become naturalists and teachers. There was a large Mexican musk turtle Staurotypus triporcatus that lived in a long aquarium.

I was charged with his care and noticed that he would use his body and eyes to follow me back and forth from across the room on his assigned feeding days, tracking my motions until he consumed the third of three thawed mice. For a few years after receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology, I worked at the University of California, Berkeley. I continued my work as a biological lab assistant and did everything necessary for their Biology 1A labs: caring for local cold-water invertebrates like sea anemones and sea stars, purchasing specimens as diverse as amoebas and rats, and fertilizing sea urchin ova for student observation.

On the chemistry side, I mixed reagents for experiments such as running DNA gels and staining cheek cells. Later, I took on positions that were more administrative, but I found they were too far removed from what I considered to be dirty, fun, and rewarding work. Teaching became my second career. I taught in a private preschool classroom and continued my education. Early in my tenure there, I attended a workshop where I first learned about forest kindergartens from Robin Moore He talked about a forest school at a public park in Munich where children played in the snow all day.

While I enjoyed introducing scientific subjects to the preschoolers and bringing natural materials and animals into the classroom, I began to seek other opportunities. I initially set up specific lessons for the children that I thought were important for them to learn, such as exploring earthworm anatomy and using magnifying glasses.

My current work as a forest school teacher is conducted in busy, urban environments where parents are fearful of leaving children alone. I have a strong desire to allow children to tap into experiences similar to those I benefitted from as a child. Around the time I was beginning the garden program, Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder , lamenting the loss of the childhood freedom that I and others had experienced and the current lack of a connection to nature.

A wider audience began to remember what things had been like for them, and they, too, felt the loss of free time and nature play on behalf of modern children. For example, while working as a garden teacher, I was exposed to a sense of fear from some parents and visitors in the school garden.

From Fear to Freedom: Risk and Learning in a Forest School (Voices) | NAEYC

After some concerns about climbing height, for instance, the teachers became climbing monitors. Capable children were denied their desires, and lesser abled children did not have such lofty heights to aspire to. The sense of disappointment for children and teachers alike was palpable. Spaces for outdoor education are inherently riskier than traditional classrooms.

I agree with Bernard Spiegal that. It is to learn by doing that actions have consequences. It is an aspect of moral education. Play and risk-taking are creative acts. Far later, I came to realize that these typical classroom areas—these things—were distracting the children from what was really important: nature connection and social interaction.

I came to believe that children were not in need of being taught in traditional curricular areas; they needed to learn with their whole selves. Soon enough, I removed the curriculum-based areas of the outdoor classroom; eventually, I left this original educational setting to teach at a forest school. In the forest school, I was able to put more effort into trusting the environment as a teacher. In the beginning, I came to school each day with an idea or project in mind, such as making leaf necklaces or finding out how many petals are on the flowers.

I quickly discovered that the children were not interested in these activities. I kept the ideas in mind in case a quick redirection in play was necessary, but I never used them.

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It became apparent that my own curricular ideas were not better than what the children had in mind. A branch breaking off a tree; muddy hillsides to climb; blackberries warmed by the sun, ready to pick and eat; a favorite toy or book a child wants to share—all represent examples of the curriculum that was ever-changing, unplanned, and ultimately meaningful.

I was a facilitator. This new job and these new methods were a risk in my career. I realized that various levels of fear, small and large feelings, existed within all of us. To be a successful forest school educator I would need to learn to address those feelings. Methods I used included deep breathing, moving in closer, reflecting with the group, colleagues, or just myself , and writing.

My past work has often informed my present endeavors. Having been taught, in biology courses and laboratories, to keep lab notebooks and other records, I decided early in my teaching career that I wanted to document what the children and I were doing. Data collection has been a valuable tool throughout the years.

This became more difficult when I began working outdoors, as the practical methods of storing things on tidy shelves or in cabinets disappeared, as did wall display space. Wind, rain, and soil made it difficult or impossible to keep examples of classroom work—but I still wanted to continue keeping records of my work and to communicate my efforts.

I experimented with maintaining a secure blog about the class but found that few families would click through to read it. In recent years, I discovered that outdoor data collection could be practical and effective when I took and edited daily notes, photographs, videos, and reflections; by the end of each week, I had formed a solid story that represented the time my students and I spent together.

Forest Schools and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years

I saved the photographs and videos that I did not include in the documentation on a hard drive. I also printed the emails and any responses and kept them in a binder for easy reference. To be reflective and intentional in my teaching, I reviewed these items as the programs were still in progress, again at the end of the program, and later whenever I wanted to see how much my teaching methods and physical spaces had changed over time.

These photographs, emails, and binders are the records that comprise my history as a teacher. They document my work and tell the stories of what was important at that time, in that place, and with those people. As I conducted the research for this project, I worked at a forest school serving an ethnically and financially diverse community in the San Francisco Bay Area. The forest school offered several programs: a mixed-age preschool and kindergarten, a weekly program for families, and summer camps for children ages 3 to 9.

In this article, I discuss data I collected over two weeks of camp in My groups of four to six children were ages 5 through 8; each group attended camp for one week, from 9 a. With the exception of morning meeting, snack, and lunch, the bulk of the days were spent as free play. My project was guided by a set of questions focused on nature education, fear, and freedom that have guided my teaching and inquiry over the last few years: Could I step back and allow the children to discover and choose their own interests?

Would the children form cohesive groups that worked together? Would the children choose adventures that might seem dangerous? Why do I regularly experience a sense of fear as my students do something new or out of character? Could I push through my feelings and perceptions of fear as well as those of others? The first step is recording observations of the children. I followed my usual methods of documenting individual and group play by taking photographs and occasional videos with my smartphone daily in addition to taking notes with pen and paper and on my smartphone. I then edited these observations and incorporated them into weekly emails.

The second step in the cycle of inquiry is developing potential avenues for inquiry in my child-directed approach. For example, further research could have incorporated ideas about how children interact with natural features, such as by bouncing on fallen trees, setting up their own quiet time, creating assemblages of natural objects and other items, finding animals, or creating body art.

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This daily review facilitated the planning of research questions, which is the third step of the cycle of inquiry. The fifth and final step in the inquiry cycle is setting up and facilitating play. This consisted of the children and I planning ideas for possible activities as themes emerged and solidified. The children in my groups were very much involved in this entire process; they readily presented their own ideas when they arrived at camp each day and during our morning meetings.

I was able to communicate with some of these authors via email and social media. Their suggestions helped me gain focus for my research as well as encouragement for the type of work that I do. When I began teaching outdoors, I found few references to use in terms of history of the profession and methodology. I developed my practices of teaching and documentation largely through years of trial and error—doing what made sense and felt right to me.

The literature review I conducted into outdoor education models and methods of inquiry for this study helped me to examine my practices in a wider context. For this article, I chose to take a narrative approach in describing and reflecting on my data. Forest schools differ from traditional schools primarily in that they are taught in part or entirely outdoors. The programs at the school where I taught and conducted my research were entirely outdoors, with classes occurring rain or shine. Fritz notes that outdoor educators take on roles more similar to what in the British Isles is referred to as playworkers.

More traditional schools offer proof of education via schoolwork and various projects, whereas forest schools offer authentic experiences that are often immeasurable by testing standards. Educators intervene when necessary, but often allow children to work out their experiences—whether they are pure fun or complicated interpersonal challenges—for themselves.

Establishing boundaries for emotional and physical health and safety helped provide support, build trust, and develop relationships.

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I accomplished this in a variety of ways. Second, we walked the borders of our site within the park, showing where the bathrooms were and pointing out poisonous plants. Children who had attended camp before led this walk, with the teachers coming along to make sure all the important points were covered. Third, the first day was always spent on site, getting to know the children by talking with them and their families, finding out about their interests, and watching to see if they were willing to try new things without prompting.

At the same time, my colleagues and I evaluated their abilities by informally observing cognitive, affective, and psychomotor traits Bloom I also evaluated whether I thought there would be any behavioral, physical, or emotional problems that would prevent our groups from safely traveling to other areas of the park. Over the following days we regularly made excursions to other sites.