Every week during the school term we take 8 children out into the forest. Each fortnight our younger children go to a natural reserve where they spend the morning hunting for natural treasures, playing hide’n’seek among the trees, learning about our indigenous flora and fauna and eating a lovely picnic. The in-between fortnight, the older children head out to various natural spaces in the community; including parks, playgrounds and a local farm where they are able to get up close with the animals and explore the hundred acre woods. They have lots of different experiences from feeding chooks and collecting eggs, to riding ponies, cooking lunch over a fire, hiking and just generally having a wonderful time!
The learning outcomes are extensive and varied and include:
• That children experience an opportunity to grow a strong and lasting bond to a specific natural space where they experience positive, exciting and peaceful memories that will sustain them through hardship and chaos;
• That children learn interesting and exciting facts about the natural world that supports them to feel and experience amazement and magic;
• That children learn life skills, problem-solving, confidence and relationship expertise. E.g. Risk assessment, fire safety, asking for help and helping others;
• That learning and experiencing these things create resilient children who live life to the fullest and believe that taking care of the environment is an important part of their everyday lives as they grow.
Our Forest trips are founded on the theoretical influences of scholars, as far back as the 18th century, who believed in the importance of children playing and learning outdoors in order to improve their physical, cognitive, social and spiritual well-being. Being outside in the open air and having access to green spaces has obvious benefits to growing healthy, strong bodies and reducing stress. Experiencing wind, rain and sun gives children firsthand knowledge and experience about keeping themselves healthy. Gaining real knowledge about their world and putting this into practice gives children confidence in their abilities in other areas.
The lessons we wish to teach children about the natural world around them weaves together with the Māori belief in the interconnectedness of people and the earth we came from. All things are united through mauri (life force) and the concept of hauora (total well-being and balance with nature) is highly valued. Whanaungatanga, where all people embrace each other through the wider family relationships, extends to the earth and people respectfully expressing kaitiakitanga (guardianship) towards all living things.
Age appropriate opportunities for exploring with all their senses and practicing risk-assessment is supported and encouraged. As individual children’s interests emerge, these are noticed and extended by teachers. The Forest trips curriculum is about following what each child finds exciting and interesting.
Spending time in the natural environment positively affects EVERY AREA of child development, the more variety encountered, the more children will learn. Being outside fulfills
children’s need for freedom and adventure, it supplies them with the opportunities to assess and experience risk, assessing risk when they are young enables children to learn how to problem-solve and make safe and logical choices. The environment a child spends time in is fundamental to creating the peace, harmony and beauty needed for nourishing the whole child.
Providing education and experiences IN, ABOUT and FOR the natural world will provide firm foundation for today’s children to ensure a generation of adults who will think carefully about the resources our world has to offer and how best to care for these resources.
Click here to read the article Kinderen had published in The Space Early Childhood Education magazine.