“Once upon a time…”

We learned this week that this is how stories start when we aren’t sure if they’re real or not. The children learned of the story of the Blubbergumps. Dreadful, irresponsible, and mean, the Blubbergumps were a scourge on the forest. They broke branches, scared away the animals, and left garbage wherever they went. One day a Wise Old Tree decided to do something to stop the Blubbergumps, and so the Knights of the Forest were born: Sagebrush and Flicker and Goldenrod. The Knights used their magic to trick the Blubbergumps into leaving the forest, and soon the forest was safe and at peace again.

The children were enthralled, so much so that the story will be back next week!

At forest school, we use stories to inspire the children and to educate them. While listening to the tale of the Blubbergumps, the children learned names of some of the plants and animals in the park. They were encouraged to consider what was appropriate and expected behavior in the forest and what was not. They were introduced to new vocabulary–do you know what wise means? The children also worked on their social skills. They practiced sitting at a table and listening quietly. They were given the opportunity to empathize with the Wise Old Tree, and reflect on the consequences of the Blubbergumps behavior. So many opportunities for learning in this one moment! This is one of the ways in which we teach at forest school.

How else does your child learn at forest school?

How do we encourage children at forest school to learn the rules about safety? 

We play!

When we play games such as the one we played this week, “1, 2, 3, Where are you?!” We introduce children to the idea of using “owl eyes” to observe the world around them. Where might they, or those they seek, hide? We introduce them to the idea of using “deer ears.” Can they hear the sounds of their classmates in the brush? Or the footsteps of a teacher drawing near? We also introduce children to an important concept of safety. When the teacher calls out, you must reply. Here I am!

How do we encourage the children at forest school to learn the rhythm of the day? 

We sing!

We sing songs that create community and relationship between the children and ourselves. We also use music to orient children to the flow of the day. We howl like wolves to bring the group together. We sing to learn names and to move our bodies at the start of the day. We sing to signal snack time and hand washing. We sing to clean up and to say goodbye. Apart from morning circle, our transition songs remain the same, so the children learn the rhythm of our day in a very real sense!

How do we encourage children to focus their inquiry and imagination?

We inspire!

We start our day with the nature museum. Our teacher box is always filled with interesting tidbits.  What is this insect/animal/plant? Can you name it? Have you seen it? Does it live in this park with us? The nature museum also tells the children what our weekly focus is, and when it changes. We cycle through four themes that inform our questions, our games, and even how we interact with each playsite.(We begin with Insects).

And how do we encourage children to form their own, personal, intrinsic connection to the natural world? 

We “Knight” them.

Pygmy Nuthatch, Mountain Cottontail, Rubber Boa…

When children are encouraged to have agency in taking ownership of their relationship to nature, they come to value nature, to cherish it, and to love it. By giving each child a nature name in the manner of the Wise Old Tree of the story, they are connecting the story they heard with the reality they are experiencing. We use the daily ritual of our closing circle and just a little bit of nature magic to plant the seed of the Love of Nature within each of their hearts, a seed we will continue to water and tend and help grow through the upcoming weeks. This is the work of forest school.

“Obligation grows from love…Love isn’t just a state of being, it’s a way of acting in the world. Love isn’t a sort of bliss, it’s a kind of work. It is the natural shape of caring.”

                                        -Kathleen Dean Moore

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