WHAT IS FOREST SCHOOL?
Forest School is first and foremost a child-directed and play-based inspirational learning experience that takes place in nature. It is sometimes referred to as Nature Kindergarten, Outdoor School, Waldkindergarten, Rain or Shine School, or Bush Kinder. Locally, we refer to it simply as Forest and Nature School (FNS). It can take place on a part-time or full-time basis, with different age groups, in all seasons. FNS can take place in any kind of natural space – a stand of a few trees or a majestic forest, a playground or an endless prairie field, a creek in a ditch or a vast ocean shoreline, tundra, desert, mountain. Children can find magic in the most ordinary of spaces. What matters is that they build a relationship to a place, through regular and repeated access to it, in the way that is most fitting to them: through play. Children at play in nature – that’s at the heart of Forest and Nature School, whatever you call it.
Skilled educators support that play and the learning that inevitably emerges from it through close observation. They follow the child’s interests, probe their theories, ask good questions, offer tools and resources, and get out of their way! They view children as innately competent, curious, and capable, and see themselves as facilitator, guide, and co-conspirator, not expert. Forest and Nature School educators are committed to place and play-based, emergent, and inquiry-driven teaching and learning.
The Forest and Nature School movement is gaining momentum all over the world, from Scandinavia, and the UK, where it is well-established, to Korea, Australia, and beyond. Many often trace the roots of FNS back to Denmark in the 1950s, and our work in Canada has certainly been informed by the Danish and also British approaches. However, no discussion of FNS in Canada is complete without acknowledging that Indigenous people here have been teaching and learning on, with, and from this land for millennia. There is still so much to learn from building reciprocal relationships built on mutual trust with the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities around us.
As more and more FNS programs emerge all across Canada, each one as different as the children who attend them and the landscapes in which they are rooted. The Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, through our flagship education project Forest School Canada, seeks to support national and regional communities of practice, through which we are establishing best practices in the FNS field for our distinctly Canadian context, and ensuring high-quality opportunities for all children in Canada to play and learn in nature.