Venturing into the forest

The unschooling diaries: week eighteen

I am always on the lookout for new and exciting learning opportunities where Arthur gets to hang out with other kids, and in the past couple of weeks we’ve found a brilliant one.

My main motivation for leaning towards homeschooling as a vehicle for Arthur’s education is the complete pedagogical divergence between how I know children learn best and the constraints and controls being put on our schools by our current government. I am not anti-school per se, and I’m definitely not anti-teachers: I just wish our education system was able to be fed by the wealth of research over the past fifty years that advocates a child-led approach, steeped in creativity and the natural world. It is just so depressing that instead our schools, and our children, have been hijacked by a government obsessed with data and narrowly-focused assessment.

It’s not like there aren’t real alternatives to the system that is currently stagnating in the UK. Finland has had amazing results with an approach that is much more closely aligned to my own beliefs. One of the cornerstones of that approach is the dominance of forest schools, particularly in the early years: and I decided a couple of weeks ago that I owed it to Arthur for that to be part of his early-education experience.

And so, for the past two weeks, we have travelled to the little village of Stoke Gabriel on a Tuesday morning to join in with their forest school. It’s a bit of a mission – I still don’t drive (though I’m determined to do something about that this summer) so with the limited bus service it means getting taxis. But we are rewarded by our efforts with four and a half hours in the wilderness, which without a doubt makes it all worthwhile.

Weeks alternate between a community orchard and the forest, depending on whether the tide is too high to cross the weir. We were in the orchard for our first week, and I was struck by democratic, respectful atmosphere that pervaded – children were trusted, and they rose to that challenge. There were planned activities – from worm charming to clay modelling – but around that there was plenty of time for children to just play, inspired by each other and the world around them.

This week, we ventured into the forest. And it was amazing. The journey itself was rich in challenge and learning: navigating along the shore of the millpond, walking carefully across the weir and climbing up into the woods. Along the way the children were encouraged to be mindful of their environment – of plants, and insects, and the (metaphorical) need to tread carefully so as not to leave too significant a footprint.

After close to an hour, we reached Mr Magic Tree, the guardian of the woodland playground, and passed into a world of natural balance beams and fire pits and bug hunting and wooden xylophones. Again the time was punctuated by shared experiences (like cooking nettles to see if they lost their sting), but largely the children just played, and   no doubt learnt more than we could ever truly compute, let alone measure.

I think we’re going to have fun at forest school, Arthur and I. There is so much to learn, so much to experience.

And underpinning it all is a pedagogy that makes my heart sing.

7 thoughts on “Venturing into the forest

  1. Dana

    I love Forest schools and wish I had taken my kids when they were young. Right now we go to a nature class but there isn’t as much freedom as I’d like, but clearly we can find that by spending time in nature which we do. I agree with you about the state of schools, all the testing and rules and hours of sitting isn’t the answer but my daughter does attend public and so far is ok. Partly bc she fits the “mold” of what a “good” student is. I admire your homeschooling/unschooling efforts tremendously.

  2. Coombe Mill

    I love the idea of forest schools and try to create much the same here for our activity hour. Looks like Arthur is going to have a great time there. #Letkidsbekids

  3. mamasforestschool

    It looks like your little one had a fantastic time! I love the philosophy behind forest schools and am planning a miniaturized version for my children over the summer as a way to detox from the school year. And it sounds like the UK is facing many of the same issues we are in the US in terms of data driven education. As an educator, it’s really disappointing and disheartening.

  4. nourishingmyscholar

    Wow, I love this! Forest school sounds fantastic and closely aligns with my own thoughts on education. Your pictures are beautiful and I can see the richness in learning in this type of enviroment.

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