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The Forest Inspired Urban School

This past weekend, I had an amazing conversation with a teacher who is trying to put together an outdoor education program in an urban area. The dilemma, of course, is space or rather lack there of. Acreage in the city is hard to come by and established schools can't necessary just acquire a near by forest. Depending on your schedule, you may only have 30-45 minutes with a group, so field trips are out of the question. So how do we integrate nature based experiences in urban areas? Read on, and hopefully I can give you some tools and ideas to inspire.

In the early years, a huge part of forest school involves developing a love of nature. Unfortunately, many young children are taught to hate the cold, avoid the rain, and kill the bugs. However, by encouraging even the youngest of children to explore the great outdoors, no matter the weather, we can help children overcome these negative views on nature. It all starts with providing positive experiences. Don't have a forest, that's ok, as long as you take them outside!

Another powerful forest school skill is observation. Through nature immersion, children organically use their senses to experience their surroundings. Your only natural space is a small garden, that's perfect! As the facilitator, encourage children to feel the dirt, smell the leaves, hear the crickets, watch as the plants grow and change, and even taste the fruits of their labor. However, the most important thing for us as teachers to keep in mind is the importance of silence. Yes, silence. If a student is immersed in their nature observation, it's best to not interrupt them. Just remember, they will come to you when they're ready.

Last, but not least, we'll discuss risk assessment. This is probably one of the most controversial parts of forest school because adults are afraid of children getting hurt. Did you know that our fear is actually more harmful to kids because it keeps them from testing their limits in a safe environment. Children should be allowed to climb, jump, and swing in a 'risky' manner. Most of the time, children won't engage in an activity they know they can't handle. When a child attempts to engage in actual dangerous play, don't just tell them to stop, but rather encourage a discussion. Help them understand the potential risk to themselves and/or others and brainstorm various solutions or ideas to whatever it is they are trying to accomplish.

I hope this encouraged you to include even a little bit of the forest school pedagogy with your students. Keep your children wild!

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