A Reintroduced Species – Children in the Forest
Forest School follows a child-centred educational philosophy, delivered in an outdoor setting – usually woodland. Children are given the opportunity to safely explore the natural world around them, their relationships with other children and to discover themselves. In a fast changing technological world, the natural world offers the comfort of a relatively stable environment in which to experiment practically, mentally and emotionally. Whilst the Forest School Leader prepares educational resources, ensures health and safety and stage-manages the experience, the child is the ultimate architect of his own learning.
So how does all this this further wildlife protection?
1. Getting a child outside effectively rescues a hitherto endangered species – Homo sapiens. I’m not talking about the related species Homo technophilus, which occupies a somewhat different habitat. Whilst H. technophilus’ home range largely consists of occupying a sunless cavern or similar, H. sapiens’ preferred foraging area is anywhere but inside. The two species occupy distinctly different ecological niches. The former is largely sedentary in nature, trapping all it needs via an array of rectangular appendages and through an ingenious device known as an Internet. It does occasionally venture beyond its cave, but does so by means of a protective case called a motor car. H.technophilus thermoregulates its cave environment, so it has no coat. By contrast H.sapiens does have a coat (and waterproof footwear) during the cold season, or more likely keeps warm by moving around vigorously, as it explores the vastness and variety of its environment. It is unclear whether or not the two are actually different species, or just variants of the one. However, with the increasing dominance of the cave dwelling polymorph, its free-ranging relative’s future appears uncertain. Further, it is feared that its declining numbers will have a significant knock-on effect upon various native species currently found in the UK.
2. A child in the woods is one that inevitably engages with its environment through the array of sensory stimuli triggered. Children read stories, or watch movies about giants, but to be amongst them, in a woodland, is a truly awesome and first-hand experience. Some find it terrifying at first and spend their time crying and demanding to go back home. However, over time they adjust to this strange world. These are the children who benefit most, as they are the ones who are most removed from the natural world. This sensory experience is not just a visual one. Children discover the myriad textures of bark, soil and mosses; the smell of decaying leaves in autumn and the perfume of bluebells in spring; the taste of blackberries in summer and the array of natural sounds (well eventually – after their initial excitement, triggered by their escape into the wild).
3. A child that is engaged by nature can but value it. Some love to pick up snails and let them glide over their hand. Others feel the need to build dens and thereby appreciate the properties of different types of materials – leaves, twigs, branches, logs. If the experience is spread over the seasons, they realise that ‘their’ woodland is a constantly changing world. Further they come to realise that many of the changes are the result of their actions and are not necessarily beneficial eg. trampling. Many extend this valuing of their own tract of woodland, into valuing wildlife and the natural environment beyond their own small world. They read books and watch programmes about the natural world and may even carry out first-hand studies with the aid of bug pots, pond nets, magnifiers, binoculars and identification guides.
4. Forest School children may or may not become the next generation of naturalists. Some may return to their ‘caves’, especially on reaching adolescence. However, the seed has been sown. This seed will eventually germinate when they are older, perhaps when a road building scheme threatens their local woodland. In my experience, childhood memories of the natural world return when adults are tasked with the responsibility of raising their own children. Mums and dads quite naturally want to share their childhood experiences with their own children. A dad, or a mum, who has built dens in the woods as a child, is far more likely to want to provide his son or daughter with a similar experience. So the seed bears fruit and the cycle continues.
5. Without Man’s awareness, engagement and love of the natural world, its future is bleak. One cautionary note: There is perhaps a temptation to share the natural world with only the like-minded, initiated few. However, sharing our enthusiasm with the uninitiated and planting the seeds of environmental awareness, should be our ultimate goal. It is children who provide the most fertile ground in which to plant this seed.
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