"Forest Schools" have been around since the early 20th century, but have recently been gaining ground in the UK, and in the form of a "Bush School" in Australia.
In 1927, the idea of a 'Forest School' was conceived and implemented in Wisconsin, USA, but it wasn't until the late 1950's that the idea became popular in Scandinavia and some other European countries. In Denmark, the concept became an embedded part of the curriculum for Early Childhood education and children attending forest kindergartens were starting school with better social skills and better able to work in groups. The ethos was introduced into the UK in the early 1990's and as at 2006, there were over 140 schools incorporating a Forest Education Initiative.
It is a form of outdoor education where children and supervising adults visit local woodland areas, and learn personal, social and technical skills. The main aims are to give kids the ability to better communicate with their peers and educators, and give an increased sense of self-esteem and confidence. With usually a higher adult:child ratio, children can experience many activities that are often forbidden such as learning to light fires safely and responsibly and climbing trees.
Each visit requires:
Warmth - correct clothing
Food - healthy snacks and meals
Drink - water/warm drinks
Safety - each child feels safe emotionally and physically.
A typical session follows a predictable format so that children know what to expect. Staff can use different media to accommodate various learning styles with pictures, songs, acting out and building activities. The group has an introductory session in the woodland, establish physical and behavioural boundaries, safety procedures and hygiene routines.
Children who learn differently to neurotypical kids - such as those with short attention spans, auditory processing difficulties, and autism - are finding the visual nature of this type of education very beneficial.
In New South Wales in Australia, the John Brotchie Nursery School is piloting a new program they are calling "Bush School'. The Bush School program has been inspired by the Principal, Rebecca Andrews' recent visit to Denmark to see Forest Schools. Rebecca says the "Forest School approach has had a large impact on early childhood education right across the world including the UK, North America, New Zealand and more recently in Australia. The key aspect of the Forest School approach is that children spend long periods of time outside all year and weather round. The children are involved in unstructured play within the local natural environment. At John Brotchie, they believe that children learn best through play. Play in it’s true form should be freely chosen, self directed and intrinsically motivated. We believe that our Bush School program will be the perfect opportunity for children to play, explore, imagine, create and connect with nature, each other and the local community. Every Friday a group of children will visit a local parklands and we aim to provide an unhurried time to play and explore in nature. We will give the children opportunities to connect with our natural environment, the local community and learn about our local indigenous cultural history. Bush School is a ‘wilder’ environment where risk and challenge is part of the experiences. Children with the support of educators will build resilience, problem solving, teamwork, risk-taking and a sense of wonder. We have had a successful start to our program with many families wanted to enroll their children, more than we can accommodate at the moment. We have had two great visits to the local parklands one in the pouring rain with lots of puddles to jump in and the other in beautiful sunshine where we spent the day learning to climb a great Banksia tree".
One of the main reasons I began Splish Splash Rainwear, was so that my own children could experience our great outdoors as much as possible, but still stay warm and dry in all weather.