What is a Forest School?

Recently a friend told me about a buzz going around Facebook about forest schools, "Is that what Best Beginning is?  A Forest School in Annapolis?" -- she wanted to know.  What is a Forest School?  As I tried to answer, I realized that I wasn’t even entirely sure myself.  At Best Beginning we are in the woods everyday, and we have a certified Outdoor Classroom, but even I wasn’t sure whether that somehow qualified us as a “Forest School.”  So I decided to do a little digging and see if that is what we actually are.

The Forest School movement started in Scandinavia and has recently become more popular in the US.  A Forest School encourages individuals of any age to learn and grow from outdoor experience, particularly in wooded areas.  These schools focus on developing a child’s motivation, self awareness, independence, social-emotional skills and confidence.  This is done by offering the students opportunities for problem solving and self initiative, cooperative learning, and independent learning outside.

At Best Beginning, in Annapolis, MD, we use our forested school grounds in many ways.  We get outside for half our school day.  Each student keeps a “muddy buddy” or other waterproof clothing and boots at the school so we can go outside in rain and snow.  Our outdoor space is also a certified outdoor classroom in which we balance on rope courses and ride on the zipline.  We cook in the mud kitchen and collect and transport seeds, leaves, herbs.  We create art using nature.  We eat herbs and vegetables in the garden, we plant and take care of our plants.  We conduct field studies and play cooperative games.

We also take woods hikes down the big hill behind the school to explore the woods and stream. In the wild area, we build shelters, collect “food”, have leaf races, look for animal prints and places animals might live and play in the water and “cook.”  We study the trees and the leaves and plants, we listen for frogs and birds.

Through the use of these outdoor spaces, we see children’s confidence in their physical and social abilities flourish.  They often work through self-generated problem solving tasks as a group and this has positive effects on their social development.

By using our surrounding forest and outdoor classroom in the forest, we help kids actively participate in learning through and about nature in a multi-sensory environment.  When outside, children can play and explore by coming up with their own creative play schemes in a larger space than indoors, the learning tends to be more open ended, they make more messes (which is fine outside), they talk more loudly and they can move around more freely.  They experience learning by seeing, hearing, touching, and sometimes tasting.  Research says that children learn best by using all their senses and being outside is the best multi-sensory learning experience there is!

So, are we a Forest School?  We do lots of learning outside and most of our themes are nature based.    We teach many skills through having the students spend time in nature.  Our students learn and grow through outdoor play.  So, yes, there is a Forest School in Best Beginning!  Come visit us and see!

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