Forest School at the BSN
Written by: Marta Nowak, EAL Teaching Assistant and Forest School Leader, Junior School Diamanthorst
Developing a lifelong love for learning in students is always an educator’s ultimate goal. With children being inherently curious and the natural world offering the best possible classroom, that goal can be easily achieved. What other learning space can simultaneously be an art room, a music room, a science lab, a gym, a theatre, a botanical garden, a home for wildlife as well as a mindfulness haven?
A forest school site can be all that and
much more. It is a space where the children, with time, become self-directed,
confident and happy. It is a place where they follow their interests, engage in
discoveries, find time for mindfulness and can simply just be. I believe this
multisensory and multi-dimensional learning approach has a great impact on
their learning journey and can be used everywhere in the world. Forest school
teaches the students the “universal language of nature”.
This school year I have started to run forest school sessions with Foundation and Key Stage 1 children (3-7) at Junior School Diamanthorst on a weekly and fortnight basis. I have had the great privilege of sharing my passion with over 140 children, teaching them about real “super heroes”: plants and animals that support our life on Earth every day. Despite JSD’s location in the city of The Hague, we are very lucky to have over 35 different species of mature and young trees on our school grounds. The children learn how to identify and classify them, alongside discovering how they support the local wildlife with food and shelter. This includes our very own JSD honeybees, who absolutely love the Hawthorn and Lindens just outside their hive. The children in Forest School will continue to look after their nectar sources and plant more bee-friendly flowers in our playground.
Learning how to use tools for purposeful woodland management builds the children’s confidence and allows them to take informed risks, in addition to developing long-term thinking skills and environmental integrity. An example of re-purposing materials for learning and play was a project by our year 2 students, who have recently used their tool skills to reuse the branches of our atrium’s Christmas tree to wind-proof the den in their Forest School Area. In a few months, those branches can find yet another life as kindling, maths sticks, art project supplies, musical instruments or anything their creativity needs them to be. Teaching the children that nothing goes to waste and every resource should be treated with respect is a crucial part of Forest School ethos.
We all still have so much to learn from
nature and it is our duty to preserve it. Take just the trees on our school’s grounds as
an example. They are cutting-edge air filters and high-functioning
air conditioning units that lower the temperature in the hot summer days. They
prevent floods, make us feel better, and, with the right knowledge, can provide us
with sustainable building material, medicine and food. Let’s bear that in
mind the next time we have to rake the leaves outside or, wash the sticky sap
off the car.
It is my goal to
inspire students to think of the natural world in these terms, and respect the
environment for the many things it gives us. No matter how cliché it might
sound, the children are our future. The more they know about the importance of
the plant world for our existence, the less encouragement they need to protect
it. Then, one day they will be able to find the cure and solutions to diseases,
food shortage or soil degradation; make the world a better place while enjoying
a meaningful and satisfying career.
The natural world has always been an outstanding source of inspiration in nearly all branches of human activity. We need to allow ourselves some time to fully immerse in the natural world and experience it. The half-term holidays are a great opportunity for this multidimensional approach to personal growth. Remember that there is no bad weather, just wrong clothing. Write a diary, a poem, a recount report; make a scrapbook or a movie, make a natural toy, craft, a tooth- fairy garden in the corner of your back garden or a park – the sky is the limit when it comes to accessing your curiosity.
Become a plant detective with the help of plants identification apps like iNaturalist, Picture this fower, FlowerChecker, Plantifier or Nature Gate.
About the Author:
Marta worked as a TA for over 10 years at the BSN, plus 5 years of teaching in Poland before moving to the Netherlands. She holds a BA in cognitive linguistics and teaching English and Forest School Level 3 qualifications. She has a life-long passion for ethnobotany, gardening, permaculture, ecology, natural crafts and the outdoors.