What is the first image that springs to your mind when you hear the word learning? It will probably be a classroom or a school. Most people are used to associating learning with these two things. But what if we tell you that the learning process can be more productive when it is done outside?
At The Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) we are convinced that other approaches to learning have a beneficial impact on students, support their development, and contribute to broadening their knowledge in many areas.
Our Early Years students have the chance to experience the Forest School Approach to Learning every week. An amazing, innovative initiative which not only helps students gain knowledge but is also a lot of fun. WISS is one of the few schools in Shanghai that offers this learning initiative to their pupils.
What is the Forest School Learning Approach
The Forest School Learning Approach integrates activities designed for children in the natural environment, with the aim of gaining the social and personal skills for their correct holistic development as well as getting to know the environment.
It has been defined by the Forest School England network as: ‘An inspirational process that offers children, young people, and adults regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland environment.’ (Forest Education Initiative, 2005)
Forest Schools have been established and adapted from the original idea implemented in European countries like Germany and Scandinavian countries in the 1950’s.
Learning in an Exciting Environment
Olaya Garcia Capa one of our Pre-Nursery teachers is in charge of organizing this activity with WISS students every week. Every Thursday, little Tigers get very excited because as she says: “They know what is going to happen…They are going to go to the forest”.
Once a week they put on their mountain boots, their caps, a smile, and… voila! They are more than ready for their forest adventure. Behind the Early Years Building, our school has a small garden which has been turned into a lovely woodland where students can learn about nature, develop skills, interact with the environment themselves, and simply play and have a lot of fun.
As Olaya affirms, “This is a great opportunity for students, because through exploration they experience, learn, and realize how things happen and it also wakes up their curiosity”.
Through Forest School students feel more self-confident and it helps them to embrace new knowledge. Each student learns in his/her own way and also helps others to explore new things. Knowledge is shared by all the kids and they are the ones who decide what they want to explore next. They also know what it means to take some risk and learn how to deal with it in the outdoor classroom environment.
Students Decide What to Explore
This new approach suits child-led learning which means letting students explore for themselves what things they find attractive or seem interesting to them.
Students can make a long list of activities such as observe flowers, play in bare soil, follow some insects, dig in the garden, climb trees, and many more. All of the activities are valuable as they contribute to developing their interest.
Pupils become independent and creative learners and they appreciate the value of teamwork. Sometimes they need help from others or they want to show other students what they have discovered and this helps them develop social and personal skills which are essential life skills.
Certified Teachers to Teach Forest School
The Forest School Learning Approach is something that cannot be taught by everyone. Every activity needs an expert leader to develop the session. Only the teachers who have the official certificate are able to prepare and conduct these learning sessions outside the classroom.
Olaya Garcia, holds the level 3 Forest School leader certificate by The Wales Open College Network (Agored Cymru) and she is the teacher in charge of this outdoor learning idea.
This new trend in education has different grades, from level 1 to level 3 depending on the age of the students. Pupils can do a lot of different activities such as climbing trees, using tools to whittle wood, or even learn how to make fire… Each activity is planned according to the age of students.
Forest school is child-led orientated in which the role of the Forest School leader is to be a facilitator, encouraging children to act independently, use their imagination, take risks in a controlled way, and learn proactively.
5 Benefits of Forest School Learning for Kids
- Children form positive relationships with other children and adults.
- Students enhance values such as cooperation and solidarity.
- Children connect to themselves and with nature.
- Children are the ones who drive their learning process.
- Kids develop life skills and become creative and curious.
As an IB World School, we will continue to explore, to study, and to increase awareness of the new, outdoor learning ideas which can be beneficial for our students and help them in their learning as well as personal development.