Forest School

sparkle forestOur group of home learners here on the Gulf Islands has made plans to be outside during our time together one day a week.  We are calling it Forest School, and while it is not a new or original concept, it is a new intention for us as a group to meet at a local farm (which has lots of forest) and play games, explore, honor values, and create team building opportunities.  Our mild, west coast winters make it quite easy to be outside, providing we are moving and have a warm fire to sit by.  The “original” format of Forest School came out of Wisconsin, but also Sweden, Denmark and the UK, all places with more difficult winters than ours!  Wikipedia says this about forest schools:

bio-regional mapForest school is a type of outdoor education in which children (or adults) visit forests/woodlands, learning personal, social and technical skills. It has been defined as “an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment”.  Forest school is both a pedagogy and a physical entity, with the use often being interchanged.

Forest school uses the woods and forests as a means to build independence and self-esteem in children and young adults.  Topics are cross-curriculum (broad in subject) including the natural environment, for example the role of trees in society, the complex ecosystem supported by a wilderness, and recognition of specific plants and animals. However, the personal skills are considered highly valuable, such as teamwork and problem solving.  The woodland environment may be used to learn about more abstract concepts such as mathematics and communication. Forest school provision is also called nature schools.

mushroomsIn Denmark it became an embedded part of the curriculum for pre-school children (under seven years) stemming from their småbørnspædagogik, or ‘Early childhood education’. Children attending Forest kindergartens were arriving at school with strong social skills, the ability to work in groups effectively, and generally children had high self-esteem and confidence in their own capabilities.  In 1957, a Swedish man, Goesta Frohm, created the “Skogsmulle” concept to promote learning about nature, water, mountains and pollution. With an increasing focus on measurable outcomes, forest schools have gained acceptance as an educational method in their own right.

Beyond primary school age children, forest school is frequently used to further develop social skills and explore creative learning and focuses on developing firm foundations for continued personal and education development.

cedar's sit spotForest School Canada says this on their website~

Our vision is for all Canadian children to play and learn in local forests, creeks, meadows, prairie grasses, mountains, and shorelines with a wise and skilled educator who understands the power of play and child-directed learning and how this can contribute to a more sustainable world.

Forest School Canada runs a practitioner’s course in conjunction with the the UK Forest School Association. The course is “a program steeped in the tradition of Forest School abroad, but grounded in the realities of the Canadian experience.” Julie Johnston, our Spring Leaves resource teacher and facilitator attended their July 2014 program held at UVic — a wonderful week of outdoor learning about how to engage children in outdoor learning. They focused on risk assessment and management, practical outdoor skills (fire building, tool making and safety, flora and fauna identification), woodland management, the theories of holistic learning and development, and the establishment and delivery of a Forest and Nature School program.

Our Spring Leaves Forest School is a blend of Forest School ethos with the themes in Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, which is a book about the principles, games and other activities in Coyote Mentoring, a program and “way of learning” based on Tom Brown Jr’s Tracking School and Jon Young’s Wilderness Awareness School.  Julie’s background in outdoor and experiential education and the combination of these two programs has created a wonderful foundation in which our group can explore the needs of our large span of ages (preschool to 13, plus adults!).

the walk to forest school

the walk to forest school

We have had three weeks of our forest school so far.  Each week we have left our cars and made the 5 minute walk through agricultural fields and up to a place with a fire pit surrounded by bench seats.  We have a circle, where we each have the chance to say how we are doing, feeling, or what we are grateful for.  Julie introduces the theme of the day, and offers an activity or game that gets us involved in the theme.  We have spent time practicing our owl eyes, deer ears, and fox walking, and considered what around us we can catch, gather, eat, climb and tend.  We have made ourselves aware of potential hazards of the area, and made sure everyone understands what to do in case of getting lost.  We did some tracking and observing of landmark features, and we spend some time in our own quiet meditative sit spot.  We also have a growing list of fun games to play.

Our kids have grown up in nature.  Their everyday world provides them with opportunities to connect with nature, from looking out the windows, to walking or bicycling down the road to a friend’s house, or  spending time kayaking, or looking up at night to see the brightness and clarity of a sky full of stars.  I have seen them, as babies, toddlers, and little children, fall in love with rocks, sticks, clouds, trees, and fields of grass.  It seems very clearly inherent, instinctual, and life supporting for us as an earthly species to understand and feel our place as interconnected, as a part of the natural system.  I think it leads to a deep sense of well-being and confidence, a foundation for children to bring into the adult world strewn with so many detrimental substitutes.  Here is my own list of benefits to being outside as a form of education:

magic sit spotIn nature we find peace, reflection, micro systems, macro systems, observation, exploration, growth patterns, elemental effects, cascade of reaction, challenges, physical movement, high intake of fresh oxygen, moving up and down, scrambling, reaching, walking carefully, stillness, problem solving, understanding safety, being closer to the reality of survival, understanding comfort, help from others, learning skills and then doing them, leading others, helping others, asking questions, seeing our effectiveness or consequences, fun, playing games, imagination, diversity, seasonal cycles, life cycles, beauty, creativity, symbiotic relationships, healing, spiritual connections~ mind, body, spirit.

I am sure this list could be plenty longer.  I am also sure that some things on this list are attained in other ways.  This is what I experience, and what I see my children experience when they are outside.  Over many years together as a changing group of home schoolers, other parents also agree that basically, being outside together seems to be the most satisfying and uplifting scenario, for the kids and for the adults.  Finding that this type of “education” is recognized as being consistent with Attention Restoration Theory, where children taking part in forest school have been described as more relaxed, is not surprising.  Relationships between the children and each other, with adults, and with the environment, are important.  Forest schools have been found to help children with additional support needs, including Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic children.  The Biophilia hypothesis argues that a love of nature is instinctive. The term ‘nature deficit disorder’, coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, recognizes the erosion of this by the urbanization of human society.

Forest Schools are being created all over the globe, with classes filling to capacities.  It is no surprise that we recognize the need for such educational reform, especially in the early years, but also as we grow.  There is a Hopi word, koyaanisqatsi, which means life out of balance, or a state of life that calls for  another way of living.  The way we bring our next generations into the world is a vital part of all systems that we as humans need to change to bring ourselves back into balance.

Deep thanks to the family of the Valley Home Farm for opening their beautiful land to us.

A Path of Education

collage

Taeven’s 2015 collage of learning

January has headed us in a new direction, once again, as home learners.  Responses to our past experiences in our individual paths has created new choices and ever evolving explorations.  My oldest daughter (12), decided to return to home learning after a three month period of being in the classroom, with a renewed sense of what it is to be home schooled.

It was an interesting journey, witnessing and discussing the new environment and learning format that Taeven experienced while in school.  She did not dislike being there.  Most of the kids in her grade 7/8 class were familiar friends in the community in which we live and play.  Her reading and writing ability is strong, so keeping up with assigned work in a larger body of students was not difficult.  She enjoyed the opportunities to work with the other kids on learning projects.  Her teacher was young and fun and easy to get along with.  Taeven knew that any extra help was always available, and she felt no hierarchy in terms of social pressures and competitive academic results.  Lovely!

calligraphy

exploring calligraphy

Without any negative influences that can be layered over the simplicity of education, Taeven had the chance to really compare with clarity the new learning situation with her past 7 years of home learning,  which was spent mostly in a state of free play, individual direction, and spontaneous exploring.  She found that she liked the framework of assignments, but was having a hard time focusing energy into a topic that wasn’t in her interest.  She liked constructing essays, for example, but it was so much work when the topic was handed to her rather than of her own choice.  Without a goal for her to apply the topic of the essay towards, the assignment became more tedious than interesting.  It felt like a really long day at the school without accomplishing any learning in the areas of life that really sparked her spirit.  She also found that being inside so much made her always feel sleepy.  One day when Taeven was splitting kindling outside with me, she stated, “I feel so alive!” I was a bit surprised by such an enormously simple self-observation, and when I asked what spurred her sentiment, she reflected that, compared to being in the classroom, being outside and active makes her feel alive and happy!  And therefor, more ready and eager to soak up her experiences.

moss and fernsTaeven missed our land, missed the forest, missed the beach, missed her little brother, and missed having so much time to just be.  She is not a twelve year old looking to be sixteen and head off into social peer world.  She wants to be at home with her family, but have opportunities to be with her friends, and play in the forest.  There have been things about school that she has asked to bring into our home learning schedule, like a certain spelling/language program, and researching and essay writing assignments.  Since our return to home learning in January, we have outlined interests and activities on a mind map, drawn them out in a Venn diagram, and organized ourselves into a loose weekly schedule.

back yard hike

our backyard hill

snorkeling

snorkeling excursion

We head outside in the morning for about half an hour, as often as we can, either hiking up the hill behind our house, bike riding around the closest loop, or testing out our bootcamp style cardio/strength moves.  Then we open the grade 7 JUMP math book , do a few pages, move on to a music practice (violin for Taeven, cello or drum for Cedar) and hopefully explore some language arts of any kind before lunch.  The afternoons are more random, but usually we are focusing on independent study topics, which for Taeven, are documenting what she sees when we go snorkeling, or researching angora rabbits (which we all want!) discovering permaculture, or writing stories.  We also foray into a variety of art projects, which recently have been zen doodling and sketching.  She often attends a history class with other home schoolers in our group, and she is pretty excited about Forest School with the Spring Leaves. We split cedar kindling to sell in bundles at a roadside stand as a small business.  She does karate twice a week, attends a dance class once a week, and we go to the big island where she swims every friday with the Otters Swim Club.  If it works, we also go skating and climbing at an indoor climbing wall.  She still wants to learn more about cooking, stained glass, and typing.  She still has lots of time and energy to play with Cedar in an infinite amount of ways in which they connect.

zen doodle

Taeven’s zen doodle

Taeven’s time in school was a great way to clarify what direction she would like to take with her life learning experiences.  We discussed how a classroom format may be something she will encounter as she continues, either as high school, or as college, or university.  She may want to pursue an interest that takes her into a classroom in order for her to attain certain skills and knowledge.  She may need to be inside a whole bunch taking biology classes so that she can get outside and be a marine biologist.  Keeping those educational roads open is important when a passionate goal is being followed.

happy outsideHowever, Taeven’s passionate goal right now is being happy!  I think that is so wonderful, and I hope to support her in this time of being herself as a happy, joyful, and exploring spirit.

Charcoal Spoons

cedar spoonsGetting outside during the winter for extended periods of time with the kids can sometimes be challenging- even in what I consider to be a fairly moderate climate comparatively to the rest of our country.  Rainy days can seem dreary, and clear days can feel surprising frozen on our noses and toes, unless movement is constant.  In this past clear, cold spell of weather, myself and a few families were invited to spend an afternoon at a farm, lighting a fire together and cooking some food, as well as explore the surrounding forest and learning to make charcoal burned cedar spoons with a wonderful member of the community, Emily.  Thanks so much to Roz and her family, who are in our community of homeschoolers, for organizing this day for everyone!

farm explorationsFirst we went through the steps of lighting a fire without the use of paper.  Emily brought some pieces of dry cedar, and the kids took turns using their knives to make a pile of cedar shavings that would be the fire starter.  Then they split kindling from the cedar, and set that close by with other larger pieces of fire wood that were collected nearby.  Our warm fire got going rather quickly, and we set a variety of foil wrapped veggies into the fire to get them cooking while the kids went with Emily to learn some compass skills in the forest.

When they returned, the coals were good and hot and we opened the foil veggies.  Roz brought a batch of bannock dough, which we wrapped around sticks and roasted in the fire.  We discovered a large apple tree still loaded with apples, which turned out to be all rather frozen, but which baked up beautifully when one of the kids wrapped some bannock dough around the chopped frozen apples and put it in the fire inside some foil.  It was the best campfire apple pie we had ever had!

As we finished eating, Emily demonstrated how to make a cedar spoon by using pieces of charcoal to burn out the scoop.  It needed lots of careful handling to maneuver a coal out of the fire and onto the flat end of a piece of cedar quickly enough so that once it was clamped in place with another piece of wood, the coal would still have a red ember when it was gently blown upon.  Sometimes the coal would go out, and another one had to be picked out of the fire, or sometimes a rest for the blower was needed, and so another coal was exchanged.  As the hole in the spoon got deeper, a smaller coal could be used to burn into the bottom of the scoop without adding anymore width.

Once we got home, there was lots of whittling, carving and sanding to do to shape the rest of the spoon.

frost crystals

It was soon evident that this was a very meditative and patient sort of process, with lots of deep breathing and focused attention on the glowing embers.  Being in close proximity to the hot fire kept everyone warm, even as the crisp air refreshed our beings with so much oxygen.  A few hours later, as I packed up our things and we put the fire out, I wandered back across the fields in a happy state of feeling connected to the land around me, to the group of kids and adults with me, and to myself in this place and time of life.  Throughout so many ongoing fluctuations and shifts, this was a perfect afternoon to be reminded of such constant, simple, and important states of being that carry me along.

 

Life Learning Continues On the School Bus

Welcome BayThis fall marks the 8th “school” year of home learning for us, and, as every year unfolds and the kids get older, we are given new opportunities of inspiration to consider.  The mornings of mist and fog settle around the golds and browns of shifting leaves, easing us into the soft and still warm breaking through of the sun.  The changes sometimes seem sudden, like the darkening of the evenings, but also natural and embracing.  It feels this way with my oldest daughter’s decision made within 6 days to attend the local elementary school for her 7th grade year.

One week we were snorkeling together on a thursday afternoon, and the next tuesday she was on the school bus heading to her first day of being in the class room.  There were many conversations, both practical and heartfelt, that led her on this journey.

welcome bay snorkelMany of her close friends had chosen this year to switch from our home schooling group into the school, each for their own reasons, and she was feeling a strong need as a twelve year old to connect with similar aged friends within her learning environment.  A natural shift from learning mainly through play seemed to be taking place in the last year, but with an unknowing of how to continue to create interesting, integrated, experiential and fun learning projects on her own motivation.   This led her to be inspired to expand her experience of learning-  we discussed how every experience has something to offer, in this case, study skills, self discipline, being an individual learner within a directed group, group projects and discussions, and diverse social situations.  Moving out of a comfort zone and seeing what there is and how to respond.  She equated her educational journey to a spiral- with each experience leading the spiral upwards.  In life learning, everything is education, no matter what the structure is- and it will all be a part of what shapes and directs her journey.  In the future, she may chose from a variety of learning situations, and she was quite excited to begin getting familiar with a few of those options.  She told me one night that she felt she really believed in herself, in her own strength and abilities to overcome anything that felt challenging.  on the waterIf she doesn’t like it, she understands that she can switch back to being at home, with her own schedule, and with a deeper understanding of her own motivations and preferred environment.  Here on the Gulf Islands, we have a 4 day school week, and an incredibly supportive principal.  Surrounded by good friends and a familiar place, she enjoys her teacher and the absence of desks in the class room- all factors that have made the transition for her a positive one so far.  She has already taken part in an overnight camping trip to Saturna Island’s SEEC program with her class, (which we have done many times with our home school group in the past), a combination of outdoor activities and peer group learning that is perfectly within her educational desires at this time.  There have been some doubts along the way, related mostly to early mornings and being inside a lot- both being practices of discipline and commitment.  She has also noticed a disconnected sense towards our land- a place we have slowly developed in the past 6 years and on which she has spent most of that time outside and keenly aware of the nature around her.

When we began home schooling, it was my belief that the first few years, the youngest ones, the most impressionable ones, were the most important for a grounding of and a knowing of the self.  My experience of school as a primary aged student, which followed into the rest of my adult life, was the disappearance of myself in a crowd, and the conflict of wanting to be seen and acknowledged, and yet, never to be the focus of attention.  I realize that that may not have been the experience of my kids if they were in school, and I was willing, of course, to support either of my kids if they at any time, chose to take a different path, but neither of them had until now.   Taeven now has a strong, inward sense of herself, with a solid foundation of values and unique qualities to share with her classmates.

cedar in arbutusMy younger son, who is 9, has no interest in attending school at this point.  He is fueled by riding his bike around and building things all day- and being entirely in control of his own time and activities.  (With a little math and reading direction from me.)  He has a great group of similar aged friends in our Spring Leaves Family Learning group, and very much enjoys the time we spend together doing a variety of seasonal, especially outdoor, activities.  He misses his sister, and she has expressed a mutual feeling, so we try to spend off school hours together as a family- at home, in the community, or on short trips to the wild west coast to surf together.  I am grateful that we have been able to create a supportive educational journey for our kids, one in which they are able to nurture their inner sense of self as well as their infusion into the one world around us.  We are empowered by our own choices, and thus create the life we dream of.

 

 

Weaving for Autumn

peach scarf buttonsA few more weaving projects have left my loom over the past few months and are ready to be worn in the cooler weather of autumn.  Scarves, of course, are easy to weave and require nothing more than to drape them over oneself.

I made one piece of wide weaving into a tunic as a birthday gift for a friend of mine.  After cutting the weaving in half, I sewed the two pieces together up the back.  I found 6 hand made clay buttons and sewed two on each side and two in the front, with loops through which they close.  The warp threads are silk/nylon, and the various weft yarns are angora, merino, wool, and recycled sari silk.  Happy Birthday Nia!

Other scarves that have begun to pile up vary in width, length, heaviness, fibre content, colour and pattern.  I get drawn to follow a simple design, attempting to create a certain pattern, and then I am inspired to follow nothing at all but my spontaneous reach for colour and texture.  Scarves are great for not having to be committed to an idea for very long, especially with my collection of very random fibres.

 

Discovery Orchard Progress

Discovery orchardLast March, we planted a 40 tree cordon orchard on our property, which I wrote about in Discovery Orchard.  There were things left unfinished after the initial planting of the young trees as we moved into a busy spring and summer.  We have finally completed the support system and protective roof structure in time for winter, as well as learning a few things about the pruning of these fruit trees.  Unfortunately, a persistent deer got into the orchard one night and stripped all the leaves off every tree, which altered the pruning techniques we learned to some degree.  All the trees came back just fine from this ravage, however, leafing out once again and putting on some new growth along the top leader.

post saddlesColin split all the posts we needed from his salvaged cedar collection, a side benefit of his business, Thujawoodart.  They are mounted on saddles that were concreted in place when the rows were dug, a total of four posts in each of the four rows.  We used airline cable (1/4 inch stranded stainless cable) tensioned at one end with turnbuckles, three to a row placed at 2, 4, and 6 foot heights.

At each tree, I attached a long piece of bamboo with zip ties to the cables, at a 45 degree angle mirroring the angle that we planted the trees.  Then the main stem of each tree was gently tied to the bamboo with stretchable plastic ties.  We pulled off all the flowers (after they were finished- I had a hard time pulling them off when they were still so beautiful!) to encourage the trees to put more energy into establishing their root systems.  The trees sent out side branches during the summer, and when it came time to prune them in August, Colin met with Bob Duncan at Fruit Trees and More to watch how he prunes his cordon fruit trees.  That’s when the deer got in, but we did what we could anyways, which was cutting back each side branch after the third cluster of leaves.  The leader was tied along the bamboo as it grew.

We also added a watering system to help establish the trees in their first few years.  We have a rain barrel sitting on a platform 6 feet high, using gravity to send water as needed to each row using drip tape.  The rain barrel is outfitted with a float at the top, which triggers automatic refilling as needed from our spring.  It has been hard to keep the rows free of weeds- it seems that the well watered soil is hard to resist for many of the field plants that were growing there before.  I have decided to let the clover take over, which seems to do a good job of keeping out the buttercup, thistles, blackberries, and dandelions  My thought is to perhaps cut it down or mulch over it again in late fall and allow it to decompose over the winter.

Our next challenge was constructing the roof over the rows, something which Bob suggested.  He has been growing fruit trees for more than 30 years, and has come to realize that our naturally damp climate makes in difficult to avoid canker and scab and a variety of other diseases after a period of time.  He was in the process of covering all his apple trees when we purchased our trees from him last spring.  It is not common to put a shelter over apple trees, but Bob considered it to be a major organic solution and something that is easier to install right from the beginning.  Covering the trees meant that we could also add some water sensitive varieties like apricots, nectarines, and peaches to our orchard.  sunflowersColin tracked down long metal pipes that are used for drilling wells, and with the skills of a local welder, he constructed a frame that mounts to the top of the posts, one frame covering two rows, with a minimal overhang.  We stretched greenhouse plastic as best we could across each frame, using pvc piping cut into quarters to clamp the plastic to the metal frame and using  self tapping metal screws to hold it all in place.  We aren’t sure if the plastic will develop any sags with heavy water collection, although Colin did make sure that each roof had a slope for run off.

So long as the deer stay out, we should be looking to begin harvesting next year, and with practiced pruning and training our trees should be in full production in 4-5 years.  To read more about the planting and varieties of the trees, please read my previous posting Discovery Orchard.

Summer Life Learning

tree frogs

Taeven’s tree frog photo won first prize at the Fall Fair

I often get asked if we continue to “home school” in the summer.  I understand why I get asked; since  “school” suggests a scheduled time frame while “home” implies a year round location.  In my attempts to explain our tendencies towards seasonal life learning, I reflect on how summer is often even more intensely full of focused learning and play.  This summer my kids have done a week of sailing camp, a week of family music camp, soccer camp, and 4 days of kayaking around Pender Island.  A number of distant family members and friends came to visit, we had music festivals to attend as well as to host, and in between, endless bicycling around with neighborhood friends.

watching the sunset at the weekly beach potluck

watching the sunset at the weekly beach potluck

Our pond often became the local swimming spot for children and parents at the end of a hot summer day, and we continued with going to our community beach potluck every sunday.  We also constructed projects and crafted entries for our local Fall Fair, and these days, we are busy harvesting and processing apples, pears, and plums as well as keep up with other gardening activities.  Our time spent actively moving, socializing, learning with different teachers, and challenging our (I should say “my”) organizing abilities in a summer mode of spontaneity and relaxation.

I could of course, put up a million great photos of all I have just described, but really, what I am wanting to capture is the essence of creativity in a season of outside living and free time.  Our unscheduled time in between activities was, of course, intensely chill- with a late afternoon position of myself, the kids, and a few other neighborhood friends sitting by the side of the pond, soaking up the stillness of a slowly fading heat, watching dragonflies, hearing crickets, and generally being present for this wonderful life we have.

Together with a great friend that moved to the neighboring island a few years ago, Taeven and Cedar spent hours one day creating these pond side idyllic living spaces from what they found all around them, imagining a whole other world in which to be.  There is a lot of detail in each photo, which the kids took, so enlarging them might be more inspiring.

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