Although forest school has been around since the late 1950s in places like Denmark and Sweden, the idea is a relatively new one in Manitoba. In the past several years more and more schools and daycares are making an effort to incorporate some type of outdoor education, while forest school is more like outdoor-immersion for a child. The goal is to give children a chance to develop a deep connection to and respect for nature, according to outdoor education experts at Momenta.
“Connection to land promotes stewardship of the land, but also offers an accessible mindfulness practice that can promote life-long physical and mental health,” says Lise Brown, lead educator for Momenta’s Foresthood (forest school) program.
One of the most significant aspects of forest school is allowing children regular and repeated access to the same natural space every day.
“We want children to feel comfortable in the outdoors no matter what the weather. This promotes being prepared and taking responsibility for knowing what their bodies need,” says Brown. “Children need to spend time outside and children need to have the freedom to choose their play, this promotes independence and problem solving skills, it also makes them feel really good.”
Started in 2016, Momenta’s Foresthood program takes place within Winnipeg parks that have limited manmade structures as well as access to natural spaces. Their 2017-18 program will take children ages three to eleven to King’s Park and Assiniboine Forest. Because forest school operates on a child-led learning model, Brown says it’s challenging to explain exactly what the kids will do each and every day.
“Every day and every session is different and is based on the energy, thoughts, ideas and curiosities the children come with that day,” Brown says. “We want our participants to take risks, to feel freedom and choice and play the way they want to play, not how adults think they should play.”
Brown says there are safety guidelines and highly-trained staff that “are focused on creating a safe space by assessing risk on a moment by moment basis, checking in with the children’s feelings, and guiding decisions in their play when needed.”
Currently Momenta offers their Foresthood programs to 3 to 6 year olds in 8-week blocks – once in the fall and once in the spring. Foresthood is also offered on non-instructional days for all school divisions for 5 to 11 year olds – giving parents of school-aged children another option for childcare on their children’s days off.
Momenta isn’t the only place to offer a forest school option for kids. FortWhyte Alive has also recently developed a forest school program, and are offering 10-15 week programs for preschool aged children.
Of course not every child can go to a forest school. Fortunately there are many other Manitoba-based programs (Bridging the Gap, Manitoba Nature Summit, Manitoba Model Forest, and the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada to name a few), which help foster outdoor education for school-aged children, and provide learning opportunities for educators about incorporating nature-based learning into their curriculum.
For more information on any of these programs please visit the links below.