Laura Molyneux is a level IV Early Childhood Educator in St. John’s NL, attempting to get as many children and families outside as possible. Even in the rain.
Probably one of my favourite characters of all time is Dr. Suess’ The Lorax. The fuzzy little yellow critter from the book of the same name (but not the 2012 Disney character who vaguely resembles the original call to arms of the book). I was oddly enough introduced to the little guy in first year university while involved in corporate environment and social responsibility facilitation for a student movement group. Since then I’ve tried to live by the book’s mantra “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”, ever since. As my career, unforeseen by me, changed from student environmental activist to child development geek, child care advocate, emergent curriculum groupie and natural play space nerd (doesn’t everyone spend their days off reading articles on the social theories of playgrounds?) this mantra has stuck with me, before I even fell in love with Forest Schools.
In fact I believe that my passion for behaviour management and child development had me doing Forest Schools sessions long before I knew what it was. I was working with a young child who had a lot of stuff going on in their life. One of the programs we developed was an outdoor program to help ease transitions during the morning and allow for time for self-regulation and coping skills. It was a magical program as everyday we watched the leaves change colours and fall to the ground of our tiny “woods”, the dozen or so trees lining the perimeters of our playground. We followed a cat for three days and charted where he went. We called him “The gray cat” and worried about him when the snow fell. We learnt how to write by spelling words in the freshly fallen snow. We shared some dark and dismal stories and developed each others trust by playing hide and seek unseen within the boundaries of the trees. Both of us looked forward to our mornings adventures. One morning however, I had a cold. It was raining hard in the way that Newfoundland rain falls in November, cold and sideways. I had forgotten my hat at home. And I had a lot of other paper work to do. My little friend came bounding in as usual and asked “Lahwa, we go outside?”. I said “No”, giving the lame excuses listed above. There was a brief pause, and then with a look that only a four year old can give and a stomping of the winter boots that were 2 sizes too big, the retort was “Well, put up your hood… d’uh”. With that response I realized that this program meant more than I had even imagined, and it’s importance went beyond what I had perceived as a “nice little time away”.
I was initially introduced to the idea Forest School as a concept when Rusty Keeler named dropped a Japanese forest school during a presentation at our annual provincial professionals conference in 2011. My nerdiness in full force I set about learning all that I could about the program, and dreamed of finding like minded people interested in setting something up here, on the rocky, windswept, east coast of Canada.
And now that it’s starting to happen I think I’m going to explode with excitement. Attending the practitioners course in Sussex New Brunswick last July was nothing short of inspiring. I left every session, every conversation, even every diner breakfast completely and utterly amazed by the incredible people, enthusiasm and passion for quality programs in every corner of this huge country, from St. John’s, to Gran Manan, to Thunderbay and Victoria. With the enthusiasm I found at this workshop I dove head first into campaigning for programs here to anyone and everyone who will listen.
These programs need to exist, here and all over Canada. Not only because they are “nice little mornings out”, not only because child care experts and parents alike are noticing a need for more outdoor experiences to “get them out of the house” and away from computer games. To me these programs have a psychological importance. These programs reduce the need for other interventions in behaviour modification. They allow children who don’t always fit the mold of our ideal learners to become independent and self-reliant. They teach life skills such as creativity and resiliency in non-threatening ways. They are inclusive for all learning styles. They build learners up, starting from wherever they may be (a key component in child development and trauma theories). They teach empathy and understanding for the physical environment and the social one. These skills need to be developed, honed, worked on, enhanced before and while we teach the fundamentals of the school curriculum. Instead of being told what to learn, the learner drives the curriculum of Forest School. And through that we inspire children to want to learn about microbiology, physics, chemistry and social studies. Whether they are 2 years old or 20.
So now fellow practitioners and unsuspecting readers of this blog, I re-state our friend the Lorax’s call to arms. Think about your learners, your schools and your early childhood programs. Do you care a whole awful lot? Because without you, things are not going to get better. They’re not. Now is the time to talk to anyone who will listen, network with like minded people interested in bettering the field of early and school-aged learning. Let’s keep these fires burning and even though it may be a difficult sell, remember these programs run year round in Norway…so forgetting your hat is no excuse to not get outside!