By Petra Eperjesi, Manager of National Programs, and Lise Brown of Momenta
Welcome to the second instalment of our series profiling Forest and Nature School programs in Canada! (Click here for the first profile!) As part of our attempt to help answer the question, “How can I start a Forest and Nature School?” we sat down with Lise Brown, co-founder of the Winnipeg-based organization Momenta, and the lead staff for their Forest and Nature School program, Foresthood.
Hi Lise, can you tell me a little bit about Foresthood?
Our Foresthood programs are offered to 3 to 6 year olds in 8-week blocks once a week for 3 hours, and on Professional Development days for all Winnipeg school divisions for 4 to 11 year olds from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. Additionally, we provide Foresthood programs to groups, communities and organizations as a compliment to our adventure therapy programs.
So that cost is not a barrier we have created Families for Families grants. Grant money is raised through fundraising activities such as family hikes and nature play events. Our Foresthood advisory committee reviews applications from families who apply. The grants provide full or partial scholarships to Foresthood programs.
Our model for Foresthood is guided by the Forest School approach that has existed since the late 1950s with its roots in Denmark and Sweden, but also by the pedagogies of land-based learning, experiential education and adventure therapy.
Our goal at Foresthood is to increase time spent in urban forests during the childhood years. We would like to instill a deep connection and respect for the land. Connection to land promotes stewardship of the land, but also offers an accessible mindfulness practice that can promote life-long physical and mental health. Additionally, 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. Lastly, 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. Foresthood staff 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.
What is a “typical day” in Foresthood like?
Every day and every session is different and is based on the energy, thoughts, ideas and curiosities the children come with that day. Our Foresthood instructors document the learning and share this with the families at the end of each session. 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. Our last sessions learning included the following:
- we saw a deer, a Bald Eagle, and lots of squirrels
- we met the following expectations: be kind, be gentle, be safe
- we examined rotten logs
- we had imaginative play with wood and metal kitchen tools
- we climbed and hung on trees
- we used kitchen utensils to break old rotten trees, to drum, to balance, and to stir and mix imagined creations
- we snacked – the children sure loved marshmallows, however, we had a nice healthy balance of snacks which included cheese, crackers, fruit and veggies
- we took turns leading the group on our adventures outside of our weekly forest room (our home base)
- we collected fire wood
- we chased butterlies and examined bugs
- we noticed fungi, lichen and moss on tress and on the forest floor
- we learned about fire safety
- we used our whole bodies – hiking, running, jumping, rolling, crawling
- we practiced being quiet in the forest to hear “the song of nature” – we heard cars, trucks, wind, and so many birds
- we learned about being safe around water – both rivers and ponds
- we played with seeds from thistles and cattails
- we sang and danced
- we noticed the season change from summer, to fall, to winter!
- we listened to stories
- we noticed animal tracks and deer trails
- we learned about burrs
- we learned how to take care of our bodies in hot weather and cold weather
- we played on hammocks, homemade swings and seesaws
- we looked and talked about clouds
- we used a saw to cut through fallen branches
- we examined a wasps nest
- we solved problems and conflicts
- we played independently and in groups
Can you tell me a little bit more about Momenta?
In 2006 I co-founded Momenta with Sara Harrison to meet a need for year-round, accessible therapeutic adventure programming in Manitoba. At Momenta, we create experiences that discover strengths and foster growth. We provide engaging programs rooted in best practice research and theories in the fields of experiential education, adventure therapy, social work, land based learning and forest school to help strengthen youth, families and communities. We specialize in designing and delivering unique and impactful programming in urban and nature settings, as well as providing specialized training throughout Winnipeg and Manitoba.
Momenta is a small, local business, and certified B Corp. B Corps meet the highest standard of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.
What other programs do you offer?
We offer a wide range of programs from camps, expeditions, adventure therapy, outdoor education, professional training and development, and wilderness first aid programs.
How did you go about starting the Foresthood program?
I completed my Forest School Practitioner training in 2015, and the coursework in 2016. As soon as my training was complete, we started our Foresthood programs for families in Winnipeg. We were eager to provide outdoor programming for young children with the goal of increasing time spent in urban forests during the childhood years.
What have been some of the trickiest challenges you’ve faced, and how did you move through them?
Not having a permanent site for our Foresthood programs is tricky. Being prepared and packed each time takes time and energy to make sure we have everything we need. However, not having a permanent site allows us to move to different public spaces which minimizes our impact on the land. Another challenge with not having a permanent site is that we have to apply for permits for porta potties and fires each time we require these. The City of Winnipeg has been excellent and accommodating, but these are challenges that would be alleviated if we had a permanent site.
How did you come to be doing this work? What was your path to getting to where you are now?
I have been an outdoor educator for more than 20 years and in 2015 I took Forest School Canada’s Forest and Nature School Practitioner Certification. I began my career at camps in Manitoba as an outdoor educator and guide. I completed a Bachelor of Recreation in 2001, a Masters of Social Work in 2007, and a Certificate in Expressive Arts Therapy in 2012. I combine all of these areas of practice to provide organizational direction, facilitate groups and mentor individuals both in urban and wilderness environments with a focus on physical and emotional safety, successful participation, fun, meaningful activity and group cohesion.
What hopes do you have for Momenta and for FNS in Manitoba and/or Canada?
Our long term goal is to open a full time forest school. When we consider the forest school philosophy, this seems easy – find a natural space with a shelter for challenging weather and a bathroom. However, in order to be a full time licensed forest school in Manitoba we must meet the same legislation as all other child care centres and public schools; finding an appropriate building with an appropriate amount of land is challenging in Winnipeg’s urban environment. Our hope is that this goal does one day become a reality; the search for the perfect site continues. In the meantime, we are providing as much programming as we can without a permanent location. The City of Winnipeg has some pretty great and accessible wild spaces! We choose parks that have wild spaces with few manmade structures.
Our overarching goal at Momenta since we began in 2006 is to get people playing and learning in the outdoors, while being mindful of physical and emotional safety. As the FNS movement grows in Canada, we want to be part of it and advocate for all children to have the right to play and learn in the outdoors.
What advice would you pass along to folks hoping to start a FNS program?
My advice is to start, start with what you have to work with. Getting deep into forests is ideal, however, this may be a barrier – transportation, policy, staff confidence etc. So, don’t let that stop you, get children into the fresh air and teach them about the land that is accessible and available to you now.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Since 2006, Momenta has advocated that people need to be outside and have delivered most of our programming in outdoor urban and remote spaces. 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. I recently completed a 4-month program with a Winnipeg daycare – we played outside once a week for 2 to 5 hours at a time. In a social media post about my experience I wrote, “My goal for these kiddos every week was to allow them to appreciate the outdoors in any weather, and to let them take the lead with their play. Each week their play was so much fun to observe because when we sit back and watch, children become SO creative. When their play is uninterrupted, really cool things can happen. One of my last weeks at the daycare, a staff said “When you’re here…their play looks different” With a natural environment, loose parts*, and very little adult instruction (other than safety guidelines) play does look different and it’s so much fun for the children and it’s good for them!”.