creation care, nature play, programs

What I Learned in Forest Teacher Training

A few weeks ago, I sat at my kitchen table with dear friends who have agreed to form my first board at Sparrow’s Nest Play and made a confession. I told them that as passionate as I was about nature play, creation care and just living, I didn’t have a clue what a session with children would actually look like. I had a bunch of disconnected thoughts, but no real cohesive plan for how to fit my philosophy into a construct that included daily schedules and a curriculum framework. While I wasn’t discouraged, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that it set off a bit of “imposter syndrome” for me, and I felt discouraged.

Forest Teacher Training from the Forest Teacher Training Institute has completely changed those feelings for me. I have left this 30 hour certification with everything I knew I was missing and so much more! If you are at all interested in the forest school movement – even if you are not sure where your passion might take you – I encourage you to investigate this course of study. Here is just a taste of what I have taken with me…

Community is at the heart of the nature play and forest school movement. I have spent many frustrated years in the “for profit” markets where all resources (access to philosophies, curriculum, and even people) were commodities to be purchased. I’ve always resisted this in favor of an approach that was based on sharing for the good of the greater community. Not only does the forest school movement generally reflect this spirit, the daily practices share the value of honoring the community of learners. (See my post on Kinship from my Forest Teacher Training Diary series.)

Daily Rhythms and Rituals have now replaced the space in my mind once occupied by the dreaded “Master Schedule.” After studying FLOW Learning, as well as the Waldorf philosophy of “inhale/exhale,” I have a totally different approach to organizing learning activities. The variety of ideas I have been exposed to helped me to create sample schedules for everything from a One-Hour Session for a learning center or daycare, to a Full-Day Session for a day of camp. I’ll be making my Teacher Training Portfolio available soon so you can see how Sparrow’s Nest Play will approach learning together.

Before my training, I was somewhat at loose ends when I considered how to approach curriculum. As non-commercialized as the forest school movement is, you can still find those willing to sell you complete curriculum with scope and sequence for your group. I was unsure if this was how I “had” to approach it. I learned that becoming co-learners with the children means that I will have the liberty to let the children show me their interests and build from there. Of course, this means having about 20 or so curriculum units “pre-planned” and organized seasonally so you can be prepared to capitalize on an encounter with nature. But the freedom this brought me immediately took so much stress from my lens of what curriculum had to be that I was immediately able to create a Seasonal Curriculum Framework. It will also be included in my portfolio.

And the delicate, random and fear-producing questions I had answered are just too numerous for me to write about, but here are a few:

  • It is okay to have multi-age groups?
  • Can I incorporate sustainable living and justice issues?
  • Can animals be a part of a nature play environment?
  • Will I really be able to keep the kids safe?
  • Are there ways to envelope families into the forest experience?
  • Can I do “forest school” in an urban area?
  • Will the ideas from forest school work if I want to start with an after school program?
  • Do I really know enough if I’m not a naturalist?

The answer to all of these lingering questions was “Yes!” Now my enthusiasm is brimming over and waking me up at all hours of the night.

I’m also humbled to say that I’ll be able to continue my certification to earn my Forest Director Certificate because of a generous scholarship. I am beyond thrilled to extend my learning to include topics like Site Development & Risk Evaluation, Developing Forest School Culture and Identity, Staff Development and Program Assessment, Marketing and Proposal Development, and a seminar in the Global Forest School Movement. The end product of this certification will be my own formal Proposal Presentation for Sparrow’s Nest Play.

For all of you who are following our journey at Sparrow’s Nest Play, I appreciate your comments and all the ways you are encouraging me to put forth the ideas of creation care, nature play and just living into the world. Please continue to follow our blog, as well as our social media on Facebook and Instagram to see where our journey takes us next.

nature play

FLOW Learning as Sound Doctrine

I expect that one of these evenings I’ll leave class thinking, I finally experienced that “dud” – but it hasn’t happened yet! Last night was an equally thrilling look into Joseph Cornell’s FLOW Learning method and how one naturalist learned (through trial and error) how it brings life to the classroom.

I had already been exposed to this idea before in the Introductory to Forest School course by this same naturalist. Her top recommendations for reading were Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature and a small volume from Joseph Cornell called Sharing Nature with Children. I’ll admit that when the Cornell book arrived, it wasn’t very impressive. Small and older (and only costing around $3.00 from a used book dealer) I didn’t give it much thought, but stuck it in my ever growing pile of things to read. Last night I was convinced that I was completely mistaken in my assessment of this little jewel!

“Nature Leslie,” as she says she is known to her students and families, recounted trying traditional methods of hiking and educating young children only to experience frustration. Her complete transparency was one of the most helpful things I’ve ever experienced in a class. Allowing herself to “be wrong” in front of us, she then shared how using FLOW Learning and teaching through playing games instead had transformed her experience as a guide.

As she led us through Cornell’s four-step method, she then explained simple games she matched with the “flow” at this point of a session appropriate the the age, energy level, and theme of the session. My heart and brain came more alive with each and every game she shared. At the end of the evening, I came downstairs and shared some of the ideas with Jason. His response to a focused attention activity involving birds was, “Oh, I’m trying that! You think I won’t?”

I left the evening feeling empowered as Forest School Leader. I’m not the least bit worried now about what I would “do” with a group of kids, and I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about the future of Sparrow’s Nest Play. Special thanks to the Forest School Teacher Institute and to “Nature Leslie” for her time, talents and energy!