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

Mindfulness, Rhythms, & Rituals

My Forest Teacher Training continues to be a rewarding experience night after night. At the close of each class, I feel as though I have conducted a session of forest school myself, thanks to the open-hearted sharing of the group and of our guides. Last night’s topic spoke to creating “Mindfulness, Rhythms, & Rituals” – what I used to call scheduling.

When I created schedules for schools where I directed, it was a matter of weaving “specials” (Art, Music, Spanish, etc.) into each classroom’s daily routine in order to intricately weave a balanced masterpiece that was pleasing to parents and teachers. Inevitably, someone was not pleased. Maybe their much coveted Playground slot, at a time they felt disturbed the learning flow. Or perhaps, the day the Spanish teacher could come pushed Snack back by 15 minutes. Sometimes the teachers of the special subjects also had requests, like teaching all of the younger classes on Tuesdays, and older students on Thursdays. Making the “master schedule” was a task that often took a week’s worth of painstaking, working and reworking to my (and everyone else’s) ultimate frustration and disappointment.

Not even referred to as “schedule,” this method of planning your day was a breath of fresh air. Based on the Waldorf School philosophy of the inhale/exhale flow of energy. The general idea is that each of our daily routines has an intrinsic flow of energy – some moments giving or restoring energy like a deep inhale, and others a burst or release of energy as an exhale. Likewise, we considered the day to be a combination of moments where children might take a deep breath in to focus and concentrate to gain energy, followed by spurts of activity that allowed for energy release.

Surrounding all of this was the practice of mindfulness, paying attention to our bodies and the world around us. Without an intentional spirit of mindfulness, it becomes impossible to develop healthy rhythms. A friend and I were recently discussing moments when we realize a disjointed feeling, and then wondering how long we’ve been just pushing through those feelings ignoring them. I’ve spent most of my adult life “pushing through” or ignoring symptoms of burnout or stress with the idea that it was just normal. It isn’t. It leads to higher cortisol levels and narrows the space in the brain for the capacity to take in information. Don’t get me started on how it stifles creativity.

Mindfulness exercises, integrated into the learning day, train children to maintain intentional contact with their own bodies and environment. This sense of self-awareness is key to building social emotional intelligence. Accomplished through 5 minutes exercises in deep breathing, listening, focused meditation, or quiet contemplation, mindfulness is currently being integrated classrooms of all kinds to assist students who display undesired behaviors. However, these routines, applied to traditional classrooms have limited impact without the continued benefits of a daily schedule that is built around inhaling and exhaling.

But more and more evidence supports the claim the nature based learning, when paired with mindfulness practices, allows the child to develop physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively without the constraints that a typical classroom places on them. As well intentioned as I was developing those schedules, I don’t think the first question I really asked was “What do the students need at this point in their learning day?” Instead, my priorities had to be standards to be met or the schedules that I was building this schedule on.

Last night I learned to ask the following questions:

  • What do the children need at this point in their learning day?
  • Has something happened to change the typical energy of today, should I add an “inhale moment” to refocus us?
  • Have the children been inhaling for so long they are close to bursting? How can we exhale and stay in a creative flow?
  • What daily opening and closing routines would bring mindfulness and meaning into the lives of my students?
  • Which quarterly, seasonal and annual rituals are the most mindful and meaningful to my students and their families?

I’m becoming a better educator than I’ve ever been through this Forest School Training. I’d like to offer special thanks to Bonnie Cretton from Woodsong Forest School for acting as a compassionate guide in showing me all the ways to craft a child’s learning day in ways that speak meaning into their lives and the subject matter they are learning.

nature play

Forest Teacher Training Diary


Last night was our first session of Forest Teacher Training certification. Having participated in the Introductory to Forest School course, I already knew some of the instructors and the format of the learning modules. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amazing variety of people I would meet! Our teacher and guide began by saying, “If we only met for 30 minutes, the best way to spend those minutes would be to meet one another and listen to one another’s stories….”

There were over twelve states represented – and one dear Italian woman who now resides in Switzerland. In many ways, the technology offered by Zoom added to this experience instead of only detracting from our meeting in-person. I listened to each person share only their name and location and then, what brings them joy. As you might imagine, with a bunch of naturalist the themes of joy surrounded hiking, nature, gardening, spending time with family and children outdoors, etc. But there were also some creatives in the group that shared their nature journals, pottery they’d created, and even framed maps of beloved National Parks in-lieu of pictures on hand.

As we completed the introductions, and our guide began to transition to the evening’s topic on learning and engagement, he was quick to point out the the kinship we had just experienced was key to BOTH. Indeed, the storytelling, interdependency and sharing of it all is part of the magic that makes the forest school movement so compelling.

I learned so many useful facts about learning and engagement in a forest school setting and how to convey these people I might be trying to “win over.” But my heartfelt takeaway for the evening, was the kinship I kept as I left the meeting.