Are outdoor experiences enough?

forest children photo
Photo by Paul Stainthorp

This guest post has been shared with us by Caylin from Forest Schooled. This excellent website runs weekly posts linking Forest School experiences with research on education, child development, and general human nature.

Over to Forest Schooled ….

Recently I started to question whether providing fun and educational outdoor experiences for kids was enough. Of course taking them outside is incredibly important for a variety of reasons, but when it comes to learning I felt like there was more to it. After an encounter I had with a 9 year old boy named Samuel I became inspired to look a little deeper.

Samuel was constantly getting into trouble for the same behaviour which he exhibited day after day at the after school club I worked at. The adults in the setting consistently resorted to a rewards/punishments system of managing behaviour, but it was clear to all of us that it wasn’t changing anything. One day Samuel was given the ‘punishment’ of helping me tidy up after everyone had their snack and the one-to-one time gave me the opportunity to have a conversation with him.

I wanted to take advantage of this time to get to know him and and perhaps gain a better understanding of his behaviour. By asking questions that got Samuel to think more about the motivations and feelings surrounding his behaviour, I unintentionally facilitated a process of reflection. The result was that Samuel felt empowered to make positive choices about his own behaviour in the future and, when he did at a later date, he felt better about himself for not getting into trouble as much.

That conversation with Samuel made me realise how powerful reflection can be as a tool for learning. However, what I couldn’t quite grasp was how to effectively facilitate reflection for others in future situations. We all, as individuals, have our own methods for reflecting, whether consciously or subconsciously, on our own personal experiences, but facilitating it for others is much more tricky. I wanted to learn more about it all so I decided to do some research.

I conducted a survey asking for contributions from other Forest School leaders, teachers, parents, and anyone with any knowledge on the subject about it. I also attended a course with Dr. Roger Greenaway who has put a phenomenal amount of work into promoting and creating tools for reflection (what he calls reviewing) in education (see www.reviewing.co.uk). It took a few months to gather the information together, but the result of all that research became a 30 page guide called A Practical Guide for Forest School Leaders (or anyone, really!) to facilitating reflection in the outdoors.

The guide gives a host of practical advice and tips including activities to make reflection engaging and interesting. Here’s a couple activity examples from the guide:

Songs & Rhymes

Sign a song or say a rhyme together that sums up what has occurred (or will occur) during the session.

Example of a rhyme – this is great for working on memory:

The forest is deep.

The forest is wide.

The forest has lots of things inside.

It’s got _________

(This is where you ask the children what did you do or see in the forest today? If someone says, “A squirrel,” for example, you repeat the rhyme and add in “squirrel” at the end. Repeat as many times as your group wants to, adding in a new animal/item each time whilst also repeating in sequence all those that came before it!)

Thumbometer

Have everyone close their eyes then ask a question such as, “How much did you enjoy today?” Learners can rank their experience by either putting their thumbs up for ‘enjoyed it’, thumbs pointing sideways for ‘neutral’, or thumbs pointing down for ‘did not enjoy it’. This is a simple way to gauge the feelings of individuals and groups overall without anyone necessarily being put on the spot. Try to follow this up by giving the opportunity for them to discuss their answer if they want to, either in pairs or with the group. For those whose thumbs were not pointing up, you could ask them, “What would have made it better to make your thumbs go up?”

Object talk

Give your group a prompt and ask them to look for objects that symbolise or represent their response to it. You could do this whilst walking from one place to another or just give everyone time to go explore and look for things. Once everyone has an object, you meet back together and each person presents their object and explains why they chose it.

If you want to learn more about reflection and how to facilitate it, including more activities like the ones shared above, you can download a PDF copy (FREE) or purchase a printed version (£5) of A Practical Guide for Forest School Leaders (or anyone, really!) to facilitating reflection in the outdoors at www.forestschooled.com/resources.

If you feel like you could benefit by doing more than just reading through a 30 page PDF, the printed version of the guide includes an extra 7 Day Reflection Challenge to help make your learning more hands on. The challenge gets you practising reflection by utilising some of the advice and methods given in the guide. The goal is that by practising these techniques on ourselves, we’ll become better at facilitating them for others.

I hope the information shared in this blog and in the guide inspires you to find creative and meaningful ways to encourage reflection in those you work with. I know it’s certainly helped add a whole new dimension to my own outdoor adventures!

About Forest Schooled

Forest Schooled is a blog that explores themes and topics associated with the educational approach of Forest School. Weekly posts link stories about Forest School experiences with research on education, child development, and general human nature. The premise is that while we’re busy ‘teaching’ children, they are just as busy teaching us. If we take a moment to stop, notice, and reflect we can discover a lot more about ourselves and the world we live in – that’s what it means to get ‘Forest Schooled’.

Find out more or get in touch here…

www.forestschooled.com

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