This is an article that I wrote for High Country News recently:
There was a story told to me in an old growth forest of Sussex, New Brunswick this past summer. It was the story of “The Bird that would be King”. Maybe some of you know it. I’d like to tell you this story, but although it is only about five minutes long it would be far too long for the space I have been given here.
Jon Cree of England’s Forest School Association told the story to a group of educators and early childhood workers that had come together to participate in a pilot Forest School Practitioner training program through Forest School Canada.
We sat in a circle under the canopy of old spruce trees, a sensorial cornucopia, the richly-coloured canvas of the forest before us and decades of mulch beneath our feet creating a familiar thick, sweet smell that hung in the air. But all of our eyes were on Jon.
Jon, a veteran Forest School leader, told this oral story, an arguably endangered art of storytelling without the support of a book, with the greatest of theatrics, enacting and mimicking the movement of the birds and their voices as each one played a part in the story. His voice rang out in the otherwise silent woodland. I sat on the edge of my child-sized wooden bench listening with my whole body and mind waiting to hear what would happen. I was not disappointed.
After the story, we were given the opportunity for free time. Without direction, some of us took up with clay that had been made available and made the characters of the birds. Others took to writing in their journals. Some took to retreat to their sit spot (a spot they found in the woods where they could quietly reflect) and others still sat in groups quietly sharing more stories and working on wood projects.
This was a story I would happily listen to again. I am sure if I heard it a few times, the details of the birds, their names and their characteristics would also remain. Regardless, even after hearing it once the story concept and experience are etched in my memory forever.
This, for me, is the heart of Forest School learning. Learning through experiences that, like sap on a tree, stick with us. A kind of natural learning that provides self-directed opportunities to expand our way of knowing and understanding, time to reflect and wonder and time to create.
This kind of learning is meaningful, it becomes a part of us and helps to define and shape who we are and who we become. There are many research studies that support the physical, intellectual, emotional and social benefits for children given regularly occurring learning opportunities in woodland, but simply as I recall Jon putting it, “It’s something about the trees”. Learning in a woodland environment engages our minds, strengthens our bodies and feeds our spirits. Kids, given the opportunity, usually can’t wait to go back to Forest School. ~ Lisa