FOREST SCHOOL PROGRAM
ABOUT FOREST SCHOOL
Eco Explorers runs a one of a kind, Forest School program in Melbourne for children aged 4 – 8 years (during the term) and for older children over the holidays. We are also able to/can also run a single/one-off or ongoing Forest School program at your school or for your centre/service.
Children who attend our Forest School are given the time and space to learn naturally, through real, hands-on experiences. Forest School allows children the opportunity to spend 3 – 4 hours in the bush, without their parents or caregivers. This helps them develop a sense of independence and an/ opportunity/ a chance to build resilience, confidence and self-esteem.
At Forest School, the children engage all their senses. They experiment, discover and explore the real world around them. These engaging, open – ended experiences can support their creative learning. Their play is investigative, and the natural environment ignites their natural curiosity to learn.
Children are encouraged to solve problems and to engage in teamwork, as they play and learn outdoors, in all types of weather; rain, hail and shine! Children that would not necessarily do well or cope in a highly structured indoor classroom environment, thrive in an outdoor one.
Our team of Forest School leaders are a combination of qualified teachers (primary and early childhood) and certified forest school leaders. Our educators have completed extensive training and have many years of experience working with children outdoors.
The Forest School environment is diverse and forever changing. Environmental influences such as the weather, impact the site, so the children arrive excited to see what changes they will discover at their Forest School site.
Children’s Social Needs
Forest School is possibly the first experience children will have where they are spending time with other children of similar age, in a group setting and without their carer. Young children are constantly learning through interactive and collaborative play. Forest School offers many opportunities for children to engage, share and play with others. They learn about themselves, their needs and the needs of others. Facilitators/educators can guide, support and encourage children as they play.
It’s natural for children to be hesitant about coming to a new place where they don’t know anyone, especially if they aren’t with their parents/carers. At Forest School, we support the development of relationships among the children. Educators /facilitators will help give children comfort and confidence in unfamiliar situations. This assistance helps children feel comfortable as they can look forward to returning week to week.
When a child feels like they connect, they feel like they belong. This is an important outcome for us as facilitators at Forest School. We help children develop/ gain a sense of belonging by: fostering relationships between the children and Forest School leaders, supporting evolving relationships with peers, encouraging exploration of the land and valuing its inhabitants. These are all important connections that support and help children feel comfortable and safe.
Eco Explorers places a high priority on safety for everyone during our sessions. At Forest School, areas of safety focus: are boundary awareness, safety bubbles, wildlife awareness and tool handling. The child directed activities are managed safely, so children can learn and be aware of the risks in order to keep themselves safe.
A boundary area around the site is roped off using an eye-catching coloured rope. Facilitators then carefully assess the space for any potential risks at the Forest School site.
All staff arrive well before the children and do an extensive risk assessment and safety check at the site before setting up the space.
At Forest School, we share the area with animals that call it their home. By demonstrating that we respect the animals and give them space in their own home, we can instil in the children a love of nature, as it is, natural and free of control by humans. This, at its basis, leads to a sense of custodianship of the land and its inhabitants in the children and, moving forward, more specifically habitat protection and ecosystem conservation.
We take into account other living creatures we share the space with. This includes both flora and fauna. We do our best not to disrupt natural habitats and ecosystems. Maximising and optimising the physical space for opportunities of exploration, creativity, movement and play are other important factors taken into account when making the boundary. Commencement of Forest School always involves introducing the children to the concept of the boundary.
Caring for our Forest School space
At Forest School and all of Eco Explorers’ programs, we take care of the areas of nature we use. Ways we do this are:
- Moving locations every 4 – 6 weeks to minimise exposure and degradation caused by human use.
- Removing rubbish and other items that do not belong there, not just for the safety of our members, but for the creatures living there too.
- We are respectful of the living things we share the space with and learn about them so that we can help to look after them and their habitats.
- Working with rangers and other land custodians to help care for and rejuvenate the area.
- Talking to the children about why we do these things to raise awareness and encourage ownership of the space and their actions.
- Asking the children for their ideas on how else to care for the space.
Tree climbing is a wonderful opportunity for children to practice gross motor skills, fine-tune their balance, work on their coordination and strengthen and tone muscles. Sitting in a tree that you’ve climbed gives a sense of accomplishment, offers imaginative play opportunities and a different view of the world.
Safe tree climbing is a skill that is taught and learned at Forest School. The recommendation while doing it is to maximise points of body-to-tree contact, for example, two knees or two feet as well as two hands. Using this rule of thumb offers a more stable climb than with less points of contact, for example, two feet only and less chance of falling. It enables children to feel their way and in doing that, assess the stability of their path up or along a tree themselves.
Children are encouraged to climb themselves only, without assistance from a facilitator. This also means that they will assess whether they are capable of going higher or getting down on their own and therefore assess if it is safe for them to do such a climb.
Forest School children use real tools and are taught how to safely use hammers, drills, saws, knives and flints to light fires. By providing the children with small and achievable tasks they are more likely to succeed and feel good about themselves. By learning to be self-sufficient and take care of themselves, their confidence and self-esteem increases.
Using tools helps children work on their fine motor skills and unlocks their creativity. They practice concentration and build muscle strength in different areas. It is important that when gaining these skills, they do it safely.
At Forest School, introduction to tool use is initially one-on-one with a trained facilitator. The correct technique is role modelled /taught and practiced under supervision. Children come up with amazing ideas when using different tools. Some designs often require problem-solving for their creation to come together. The safety bubble concept is practiced at all times while using tools, and a specific area is designated for this activity, away from the general play areas. When used safely, tool use offers a versatile experience incorporating loose parts from nature.
You can find Forest School supplies and tools such as whittling knives for children, on our online store here.
During our winter sessions, we explore the concept of fire at Forest School: how to light one using a flint, and learning how to cook over a campfire. A safety bubble is used when attempting to light with a flint, so each child has a safe area to do this.
When a larger fire is burning, like a campfire, the area is roped off in a circular shape and managed at all times by a facilitator. Children are allowed into the safety bubble one at a time, only when invited by the facilitator, and under close supervision. This allows the children to be able to experience the use of fire, as well as appreciate and learn about its safety requirements when using.
Ropes & Construction
Building and learning real bush survival skills is/are another important aspects of our Forest School program. That’s why the children, as young as 4 learn how to build proper shelters and other constructions using sticks and ropes.
Ropes can be used in a variety of ways at Forest School and children are encouraged to be creative with them. Learning how to tie knots is a great skill for the children to learn, as it aids in the development of fine motor skills. Using ropes for applications like swings, ladders and ropes courses helps with strength, balance, muscle development and coordination. We work with the children in teaching them proper knot techniques.
HOW TO I SIGN UP?
Forest School runs each term during the year. We generally have the same group of children continue throughout the year, so they have the opportunity to develop strong and lasting friendships with their peers.
Preference is given and places are offered to children who have previously attended our Bush playgroup and Bush kindy programs. Then, it is a natural progression for them to move to Forest School the year before they start school. Some families choose to continue sending their children one day a week while they attend school, while some home-schooling families choose to give their child independence and opportunity to thrive in a bush learning environment by attending Forest School.
Eco Explorers currently runs Forest School programs on Tuesdays at Gresswell Forest Wildlife Reserve and on Thursdays at Westerfolds Park. We also run full-day sessions over the school holidays for children aged 6 – 12 years.
We can also run Forest School programs for schools, kindergartens, council and other services.
Contact us via email here to register your interest for our Forest School program or enquiry about our professional team running sessions for you.