FOREST SCHOOL PROGRAM

Forest School - Melbourne, Australia
Forest School – Melbourne, Australia

ABOUT FOREST SCHOOL

Children who attend our forest school are given the time, space and opportunity to learn naturally, through real, hands-on experiences. Forest School is for children aged 4 – 8 years and an opportunity for them to spend 3 – 4 hours in the bush without their parents or caregivers. Our Forest School gives children a sense of independence and an opportunity to build resilience, confidence and self-esteem.

At forest school, the children get to engage all their senses and experiment, discover and explore the real world around them and this supports their creative learning. Their play is investigative and the natural environment ignites their natural curiously to learn. 

Children are encouraged to solve problems, 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, early childhood educators and certified forest school leaders who have done extensive training and have many years of experience working with children outdoors.

The Forest school environment itself is diverse and it is forever changing with strong influences such as the weather so the children arrive excited to see what changes they will discover at their Forest School site.

Children’s Social Needs 

Sensory, creative & exploratory play

Forest School is possibly the (or among the) first experience(s) children will have where they’re spending time with other children of similar age, in a group setting and without their carer.  At these ages, children are learning through interactive, collaborative play about other children and their needs, as well as about themselves. 

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 as it helps to give children comfort and confidence in unfamiliar situations and gives them something to look forward to on 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.  Whether it be through interactions with each other and the evolving relationships, or to the space and its other inhabitants and landmarks, or with their Forest School leaders, all are important connections that help children feel comfortable and safe. 

Safety

Eco Explorers places a priority on the safety at all of our sessions, for participants, facilitators and anyone else we share the educational space with.  At Forest School, areas of safety focus are boundary awareness, safety bubbles, wildlife awareness and tool handling.  The types of activities and child-directed play that take place are managed safely, and in a way that the children can see are appropriate for their own wellbeing.

We rope off an area as a boundary around Forest School with an eye-catching coloured rope and assess the space for any potential risks at the forest school site.

Wildlife awareness 

Investigating an ant’s nest

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 instill 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, including both flora and fauna, doing our best not to disrupt natural habitats and ecosystems. Maximising the physical space, and optimising it in terms of opportunities for 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

Climbing trees – risk taking

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, meaning no assistance from a facilitator.  This also means that they themselves will assess whether they are capable of going higher or getting down on their own and therefore if it is safe for them to do such a climb.

Tool Use

Forest school tools

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 focus and build muscle strength in different areas.  It is important that through gaining these advantages, they do it safely. 

At Forest School, introduction to tool use is initially one-on-one with a trained facilitator where correct technique is learned and practiced under supervision.  The ideas of what to make using different tools that children come up with are amazing, and 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 using parts from nature for the children.

Fire Awareness

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

Climbing & building strength

Building and learning real bush survival skills is another important aspect 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 do knots with them is a great skill for the children to learn for many applications in life, but also for fine motor skill development.  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 and we generally have the same group of children continue throughout the year so they develop strong and lasting friendships with others that attend.

Preference is given and places offered to children who have previously attended our Bush playgroup and Bush kindy program as 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 homeschooling families choose to do Forest School to give their child the independence and opportunity to thrive in a bush learning environment.

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.

Contact us via email here to register your interest for our Forest School program.