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A lovely reflective essay from down under

Posted by FSLI on December 28, 2017

This lovely reflective essay was written by one of our Australian students - Sam Williamson - and it was sent to us from Queensland by Anya Perkins (Nature Play QLD/FSLI). FSLI Director Chris Dee has described this essay as "brilliant" and she also remarked that she was "very proud" when she read it for the first time. The task was to - 'Write a reflective essay of no more than 1000 words which summarises your personal development and learning during the Forest School training and identify how this has informed your future practice'. This is the result...

Whilst we know that learners participating in the forest school programs gain confidence, build physical skills and increase their knowledge and understanding of the natural environment, so did I as a learner over this week. There is something significant about learning outside of a classroom in which we become learners ourselves and reconnect with the concept of independent learning through play.

On reflection, time and space were the first concepts that I was drawn towards in my learning journey as during the week we slowed down and became part of a flow of learning in which I was so engrossed I often lost track of time. This is unusual for me as my week is so routine at work that this created an opportunity for personal growth and I recognised the importance of uninterrupted play in natural environments.

Often when participating in professional development you find yourself indoors in a conference space and have to force yourself to concentrate after the first couple of hours. However, the mix of indoors / outdoors allowed opportunities to refresh, relax and reconnect with the concepts and ensure my learning continued.

I have been an educator for many years and am always looking for new challenges and ways to extend my knowledge. This training has allowed me to grow not only through building new skills but heightened my understanding of social and cognitive development of children and the promotion of wellbeing and resilience. I have become bound by regulations, compliance and training linked to our framework rather than considering the importance of personal growth and professional development that builds on interests and passion.

I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on my role as the educator going forward and identify that educators need to tune in to children’s thinking during forest school. I need to be active, reciprocal and responsive in my interactions with my children but I also need to understand and engage in a sensitive and meaningful way.

When entering into a child’s world I need to make informed decisions that come from observation, and know the child and their needs. I need to set realistically high expectations based on knowing the child and identify when to intervene and when to stand back. By recognising the importance of uninterrupted time in forest school sessions I can wait for the child to invite me into their play rather than hovering nearby in anticipation.

This will be something I will have to be conscious of in the future and communicate across all my educators, but it is important in allowing children time to see mistakes and reveal their understanding, and thus allowing educators to be involved in a more meaningful context. Leading up to the training I did a lot of reading on forest schools, however, reading and participating brought varied learning, and together complimented my understanding of the forest school approach.

As I had already begun piloting sessions with my older children last term I had learnt a great deal about myself, session planning and expectations as the sessions didn’t go as planned as children had their own ideas and curiosities to explore. This training has solidified my approach and made me appreciate the complexities that need to be considered across environments, plus the mix of children participating, and the skills of other educators in order for the program to be successful.

Going forward my program approach needs to be more inclusive of children’s voices in the planning and delivery and ensure that children’s skills are extended from week to week rather than delivering a separate session each week. We use an inquiry based emergent curriculum at my service believing children inquire then learn by doing and are capable and curious. Thus, to apply this same model to forest school would involve me as the educator encouraging the learner to ask and explore their own arising questions, conduct their own investigations and work on their own interests.

A balance of intentional teaching and inquiry based learning could be put into practice for future sessions with some thought and discussion with the children beforehand. I have reflected and learnt from the training that my role as a forest school educator begins with initiating the child’s enthusiasm, sparking engagement in the process and providing resources to stimulate creativity and participation. Next, there comes the ability to step back and integrate with the children, especially as mine are older and capable of so much more than a younger child.

I need to create positive relationships and nurture confidence and independence. My future practices have been informed by my learning over the week and have shaped my attitude, disposition and curiosity, with future programs reflecting and promoting the interests, capabilities and passions of my children. This in turn will create a learning environment in my setting that effectively supports all children.

I can now see that the optimal learning environment Anya created for us as learners this week is what I will be recreating for my children to grow, develop and thrive just as I have.