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A Reflective Essay - by Katrina McKay

Posted by FSLI on November 19, 2017

This reflective essay was written by one of our Queensland, June 2017 students, Katrina McKay. The task was to write a reflective essay which summaries personal development and learning during Forest School Training and identify how this has informed future planning. FSLI Director, Chris Dee described the essay as "lovely", and referring to Katrina, she also commented "I love her journey".

This is the essay in full, we hope you enjoy it...

I first became aware of the concept of children engaging with nature for learning in 2009 while working for a home-based childcare company in New Zealand. We headed out to an outdoor environment and there were no additional resources provided but the children happily engaged and made the most of the opportunity. This captured my interest as I saw one of my own young children happily participating in moments that reflected my own childhood, free and without cotton wool.

Fast forward to November 2016 and another country, my workplace joins with one of our sister centres and I am participating in some professional development hosted by Nature Play Qld a Forest School Introductory course. In May 2017 I planned an excursion to our sister centre that already had a Bush Kindy program up and running. In that one session I saw children from my class who normally were quieter and more reserved, exploring freely and appeared confident. This trip was talked about weeks later by the children providing me with evidence that this excursion was beneficial to them on multiple levels.

When the opportunity was presented to attend the Forest School Leader training in June 2017, I quickly put my hand up as I thought undertaking these skills and building my knowledge further would be a fantastic way to enhance my kindergarten program and the children’s learning, whilst I was also able to benefit by increasing my own knowledge and skills.

During and after my training I spent my own lunch breaks and weekends sourcing our local area to see what potential we had for our own Forest School, until I found what I thought to be a very suitable place to base ourselves. As soon as I had finished my training I immediately recommenced the learning and teaching we did prior to our Bush Trip Excursion in May, and implemented some road safety learning.

The children remembered all of our discussions from previous, so it became a case of simply building upon what they already knew. While it was very exciting that we were to start our Bush Kindy program, I felt nervous with the distance that we would have to cover and with our road crossings to get to the chosen Bush Kindy site.

However, our previous teaching of these essential skills has proven to be a major determining factor as to how successful getting to our Bush Kindy program has been. I see the distance to cover and our road safety knowledge as a very positive impact on children becoming aware of their surroundings in the community, keeping safe and how much stamina and perseverance they have built with their trips to and from our Bush Kindy.

One of the most standout aspects I have taken over our time engaged with our Bush Kindy has been how the children have made the most of the environment to learn and play. Very minimal equipment, such as play dough, little containers and scoops, and binoculars have been the only things that we have brought along. While the children have used these items, they have also mostly made their own way using the environment to interact with each other, to play, and to learn. 

From our first session to now I have noticed a remarkable increase in resilience in the children. For example, a fall for some would previously be a dramatic moment mostly likely requiring adult assurance. Now these children get back up, brush themselves off, and are straight back into exploring.

Seeing the benefits that a Forest School can have on the children’s learning as well as their wellbeing has made me consider my daily practice, whether engaged in Bush Kindy or not. I cannot rave enough about how wonderful it has been to allow the children I work with the opportunity to engage in Forest School, and hope that when they leave for school they will carry some wonderful memories of being free in nature.

Forest School Training  has made me more passionate and grounded in my beliefs about Early Childhood Education, not only from the wonderful guidance and training received by Forest School Training Initiative, but from seeing firsthand the effects and results that Forest School has for children, empowering them as individual competent learners, but allowing them to be happy and healthy children.