In the modern world, children spend more time than ever before indoors, in structured rather than unstructured play. Our green spaces are disappearing, technology is more present than ever, and academic pressures continue to rise. Following a decline in the past two decades of the levels of unstructured outdoor play, and an increase in sedentary, technological based activities, Forest Schools have experienced a period of rapid growth both around the world and in Australia. In Australia the first Forest School was established in 2011 at Westgarth Kindergarten in Victoria. Generally referred to within Australia as bush kindies, beach kindies, nature play and so forth, Forest School is most commonly defined as a program where children are immersed in nature for regular, uninterrupted periods of time, in all weather. During this time children direct the course of play, make their own choices, take risks and enjoy positive experiences with natural materials. Australian Forest Schools exist in both the government regulated and unregulated private sector. Within the regulated sector Forest School is commonly seen in early childhood settings when children go to bush kindy once a week for a couple of hours. Forest School appears to be slowly filtering through to primary schools, mainly in the form of excursions, although there are a few primary schools embracing nature play as a whole.
Forest School is considered under theorised, particularly in Australian contexts. Australian Forest Schools are informed by contemporary early childhood philosophies and pedagogies, but the available research literature is minimal and only pertains to government regulated early childhood settings. Influenced by both British and Scandinavian contexts, our play based learning approach includes: unstructured, inquiry based and emergent learning which is intra-active and child led. It is scaffolded and developed through slow, naked and place responsive pedagogical approaches. These all intertwine, so when we are engaging in one approach, we are also engaging in one or more of the other approaches simultaneously. For example, as we slow down and follow children’s lead, they excitedly point out things. This emergent learning can lead to inquiry based as we endeavour to find out more alongside the children, which was already unstructured and remains so as we co-construct knowledge together. Sometimes this can be scaffolded as we guide children to deeper observations and understandings, and it is generally intra-active as we learn alongside nature, following naked pedagogies which means that we have limited, or no unnatural resources in the forest. As we intra-act with the natural elements we learn more about them, and the role that they have to play. Further, as we learn with, about and from them, we find ourselves responding to place and the range of dynamic, natural elements at play in our settings.
Using nature-based play and forest school approaches is a key component in many of our TEA organisations, including Steiner, Montessori, democratic schools and homeschooling families
Australian Forest School Association – https://australianforestschoolassociation.org/
Wildlings Forest School – https://www.wildlingsforestschool.com/
Nature Play Queensland – https://natureplayqld.org.au/
Westgarth Kindergarten – https://www.wgkg.vic.edu.au/bush-kinder-1
From forest preschool to Bush Kinder: an inspirational approach to preschool provision in Australia – https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA401214807&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=18369391&p=AONE&sw=w&userGroupName=anon%7E74904c8d&aty=open+web+entry
Article Written by Amanda England, PhD candidate and researcher in Forest Schools, Wildlings Forest School Brisbane Area Manager