Last month, whilst back home in Scotland, I heard about a primary teacher from Peebles who was running forest school classes. I was intrigued how she was able to incorporate such classes into the school curriculum and wanted to learn more. Here is my short interview I had with the wonderful and inspiring Annie Edgar. (Later in the week, I was fortunate to visit the forest where Annie holds the classes. I took my niece and nephews with me. We had the most magical time and didn’t want to leave).

family in woods

Our spirits soared as we wandered through the beautiful forest, each pathway gifting wonder and awe. We were graced with the presence of a deer. The sheer joy of seeing a deer in the wild is one of those magical moments you never forget as a child or an adult.

Interview with Annie Edgar  – LEARNING OUTDOORS

1. Why did you start up the “forest school”?
To introduce more outdoor learning, to provide a more balanced curriculum: social, emotional and physical development of a child.
My love for the outdoors and nature also played a big part in it, the importance in knowing, understanding and respecting the world that you live in, to encourage a responsible attitude towards the environment and sustainability for the future.

we-want-to-learn

2. How did you go about starting the school up and what problems, if any did you encounter?
I completed an OCN (Open College Network) course in Forest School Leadership. Outdoor training was done over a series of weekends and then open learning had to be completed over my holidays and nights during term time. Quite an intensive course that took over a year to complete.

Once I started my training I started taking my class out. This was arranged through agreement with the head teacher and the course itself was well supported by the council that I work for.
No problems arranging with school or class, some difficulty in getting parent support to ensure adult:child ratio was met. Mainly due to FS (Forest School) sessions being through school time when most parents are at work. But managed to get help most weeks.
Intensity of course – over 20 essays, compiling health and safety handbook, observation reports and extensive reading on child development and emotional intelligence along with several full weekends of outdoor and first aid training made the course very demanding. On top of day to day school work and preparation I found this quite stressful at times. However, I have learned a huge amount from this course and the benefits are now paying off.

eating outside

We tasted the most delicious wild Blackberries in the forest.

3. How did you incorporate this into the school curriculum?
Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland lends itself well to FS initiatives. Most of my Health and Well-being outcomes and experiences are planned through my FS learning. It can also be used to cover science outcomes and can link to litereacy and numeracy. Very easy to incorporate into the school curriculum.

shelter

4. In your experiences, what have the children gained from these outdoor forest classes?
Improved communication, self control and self awareness, ability to assess and manage risk, group work skills, individual pupils who find classroom learning environment difficult can engage with learning outdoors very easily, developing their focus, self-esteem and motivation to learn. It builds relationships, provides opportunities for incidental learning and follows the childrens’ own interests.

Also provides the children with a bank of experiences that they can use when back in school to help with their literacy and numeracy e.g. in writing they can describe a forest setting by thinking about what they have seen, heard, tasted, felt in FS. And in maths they have a greater awareness of size for estimating length, height etc.

we want to ...

5. From a teacher’s perspective, what have you gained from running these classes?
An opportunity to see the children in a different light, a chance to build relationships with individual pupils as the sessions allow more time to talk in a relaxed environment, a chance to develop childrens’ confidence and self esteem, increased knowledge of woodland environment and a huge bank of activities to teach in the outdoors, and time to observe and reflect on how children learn and interact with one another.
6. What advice would you give to other “educators” who are interested in starting up something similar?
Take a risk, and go for it. The children gain so much from outdoor experiences and it provides a fun and stimulating environment for them to learn. Start off small with easy, fun activities and build up to more challenging activities e.g. building 5 minute fires (if appropriate training available) as these will really help to build childrens’ confidence and builds trust. These feeling of success and achievement can then be filtered into all areas of learning within school.
7. Do you believe “forest school” classes should be available to all school years (primary 1 through to primary 7) and part of every schools curriculum?
Yes, the earlier the better, learning through play, exploration and discovery is an essential part of early years education. This can be built on each year, developing learning at all stages. I really believe FS can play a major role in educating the ‘whole child’, focusing not only academic achievement but through social, emotional and physical well being. This provides an education that provides responsible citizens, effective contributors, confident individuals and successful learners.
child in the woods
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“When Children and Nature Mix, Something Magical Happens” .

I have been running nature classes for the last three years here in Kelowna, BC and I must say I love teaching outdoors. I am really excited about the possibilities of outdoor learning. It is so encouraging to hear about inspiring individuals like Annie. Please do get in touch if you would like to share your ideas and plans for nature in and out of the classroom. I’d love to hear from you. Over the past few months I have visited many schools and spoken with both the teachers and the students. It is very clear the children LOVE to learn and play outdoors and listening to the teachers, they too, are interested in learning  about ways they can connect children with nature as part of their teaching. Here are a couple of my school visits in British Columbia : Bringing Nature Into the Classroom and Connecting School Children With Nature.

Join the “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution – Changing the way children spend their time.

More great reading and Scottish resources : Outdoor Learning Practical Guidance for Scottish Teachers provided by one of my #playoutdoors buddies on Twitter Juliet Robertson.

Here in North America we have a  fabulous resource called: Children and Nature Network. Check out the Natural Teachers Network.

Wishing you all a beautiful week learning from nature, love and peace, Marghanita.

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