'Forest School', 'Outdoor Education', 'Bushwacking Nursery' -- these are familiar phrases that you hear around the parent circles these days. The rise in demand for children being exposed to an outdoor curriculum is increasing and, with that, so is the shift from academic education to life skills. While Forest School has become the trend amongst educational circles, it is the educator and pedagogue who needs to have it deeply rooted within themselves in order to encourage a love for the outdoors amongst their age group. The Favourable Blog recently wrote an article about Normalising Nature, where Clarke states "I have no objection at all to progress and change, but I hope it is from a position of understanding, not mimicking" which rings true within Little Gems.
In October, Carola and I were in Berlin for the Montessori Europe Congress where we listened to key speakers discussing their case studies with the outdoors. An urban farm in the garden; a pond to house the pet frog; a high school fully embracing farm-to-table by moving from the city to the fields for their students to develop the broadest of curriculums. All of these examples had a common core -- social responsibility. How do we encourage social responsibility in our age groups that we work with everyday? What does social responsibility look like to a four-year-old? Nature is becoming a planned feature and "the wild stuff" is becoming harder to find in densely populated areas. Needless to say we left Berlin reminded of the greater education we should immerse our children in.
Cyprus -- a small, multi-landscaped island. Mountains, valleys, cliffs, shores, fields, sand dunes, forest. When sitting down to plan an outdoor program we quickly realised we had everything on our doorstep -- and it was wild! We live in a place where planned and wild nature are still in balance, and finding areas to take the children would just need research and logistics. A few weeks of planning, scouting, risk assessing and sourcing materials, we found it, and on January 19th, Little Gems Larnaca finally got on the bus, and ventured into the outdoors.
Three weeks in and what have we observed? Mainly, the dialogue. The discussions that the children were raw and rich, and there are no longer any internal influencers such as competition, fear or hierarchy. Upon finding a tree stump a group of children exchanged some ideas as to why the tree had been chopped down. "Maybe it fell over", "maybe someone built a house", "maybe it's just a baby and needs to have more birthdays". When children were picking flowers, somebody called out "remember to leave some for the bees, because we like honey you know" which then lead into a dialogue about the honey process. We hear a bang in the distance: "maybe it was a car", "I think it was fireworks!", "fireworks in the daytime? I never saw them", "that's because they have light and we have light in the sky now", "then maybe there are two big rocks falling together, somewhere faraway but we cannot see them because the grass is high up to the sky". Empathy spread amongst them and helpful hands, kisses on bruises and rubbing bumps came naturally. The sharing of heavy loads amongst one another in order to bring the "treasure" home showed camaraderie and teamwork. Listening to each other's ideas showed us thought processes, what they found important and how they applied their own experiences to these new ones.
At the end of each Thursday, the bus ride is calm. Flexing physical and mental muscles for an extended period of time outside has brought the children to a level of inner peace. The younger ones often fall asleep while the others softly chat, hum songs, explore their "treasure" or simply look out the window, while everyone is internally and subconsciously processing the events of the day. This energy comes into the classroom and the Friday that follows has hints of the day before, through varied interests and discussions depending on what each individual had experienced.
Bringing this back to the social responsibility that has been on our minds, we realised that this was our opportunity in bridging that understanding of our importance and role in the world. As our children are between the ages of three and six, social responsibility has to manifest itself in a physical and tangible way in order for it to have the largest impact. Cyprus has a long and dry Summer so by starting our program in the Winter and Spring, the children will be able to see the changes in the environment. A country that has had to implement a water rationing service in the summer means that the children are exposed a landscape that will change and perhaps concern them, building that foundation of care for the world that we live in. Where we discuss the world and the processes indoors, now the children have the opportunity to apply this knowledge into the real world, something that a classroom can only support.
Emma is the Manager of Little Gems Montessori Larnaca while also the Lead Teacher of the Peridots three-to-six environment. Every Thursday you will find her and the school amongst the trees and plants, embracing what beauty nature has to offer them. If you'd like to find out more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org