Arden Forest School is rooted in the understanding that children come to us as “whole persons” to be educated in mind, body, and spirit. We strive to dignify each human being with whom we are gifted to work through an atmosphere that encourages lifelong fascination with the world around us, as well as meaningful, beautiful interactions with one another.
We do so through a hybrid model of traditional academics, project-based learning/emergent curriculum methodologies, and significant time in nature. We foster and celebrate the benefits of community-building and learning through mixed age play and interaction.
Deeply inspired by progressive, humanistic, and Charlotte Mason style approaches, we also incorporate forest schooling, with much of our school day taking place outside.
Our emphasis involves:
Project-based/Emergent Curricular activities
Weekly Individualized Tutoring
Mixed Age Classrooms
The Beauty of Outdoor Learning
by Hope Gold
featured in the July/August 2020 edition of Dalton Living Magazine
Way before the word “pandemic” became a common societal term, way before the need to “stay home” and respect one another’s lives and health was of paramount importance, way before the only option, as a result, for getting out was the great outdoors……there were forest schools. They’ve been slowly emerging in bucolic, yet wild wooded areas around Europe and in the U.S. for a while now. They have been encouraging children, youth, and adults to reconnect with nature and all it has to teach us in this interdependent web of life. They have been reminding us that although we are a few generations out from hearing the phrase “natural history” or “nature study,” that developing a knowledgeable relationship with the earth is not only beneficial from an academic standpoint, but also from emotional and physical perspectives.
What can all of us learn from forest schools, no matter our personal educational choices for our children? Why are they on the rise, and how are they recalibrating our understanding of this precious, blue-green spinning planet we call home?
According to author Richard Louv, who wrote Last Child in the Woods, a book about re-establishing our natural connectivity to the world around us, and who coined the nomenclature “nature deficit disorder,”
“Since 2005……. [an] expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Research also suggests that the nature-deficit weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world. These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity,” and to a devaluing of independent play. Nonetheless, we believe that society’s nature-deficit disorder can be reversed.”
In the spirit of reversing our current detachment from the natural world, forest schools are showing all of us the way back.
They do so through allowing children significant time outdoors, every day, rain or shine. Children learn that there is no “bad” weather, and that we can acclimate to the weather and world around us, working with it to learn survival skills (also called bushcrafting) and how to live in conjunction with their local geography. Children learn about wildcrafting, or plant life that grows among the forests, hills, fields, and water sources, and how it can be used for food and medicinal purposes. Children learn to garden, and in doing so, they understand the plants that grow best together, in different seasonal climates, and how to nurture them for their benefit. Children learn about the animals and wildlife that live in their forest and how they play an integral part of their local ecosystem.
Through exposure to nature each day and playing outside, children exercise and build up their gross motor skills. They learn to play independently and become healthy risk takers (remember climbing trees, jumping in puddles, exploring creek critters, dancing in the rain- before someone told us to put our jacket back on, cover up, and come inside?) with encouragement from mindful adults who function as compassionate facilitators on this journey. Children play for extensive time with one another in creative ways with natural supplies and tools (woodworking is encouraged, and creative building with sticks, twigs, stones, dirt, etc. is celebrated). They also find that having more time outside leads to more imaginary play with one another, all the while fostering the social-emotional skills that we all need to develop as part of humanity.
Significant time in nature has also been documented to reduce stress levels, calm the heart and mind, and ground us. When we ground, we connect with the magnetic field of the earth, a process that shows great physical benefits.
According to Healthline.com,
“The most recent scientific research has explored grounding for inflammation, cardiovascular disease, muscle damage, chronic pain, attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity and mood.”
Therefore, learning about nature, in nature, can provide enormous benefits for our children’s health (including brain development), as we continue evolving into a world that is increasingly focused on the constant presence of technology and instant gratification.
Finally, forest schools often inspire kids to partake in their own learning through philosophies such as project-based learning and the “emergent curriculum.” By doing so, teachers discover student interests and gifts, weaving those into their curricula and lessons so that meaningful, relevant connections are made by everyone. They do so within a compassionate framework rooted in “non-violent communication,” a unique, beautiful way of interacting with children that seeks to understand in the spirit of collaboration, and constructive, empathic dialogue, as opposed to traditional disciplinary methodologies.
Wherever we are right now philosophically with our family’s education and health as it interrelates with the changing world around us, forest schools have incredible value for us. Their dedication to understanding and knowing the environment, to honoring physical health benefits from nature, and to respecting independent, empowering play and learning within a socially responsible, mindful learning community just might be the wave of a very bright future for humanity.