Skills to Practice - Natural Item/Loose Parts

Written by Kristen Peterson

Over the course of the school year, I have come to find that less is more when it comes to forest school!  When my journey as a forest school practitioner began, I was hauling so many materials out to the forest!  Once the weather turned cold we began taking less to the woods with us.  We found out that children are so creative and use the world around them in their play!  They don't need much in the way of props and play items.  One day last fall we brought out a bin of yarn and ribbon.  We were gathered near a stream with a bridge.  Some children made dancing wands with the yarn and some made fishing poles. 

yarn 5.JPG
yarn 2.JPG
yarn 3.JPG

The learning that took place on this day last fall was amazing.  Children were cutting yarn and ribbon with scissors, asking friends that knew how to tie a knot for help, and dangling their yarn in the water.  Some children started with very short strings on their stick fishing poles and some made LOOOOOOOONG strings that went 20 feet downstream when they put it in the water.  This led to comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences in their fishing poles and strings. 

yarn 8.JPG
yarn 9.JPG

Fast forward about 4 months.  The stream froze, thawed and we spent some time there a few weeks ago.  One of the children made a new type of fishing rod.  He realized that you could wind and unwind the yarn to make the string as long or as short as you need it to be. 


And it gets better.... he used the knowledge gained from his time in the forest to create a working reel and rod!!  This was amazing and I'm so glad that I was able to witness this moment.   


Wow!  Children are so capable as learners!  

Role of the Educator - Obervation and Documentation

Written by Kristen Peterson

It was a beautiful spring day today!  We decided to head to Kensington Runstone Park after a tip came in from a parent about the possibility of Morel mushrooms in our favorite deciduous forest.  When we arrived at base camp, we showed the children photos of Morel mushrooms, talked about false Morels, and discussed how big they could be and the color to look for.  We also discussed the importance of always asking an adult before picking or tasting a mushroom in the woods as some can be dangerous to eat. 

One of the first thing the children noticed was that the forest was GREEN!  We have been seeing brown for so many months that it was a beautiful site to see green!

And then the forest is green.  Green all around. 

And then the forest is green.  Green all around. 

Last fall we read a book called, "A Log's Life" by Wendy Pfeffer.  The children recalled that we had gone on a hunt for a spider hotel (a tree or log full of spider webs) and one child screeched, "A SPIDER HOTEL!  TAKE A PICTURE!)  I happily obliged!  We were having no luck finding Morels anyway!


"Take a picture!  It's a spider hotel!" 

"It is?  Where is the swimming pool then?" 


Another spider hotel...  without a pool.


A red velvet mite

I am always amazed at how the forest school practitioner can have one idea about what to look for on a hike and the children end up finding something so different and amazing.  One little girl found the tiniest red speck in the dirt, bent down and saw it move!  She yelled for me to come over.  I wandered over to find her nose almost touching the dirt while a tiny red bug crawled around on top of the soil and leaves on the trail.  I decided to take a little video of their discovery.  We found out later these are called Red Velvet Mites.


The four girls and I arrived back at base camp to find Teacher Alex reading a story to some of the children.  "The Wolf Who Cried Boy", by Bob Hartman, captivated the children.  Teacher Alex did not force the children to listen in an organized circle time.  One child asked her to read, she pulled out the book and children came to listen as they wanted.  They were also free to wander away when the story wasn't holding their attention anymore.  We have found that when children are able to make their own choices about how they spend their time, they learn so much more, they ask questions and beomce more curious about the world around them!


After the children had time to listen to a story, some kiddos played in "THE HOLE", some organized their own game of forest zombie firefighters and some discovered that they could use a marker to color in the bottom of their drinking cup (don't worry, they didn't drink out of them at this point), put water in the cup and the water would turn colors!  We decided that using our drinking water for this discovery activity would not be a good idea so we took a stroll down to the water's edge to continue our inquiry study on markers and water!  


Once we got to the pond, the children found water bugs and were fashioning up contratptions to try and catch them! 


We ended the day with full bellies from a shared snack, pockets full of snail shells and questions about the elusive Morel mushroom. 

The View of the Child: Child Observation

Written by Kristen Peterson

As a forest school practitioner, I am always on a journey with the children.  It is a journey of discovery, learning, investigation, curiosity, wonder and imagination.  A large part of my job as a co-conspirator of play is to be aware of all of the learning taking place around me, all of the time!  The following photos show the children and I in our magical "mushroom forest".  We arrived to the site to find that someone had built two amazing forts.  Of course, the children moved right in and immediately started to play robbers, jail and puppies. 



As a forest school practitioner, we are always finding ways to scaffold on prior information and interests, develop experiences to build on those interests and experiences, and let children take this new information or ideas and run with it!  It is my job to set back and let the children discover new ideas and play schemas on their own.  In the video below, the children are holding me captive.  You will notice that I do not offer any new ideas at this time, I simply play along and do what they tell me to do.  In this way, their play is genuine and they stay fully engaged and in control of their own learning.   


On this day, there were few different play types that occurred.  We saw cooperative play (children adding to each other's stories to develop the story line), imaginative/fantasy play (dungeons, robbers and wolf puppies), onlooker play (children who weren't quite ready to join in created their own fantasy world similar to what others were playing) and solitary play (a child playing baby puppy on her own in one of the forts). 


Large play took place mid-way into our day when the children stumbled upon an old mattress left in the woods.  Jumping, negotiating and compromises were all taking place as the children jumped the afternoon away!  This is the magic of forest school, following the lead of the children! 



View of the Child - Development of Emotional Intelligence

Written by Kristen Peterson

In the last blog post, I reflected on development of the "whole child" as it relates to our experiences at forest school.  Today, I will unpack the role of the educator in supporting children's emotional intelligence and self concept at forest school.  Social and Emotional development is often seen as one of the most important factors when determining if a child is "kindergarten ready". 

What is emotional intelligence and why is this important?

According to Daniel Goleman, phycologist and author of the 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, there are five components to emotional intelligence.  These include emotional self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.  When these five areas are fostered in the early childhood years, children will have greater success in school, life and career.  Forest and nature school is an ideal place to foster emotional intelligence and it is of utmost importance for the educator to recognize and foster these skills.

Emotional Self Awareness

Emotional self awareness is the ability to recognize one's own feelings and understand how their mood and actions can affect others around them.  At forest school, teachers take great care to talk about emotions out loud, label them, and let children know that all emotions are ok to have.  I often find myself saying things such as, "You are mad.  You wanted to have a turn crossing the log first."  By labeling the emotion and identifying the action or event that caused the emotion, we validate the child's feelings and show them we understand their emotions.  We also let children know when their actions and words may affect others in a positive or negative way.  "When you told her she was a good climber, that made her feel confident."  Or, "When you helped her climb over that big rock, she felt safe."

Self Regulation

Self regulation is the ability to think about one's actions and the consequences that will ensue before acting.  Self-regulation is developed by taking risks, making mistakes, running through large spaces, jumping from high places, screaming as loud as one can, wiggling when one needs to wiggle.  Forest school educators allow space and time for all of these things to happen and support children when necessary. 


Motivation is the drive and ambition to complete a task and achieve one's goals.  Teachers at forest school talk with children about their plans and their interests.  By finding out this information through conversation and observation, teachers are better able to scaffold on experiences to allow children to reach new goals and information.


Empathy is the sensing of others' emotions.  Empathy is a vast concept and is not something that can be instructed or taught.  Empathy is developed by a variety of factors including, parent and child connection, temperament, genetics, brain development, and relationships (McDonald & Messenger).  Most of these are out of the control of the forest school educator, however, the educator can model empathy in the forest school setting.

Social Skills

Social skills are the skill set of managing one's emotions, and the skill of interacting and communicating with others.  Forest school educators aid in the development of social skills by providing time for children to make their own choices about who and what they want to play with.

Emotional Intelligence envelops many pieces of the whole child and intertwines with all of the other types of intelligences and developmental domains of each child.  David Sobel states in his book, Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens, that "children can acquire social and emotional abilities in many settings, but few provide as mush stimulation and ever-changing diversity as nature does."   


Sobel, David. (2016) Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens. The Handbook for Outdoor Learning. Redleaf Press.

McDonald, Nicole. Messinger, Daniel. The Development of Empathy: How, When, and Why.  University of Miami. 



Child Development Theory as it Relates to Forest and Nature School

Written by Kristen Peterson

We often hear the phrase "whole child" used in relation to education.  What does "whole child" mean and how does this relate to learning in a forest school setting?

The term "whole child" wraps up all of the components of healthy and well-balanced education.  This is also known as holistic education.   According to Ron Miller (2008), a leading pioneer in holistic education theory, there are four qualities that define a holistic education. The first of these holistic education qualities encourages experiential learning.  According to Peter Gray (2013), a research professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, all people learn through play.  It is through play, discovery, inquiry and engagement with the world and people within, that we learn.  This theory aligns with Miller's theory that children must be able to question, discuss, experiment and actively engage in the learning environment rather than test, grade and compare to others.  This quality is evident at forest school!  Children spend time in free exploration and play.  Ample time is given to explore, create, discover, question and investigate the world! 

The second quality of a holistic education as described by Miller is that "personal relationships are considered to be as important as any academic subject matter".  At forest school, conversations, social skills, self-concept, building a sense of community, and respect are essential to create a program where children feel welcome, safe and loved.  A skilled forest school practitioner understands how to build a community of learners that respects, supports,  engages with and learns from each other. 

According to Miller, the third quality of holistic education is the concern for the self-concept of the child.  This includes feelings, dreams, ideas and questions that each child brings to forest school.  The goal of forest school isn't the transmission of information to others, it is experiences that foster a fuel inside the child.  These can be dreams of what can happen tomorrow, ideas that can be practiced today, and questions that are ongoing!  We scaffold learning and inquiry through experiences and questions and celebrate diversity in the children each day at forest school. 

The last core quality of holistic education is a consciousness of ecology.  Asforest school practitioners, we know that everything in the world is connected in some way, shape or form.  We must respect the cultural and natural diversity of the world around us!  This quality is fostered through regular time spent in nature; a deep connection with a natural space.

To conclude, the whole child is developed at forest school.  Children are given the time and space to communicate with others, develop self-concept, question about the world around them, investigate small and large wonders of nature, connect with people and nature, and play freely in an environment with supportive adults. 


Gray, Peter. (2013).  Free to Learn:  Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.  Basic Books.

Kochhar-Bryant, Carol A. (2010).  Effective Collaboration for Educating the Whole Child.  Sage Publishing.