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 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 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.