#1130 Forest School

Learner Led Learning

Forests – amazing classroom potential

It seems wherever we go in life we keep circling back to similar themes. I started teaching in the outdoors with Outward Bound in the mid 1990s and am returning to a taste of different outdoor teaching with Chelsea Forest School. The path to now has been an interesting one as my teaching philosophy continues to develop…

At school I excelled within the arts – physics and engineering were far from my core interests… until I needed them for an arts-based application.

About four years ago I wanted to buy a very large format camera to pursue a new part of my Watershed project. The negative from this camera is eight inches by ten inches. It’s a big camera. It wasn’t long before I realized the easiest way to acquire one (they’re expensive and scarce) was to build one myself. All of a sudden, I had a new passion for the physics of light applicable to designing and building a camera…. It made learning easy.

large format camera

Learning math and science through art…

This experience helped shape my philosophy of education.

During Teacher’s College I discovered  Forest School. I started learning about Forest School’s Learner Led Learning philosophy and fell in love with the idea. Why? At Forest School students are the driving force in their learning. Their teachers’ role is to build the curriculum around the students’ interests. Learners learn because they direct the learning… I wangled a way to visit a Forest School as part of my practicum and enjoyed what I saw.

Last year I had a great year. I led a traditional, but active, classroom. For me that meant as little sitting at desks as possible, more spirited debates, less worksheets, more hands-on learning. It wasn’t Forest School but I brought influences from many philosophies to the classroom.

Grade 4 classroom

Traditional Classroom Teaching

I saw the benefits of an active class. One of my students last year had had a tough year the year before. Initially he didn’t want to go to school. By the end of the year all that changed. I received a letter from his home that described the boy as thriving – his desire to skip school had vanished. Active learning has its benefits. Stories like this made me smile (more.)

This year I’m exploring my passions in teaching and enjoying some different contracts / opportunities…

I feel fortunate to be working a contract at Chelsea Forest School. The Learner Led Learning model is central to the teaching at the school. My job is to provide an environment that supports their interests and to build the curriculum around their passions. We spend almost all the time outside, in or near a forest.

child led learning

Chelsea Forest School learning

As a teacher it’s challenging – we need to support environments conducive to learning and be a catalyst as children discover and become engrossed in animal tracks, snow sculptures, bugs, imaginary space ships.

As a teacher it’s also lovely – watching students discovering, wandering, counting, building. I’ve never had to urge a Forest School student to get on with their work. Ever. Children always find something interesting and their work becomes play. And they learn!

… My 8×10 plywood camera still works well. It was designed and built with the zeal of true  intrigue – the essence of positive learning. That’s what learning looks like for me.

Home-made large format camera.

Home-made large format camera.

2 thoughts on “#1130 Forest School

  1. Harry, what an inspiring and well written article. I really admire your approach to learning and teaching.

  2. Thanks Fiona – I’ve always enjoyed teaching and always found it more effective (as a learner and teacher) if the learning was not constrained by limitations of walls, desks or short-sighted ideas.

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