Most everyone loves to swing. Even adults. That's why we have hammocks and porch swings. They are associated with relaxation, rest, and contentment. Maybe that's why kids love to swing too. That and the amazing physical feeling of flying. Swings were always my play structure of choice. I could just concentrate on the movement, the sky, and wind around me. Except this one time when I took my daughter to the playground. There was a father there, pushing his daughter. He kept talking, asking her questions incessantly, and not even different ones. He didn't even realize that she wasn't even answering them. "What color's the sky. The sky is blue," over and over again in a dazed monotone voice, like a board parrot. It was hard not to tap him on the shoulder and tell him to kindly put a cork in it.
Like many parents, this father was only trying to "engage" his child. He couldn't see that she was already engaged, engaged in her wandering mind. All bodies need rest, to find places of non-movenment, non-thinking, without stimuli. Minds need it more. Not sleep, but a slightly more active state. A state of daydreaming. Children are very apt to find this state if we let them, but should we?
Turns out we should. When you see your child go into their own heads, instead of engaging with their physical, immediate surroundings or situations, resist the urge to snap them out of it and let them stay there. Cognitive researchers are finding more and more how important time spent in the wandering state is for creativity and innovation. Analytical thinking is important for problem solving, but it is also counteractive to inspiration.
A Forest Schools setting, being learner led and outdoors, allows for a child to follow their instincts to satisfy their developmental needs. Nature removes distractions and worries, opening a child's mind to receiving new concepts. A child sitting alone by a stream; a child circling the outskirts of the group; a child intently watching an insect crawl. All time well spent without intrusive comments or questions that bring them out of the wandering state of mind.
Einstein believed that linking ideas through a wandering mind is our only path to fresh ideas. It brings clarity and insight, awareness and wisdom. The wonder and amazement of a "Eureka!" moment is the brass ring all educators and parents chase, it encourages our children to learn more about the world, and to follow and actualize their hearts. A wandering mind is not a luxury, or an idle excuse. It does not mean a child can't focus or isn't paying attention. It's a necessity.
Maybe we will go to the park again sometime, and if Mr. "the sky is blue" is there, maybe I will tap him on the shoulder and tell him, "Hey, there is an empty swing over there."
Here is a little story for you. One day, after an afternoon at the creek, a little girl tells her mom, "I brought something home from school today."
"Ok dear", says Mom nonchalantly, expecting a stick maybe or a handful of leaves.
"It's in my shoe", says the little girl.
They get out of the car and while Mom is unloading, she hears a shriek from the front porch.
"Oh no! It's dead."
Mom pops her head out the door to see the little girl holding a flat toad, and she laughs lightly, "Was that in your shoe?"
Learner Lead, Experiential leaning outdoors makes learning more meaningful and therefore more impactful for children. Physical symbols from experiences have naturally and arguably always shaped our human contact with and access to information. Keepsakes, souvenirs, and other found and collected objects, even photos, are representations of our way of physicalizing learning in order to use, or enjoy it. At Worldmind we draw on this ability to help anchor the meaningful learning our children experience at school.
When a child wants to bring home a cherished stick, rock, or other found object, we recognize this as an avenue to solidify the impactful learning that has occurred because of this object. Collection is a powerful memory and reflection tool in Forest School philosophy. When coming back from Forest School training in the UK, when asked to declare any plant materials I was carrying, I looked down at my box of Hawthorn seeds, dried Nettles, and Birch bark pieces, in my carry-on and valiantly lied right to the machine.
There are exceptions of course. Live animals (hence why she put it in her shoe) and invasive plant seeds are on that list. And also, a lot of people don't want mud sculptures or dead fish in their cars. All totally understandable. Parents come up with the most ingenious ways of allowing space for their kids to bring the outdoors with them. One mom has a no-stick-in-the-house rule. Kids can bring them home and play with them in the backyard, but they must stay in the backyard. Another mom used an old printer's drawer to store and organize their nature objects, her son spent hours examining and moving them around. She also had the inspiration to use a plastic storage tub to bring in snow from the yard so they could play with it together in the living room. A teacher brought home a heart carved from ice in her child's lunch box and kept it in the freezer. Many families have a special nature shelf or table for collected objects. We have an old set of miniatures boxes that hang decoratively on the wall. A treasure box is another good option. As for messy things in the car, keep an old Tupperware or plastic shoe box for transporting things that are drippy, crumbly, or stinky.
If your explorer wants to bring home something too large or otherwise "on the no list", or the timing isn't right for collecting, find a creative way to keep the memory of that object. Take a picture with your phone, bring a tiny piece of it, or draw a picture of your kiddo taking it with them. Rules at some places prohibit collecting, that's ok. We also need to honor living things and natural spaces in different ways at different times. Sometimes anything laying on the ground is fair game, other times it's ok to take a little of something as long as we leave most of it. A simple explanation will always do the trick.
Symbolic and Object Play, gathering and collecting are important learning tools that can be used to bring school learning home, strengthen connection and access to information and experiences, or simply bring the outdoors in. Try employing these amazing tools! Send the message to your child that their discoveries are important, and that their bond with the natural world doesn't end at the door.
As it turns out, the toad made an offering to a backyard garden Buddha, and the little girl continues to hunt for toads every time she returns to the creek.
There is something about the outdoors that breaks you down to your core. It makes us fearful, in a way, to be in the wild, yet strangely comfortable, like we are fulfilling some primitive part of ourselves.
Adventures outdoors show us what we are truly made of, instead of how others see us. Kids feel this too. They are receiving messages non-stop about their world. What is their culture, their interests, their abilities?
As parents and teachers, we seek to define our kids in order to understand their motivations and desires, to be better providers, or maybe give praise. We label them innocently, like when we say, “She is the artist in the family”, or sometimes maliciously like when we call children “mean”. Labeling hurts kids in a deep way, and we can communicate just as well without using them.
Think about what our kiddos could be missing out on by being labeled. When we call our kids things like, shy, independent, bossy, aggressive, a big boy, a girly girl others accept those labels and treat our kids like those things. The kids themsleves begin to internalize those labels and use them to define their growing and ever changing sense of self.
In the book, Siblings without Rivalry, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish recount a story where one woman, Ruth, loved to play the piano as a child, but had a hard time progressing. While her sister, who wasn’t taking lessons, could play every note perfectly. Ruth told her mother she wanted to quit because she was so disappointed in her own ability. Her mother let her quit, and Ruth had always regretted it.
For some reason, we have the idea that our “selves” are stagnant. We have a specific personality, with fixed attributes and aptitudes. We also think this about our intelligence: “I’m not a math person.” In reality, Psychology is learning that development is never stagnant or set. Not when we are born, and not when we are 90. Human brains have the capacity to grow and change until death.
What would happen if we could see aptitude, intellegence, and all our other traits as fluid: what if we let them decide, what doors could we open for our children then?
When asked how Ruth would have felt if her mother had told her that she should keep playing the piano because it made her happy, and it didn’t matter how fast or slow you learned, it was the meaning you bring to the music that mattered, she answered, “It would have meant everything to me.”
This post is about thinking of language differently and encouraging confidence in our children by letting them tell us who they are, in their own way and time. We all want to encourage and understand our children. We want to know them in order to guide them, but if we are not mindful of the framework which we use to do so, we can also shut our kiddos down and lock them out of hidden potential.
If they could, our children would tell us they need us to believe they can be everything, because then they will believe that they can be anything, whatever it is that they need to be. Kids need us to see their capacity for both fear and boldness, both leadership and support. They need to know how to fulfill both their own needs and the needs of others.
Learning in Forest Schools presents many opportunities, times for doubt and selfishness, teamwork and triumph. At Worldmind, it is important that children experience it all, and that we don’t let labels limit them.
One of the best benefits of forest school is knowledge of nature. We sometimes think that kids will automatically understand night and day, seasons, plants, and animals, but they need to truly experience these things in ways that are meaningful to them in order to connect.
Sounds good right? But in practice, really grabbing hold of a child’s attention, and turning curiosity into passion can be tough!
Out one day, a boy sees a bug, a BIG bug! Excitedly he runs to his mother. “Come and see what I found!”, he tells her. Together they run to the place of the bug, and there it is, gracefully perched on a slim branch.
“It’s a preying mantis,” says the mother.
“Oh,” says the boy, and he runs off.
When a child is curious about something, our first inclination is to name it. We think it must be important to know what that something is. But as in the story above, once we name the object of curiosity, the child’s interest is lost. I want to invite you to try it different way. Instead of labeling the object, ask a question. By asking questions, we keep the child’s interest, fueling their curoisity.
Out one day, a boy sees a bug, a BIG bug! Excitedly he runs to his mother. “Come and see what I found," he tells her. Together they run to the place of the bug, and there it is, gracefully perched on a slim branch.
“Wow, look what you found!” says the mother, “What do think it is?”
“I don’t know,” says the boy, "A spider.”
“Hmm, how many legs does it have?”
“I think I remember that spiders have eight legs, but insects have six.”
“Maybe it’s an insect!” shouts the boy happily, and off he runs shouting, “I found an insect, I found an insect!”
In the second story, mom recognized and affirmed the boys interest in the bug, then used leading questions to open a dialogue about it. She introduced a little academic info into the mix to give a clue that lead the boy to his own conclusion.
When we just give the answer right away in the form of a name, we smush the child's own intrinsic desire for knowledge. Another boy was very excited about a rare bird he had spotted, when asked how he knew he had found that bird, he replied, "because the teacher said so."
Scott Sampson wrote in his book, How to Raise a Wild Child, about the “Sage on the Stage” vs. the “Guide Beside”. The Sage is preoccupied with labeling everything they see, they may feel strongly about knowing what a thing is called. After all it does seem smart to give an epithet, like Coopers Hawk, but if we are not paying attention to that creatures features, habits, and lifestyle, all we know is it's name.
At Worldmind, we practice the second approach. When your student makes a discovery, instead of giving it name and rattling off all the facts, like the Sage, try asking leading questions. Aim for one question for every year of your child’s age. Your kiddo’s conclusions will delight and amaze you.
It is likely that you guys will never make it to the correct answer to your questions, and that’s ok! The goal is to help your kiddo notice details about their object of interest, to maximize the amount of time spent interacting with it, and to ensure they trust their own intuitive, deductive process.
As parents, one of our first instincts is to make our kids comfortable, and we learn quickly that our lives are all better overall when we do. When kids are comfortable and happy, no one is crying or yelling. We can be productive and joyful in whatever our activity may be. Nowhere do we understand this more than in nature. It is true that when young kids get uncomfortable in class, our lives get very, very hard. Hard enough to want to want to give up.
In most classes this week, we went on walkabouts to explore our class area. We even ended the week with our school backpacking trip to Hagerman Lake. Sometimes, explorations go great. Other times, they don’t. Sometimes, you walk forever through blazing heat and waist high grass only to find a bee hive at your destination, and have to go back. Sometimes, the whole trail has become a stream, and the only choice is to press forward, cold water filling your boots. Sometimes, you have to keep going when things go wrong.
But how do you “teach” fortitude, endurance, and perseverance? In education, they call it “grit” and studies have shown that it is the number one indicator of student success. One blessing we have from when things get hard outside, is the opportunity to help our kids develop grit. By helping them to overcome cold hands, wet feet, exhaustion, and cactus spines, we are giving them the prowess they need to overcome duress and failure. It’s a rare chance to let them practice resiliency, and they will emerge from that experience with strong feelings of confidence and mastery.
A bunch of crying and upset kiddos tromping through the wilderness is tough to witness and Worldmind ALWAYS supports a parent’s decision to leave class, but before you do, give a moments thought to the power of adversity. These skills are best developed slowly, at a personal pace. If safety isn’t a factor, maybe you will decide to take it moment to moment and see what happens. Maybe it’s still best to go, but don’t leave without remembering all you accomplished that day.
Our parents often question why we take kids into perilous conditions, why not scout ahead before class and plan a safer, fail-proof route. It would be nice to know exactly what was ahead of us on our path in life, to know that we would never slip, fail, or meet with disaster. But we can’t know that in real life, and that’s why we don’t do it when learning outside. If our kids never experience authentic hardship, they can never experience tenacity, or determination, or actualization. Explorers and innovators charge though life no matter what meets them, and so do we.
There is value in both ease and adversity, and we won’t know which it will be if we don’t try. A lot of times, exploring outside is wonderful. Other times, the outcome is different. The key to the outdoors and to life, is not knowing what lays ahead, it’s knowing that we will make it either way.
“Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors.”- Proverb
We are well into our Fall semester and we have experienced a lot in the past few weeks. As we watch the season changing, we are noticing big changes in our outdoor classrooms and in our kiddos too.
We have seen water in our spaces dry up to reveal rock wonderlands that house many new critters. Meadows and grassy places have wilted away in preparation for a restful winter. We have seen some new friendships forming, and a lot of blossoming confidence and skill!
Community building is one of the cornerstones of Forest Schools Education, and the best place to start a childhood journey. Why is a strong community important? Because it is where each member is recognized and supported by all the others. It is a wonderful environment for gaining all kinds Emotional Intelligence skills that lead to Self- Actualization, or the realization of a child’s full, whole human potential.
When talking about Forest Schools, the few people who have even heard of it always mention tool use, fire tending, shelter building, and study of our natural world: and it is about those physical, tangible things, but it is also about something hidden, something underneath what it looks like on the outside.
At Worldmind we know what it’s really about and soon you will too. It may surprise you that kids don’t automatically like each other. They need time and experience to learn about each other and find value in one another. To start building our community we need to forage some bonds, and we do this by orchestrating shared experiences. With time, patience, and a little playfulness, we can take a group who has no knowledge of each other and turn them into an authentic community with deep senses of connection to each other. One way we do this in Forest Schools is with games.
At school the past few weeks you probably played or heard about the game 1-2-3 where are you. This is a simple hiding game but as you can guess, there is something more important underneath. The call and response makes everyone feel safe and cared about. It reinforces the signal that…
“Yes, I am out of site from my grown-up or classmates, I may be all alone, but they are looking for me and care about where I am. I am connected to them with my voice.” Once found the group works together to find the others, and how good does it feel to have the whole group find you and be so excited to see you? If you have played you know! Games like these have a whole host of other benefits too, but we will save those for another time.
Sometimes, when we gather the group, we play sticky elbows, where we pretend our elbows are stuck together. This little game helps to overcome the body touch barrier. It is an invitation to touch someone else, which can be a source of anxiety, both about touching and being touched. So it is a good gage for us to measure how comfortable the community members are feeling with each other, and thus how our community is growing stronger.
The concept of Community Building is what leads us in every preparation for class. It guides us through conflict, and strong or negative emotions. We are not interested in a group management approach with paring/grouping, directives, time limits, and consequences. These things can undermine and destroy what we are trying to build. We are looking for deep connection on a human level, not a hierarchical or tokenistic one.
Once we are on our way to a full sense of community, we see some amazing things happen. Kiddos who never noticed each other before or who were apprehensive of others, suddenly play together, and work together. They begin to spontaneously and genuinely care when another member gets upset or hurt, and DO SOMETHING about it. Kiddos who had worries about the dirt or water overcome their worries and dig and splash. Kiddos begin to have a go at new or risky experiences like climbing and entering group play. They show more ownership, agency, and independence in themselves and their space.
Knot tying and and plant identification are good skills, but Forest School is about a lot more than that. It is about developing and enhancing the human experiences of our children, so that they can grow into healthy adults and achieve whatever is important to them on their path in life.
As the natural world slows down around us, we continue to carefully tend the seeds of our community that we planted the day our class started, more than 6 weeks ago.
We hope you have seen some great things too!
See you outside!
January 4, 2018
It’s a brand new year! Our earth is continuing on it’s trip around the sun, and our explorations of the seasons continue as well. One of the first questions we get about Forest School is, “So what do you do during the winter, just go inside?” Apprehensive feelings about going to school outside during the winter are normal and natural! There are some new hazards to mitigate, but also many wonderful learning opportunities!
This question always helps us to consider…..What DO we do during the winter? Why NOT go inside?
Our focus in the fall session was on leaves and animals and the changes they experience seasonally. Throughout Winter session we continue these explorations with a focus on tracking. When looking for animal signs, we can do everything from counting and comparing, drawing, creating, building, to storytelling.
Cold temps provide chances for supportive social learning, and get us moving with games that build our community and forge friendships. Presence of snow and ice present us with new natural materials we can use, new ideas for artistic expression, engineering, and imagination.
But the benefits don’t stop there! In terms of wholeness and wellness we can practice self-care and resilience. Winter weather can help our kiddos learn to overcome unfavorable circumstances and find hidden chances for joy. It teaches them how strong they are and sends the message, “I can depend on my community. I can survive being cold or even miserable.” It can help them strategize and implement ways to help themselves, “do I need more mittens, how about if I put a hat on?”
If the thought of cold, wet, or snowy conditions feels discouraging, you are not alone! Going out in less than favorable weather is daunting, recognize and honor that! It takes preparation and practice but the blessings are well worth it.
Here are some of our parents’ best tips for winter days:
June 10, 2017
If you are reading this, Congratulations! on your decision to honor your child’s right to outdoor, unstructured, free play. At Worldmind Nature Immersion School students learn in an outdoor setting, year round, rain, snow, or sunshine. Worldmind students learn a love of literacy, numeracy, and science. They make discoveries and drive their own experiences, like building a bird’s nest or fishing with poles made from sticks and reeds. They learn to genuinely care for others and their world. They learn that they are each wonderful, capable, and important human beings.
Our school strives to foster deep connection to nature through exploration of our planet's rhythms, cycles, and systems, and through reflection on our special place within them.
Each post will explore anything from nature themes, to wild parenting, Ecological Consciousness, and Social-Emotional growth, providing a platform for reflection, discussion, and inspiration.
Thank you so much for tuning in, chiming in, and jumping in. See you outside!
Caroline Griesel holds a Bachelors in Zoology with Entomology focus from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She has combined 7 years experience in education, including teaching children's English classes in Japan, and being a Para-professional in public schools. She also spent some time in Ecotourism, researching ecological relationships between ants and sea birds, and guiding kayak tours to the research site. She is currently working on a Level 3 Practitioner Certification from the Forest School Association in the UK. A childhood fishing and combing the beaches of Galveston, Texas inspired her to ensure a lifelong connection to nature and self-discovery through nature are possible for everyone. She is an amateur naturalist and adventurer, who loves curating her collection of rocks and minerals, stargazing, and bushcraft.