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!
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.
What Our Clients Are Saying
“While our boys attended Worldmind Nature Immersion School (WNIS), they have shown significant improvement with their emotional intelligence, mental and physical health, and social competence- among other developmental skills emerged through WNIS ECE program. We believe these elements are breakthrough impacts- foundational prerequisites for success in school, the workplace, and developing future environmental stewards in our nature-deficient society. WNIS ECE program shifts core concepts in early childhood development that forces us as parents into rethinking current health and education policies.”
"Our family across ages has been deeply impacted by WNIS, but the most interesting has been our youngest. She was only 4 months old when we began, and spent much of her first winter bundled up on my back at school, but once she could be down there was no stopping her. She exhibits a level of independence that her two older sisters took much longer to come to. She walked sooner, talked sooner, and is easily content with nothing but the elements to play with. As a whole. my children have moved away from the need for any toys in general, and prefer their imaginations. I believe we are as a family much healthier as well. In one of the worst winter seasons currently, and my kids barely have a sniffle. Including my baby."
“WNIS is the kind of place you can leave your child knowing that they will be empathized with, understood, and empowered - rare but highly valued qualities.”