We began the 5-day session by joining in a circle in the open concept eating, gathering room at Tawingo College, a beautiful 150-acre campus that also has an Outdoor Kindergarten. We were invited to introduce ourselves by stating our name, followed by an animal and then a sound associated with this animal. Shortly after this introduction, we headed outdoors and then spent the remainder of the week there with the exception of a few indoor sessions necessitated by the need for AV equipment. Five days in a forest was something I could not imagine myself ever doing and here I was sitting around a campfire listening to the stories of our amazing facilitators, Marlene Power and John Cree.
Many hours every day were spent talking and learning around the fire.
I knew going into the forest that I was stepping way out of my comfort zone! It had been decades since I had “roughed it” and as I told the group on our first day together – I have long been a creature of comfort. I tend to avoid the cold, the wet and the bugs. My knife skills outside my kitchen have never been used and while I consider myself a great cook, I have cut myself often. I also bump into things on a regular basis and am considered a klutz. I think it is because I am always in my head, thinking deeply about teaching, learning, and relationships. I am always coming up with visions and ideas. In the forest I heeded Jon’s words and got out of my head. I became mindful of my surroundings and took on challenges carefully. I listened with deep consideration to what I was being taught by those more knowledgeable than myself. I used a bow saw, whittled with a knife and tied knots. I came out of the forest more confident of my capacity to learn new things and more aware of my surroundings, especially the natural ones.
In the three decades I have spent teaching others to teach, my commitment has always been to create a respectful and caring learning environment. I know now, since my forest days, that the greatest learning environment of all is outside the confines of four walls and a roof. I took a 45-minute walk this morning through my local forest. I could see the forest for the trees. I could hear the birds clearer than before. During my walk I thought about this blog post and how my time in the forest at Camp Tawingo has changed me. I am not afraid of rain, cold, bugs or tools anymore because I am knowledgeable and am prepared. I accept that I still have so much to learn and look forward to many more opportunities to spend time outdoors with more knowledgeable others. I know that if I am to continue to teach, I must continue to learn. Maya Angelou’s words are resonating with me this week.
To be a learner is the greatest gift we can give to those whom we teach. I am reminded by my experience in the forest to keep learning. While I think I was the oldest of the 24 others in the forest over those five days, I also think I had the most to learn. It wasn’t easy asking for help and stepping back from a leadership position. I am an extrovert. I like to take charge. During our time in the forest, I listened and learned from others whose life experiences were so different than mine. One of my fondest memories was sitting across from Kim, a kindergarten teacher from a local school who lives and breathes the great outdoors, as she helped me overcome my fear of knives during a lovely whittling session. I saw firsthand the benefits of forest school learning for everyone, children and adults. I encourage early childhood educators to be open to bringing forest school principles into their practice. I will be writing more about how you can do this in the future. Meanwhile, here are some resources to help you think about forest school early learning.
Today, I downloaded the many photos I took while in the forest and I am beginning to come to terms with how amazing the experience. I still need time to process, to continued reflection and most importantly to continued learning. My memories of our five days in the forest will stay with me forever. My favourite memories, not surprisingly, all had to do with food. The bannock I made over the leave no trace fire that we made under our tarps that wet and wonderful day was one of the best things I ever tasted.
Making bannock around the fire.
In the forest school, I found my heart but at the age and stage of my professional career that I am at I don’t see myself as a practicing forest school leader. My vision now is to support the forest school movement in any way I can. I owe it to myself and I owe it to children. I am determined to help the profession that I love – early childhood education, embrace forest school learning and incorporate it into their practice. Trust that in the forest, you will be happy.