Reflections on Another Year in the Forest

As my third year of Forest Fridays comes to a close, I am doing a lot of reflecting on the days gone by as well as a fair amount of dreaming and planning about future days. Here are my top takeaways from the 2017-2018 school year.

Unstructured play is just as valuable as a carefully-planned lesson. (Photo: Alyse Panitz Photography)
  1. Flexibility is good. Yes, I know this sounds obvious, but I am a classic type A personality who thrives on order, plans, and structure. I have spent a lot of time developing and writing lesson plans for my year-long nature immersion curriculum, and thus I am rather invested in seeing these lessons carried out with fidelity. This year, though, on more than one occasion I found myself scrapping my plans for the day and just letting the kids play. A few times I even forgot my plans and materials at school, which was perhaps a subconscious decision to live in the moment.
  2. Teachers want to go outside (but aren’t sure how). In January I had the privilege of leading a professional development session at The Center for Progressive Education’s Winter Institute, and my main takeaway was that teachers clearly understand the importance of connecting children to nature and really want to go outside more, but they lack the resources, knowledge, and support to actually do it. Enter my eBook Teaching Outside: 20 Quick & Easy Outdoor Education Activities for ChildrenThe inspiration for this book was the many conversations I’ve had with educators and parents who asked me if I had any easy activities they could do with their children outside. Why yes, I do! And now they’re all compiled in this handy-dandy book. (P.S. Want it on Kindle?  I’ve got you covered.)
  3. Outdoor time is as good for the adults as it is for the kids. The research is clear: spending time in nature decreases stress, promotes focus, and improves mental health. These benefits are as true for adults as they are for children, and even just a couple hours outside is enough to get the positive boost. The Nature Pyramid recommends everyone spend at least one hour weekly in an intentional nature area, and Forest Fridays provided the perfect built-in opportunity for me to get my weekly fix. I hear over and over again from parents who join us in the forest that they had so much more fun than they had expected, and almost all of them ask when they can come again. Mission: accomplished.
  4. Every day should include outdoor time. I made a conscious effort this year to teach outside multiple times per week rather than saving it all for Fridays. We had Morning Meetings outside every Wednesday, and we experimented with doing Readers Workshop, Guided Reading, Writers Workshop, and math out on the yard at various times. I’ll admit, it takes commitment and there were definitely times when I thought to myself, but it would be so much easier to just do this inside. Never once did I regret the extra effort involved in moving a lesson or activity outdoors, though. (Curious how to do this? Check out my post about how to adapt a mandated curriculum for your outdoor classroom.)
  5. Parents love that their children are regularly getting outside, rain or shine, hot or cold. One of my biggest fears when I started Forest Fridays was that the parents and other teachers would not support the program, or, worse, would actively fight against it. Happily, this fear proved unfounded. (If you are encountering resistance, though, check out these 5 Ways to Get Parent Buy-In). The feedback I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive, and many parents have raved to me that they love my commitment to getting the kids outside even in the most inclement weather conditions. I’ve also heard many anecdotes of kids taking their families outside on the weekends and teaching them about edible plants and how to track animals. Stories like this not only fill me with warm fuzzies but also give me hope for the future. 

 

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