What Is Forest School?

“Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.” ~ Erin Kenny, founder of Cedarsong Nature School on Vashon Island, Wash.

INTRODUCTION

Imagine a first day at school where your parents drop you off not at a building, but at the edge of a forest. You see no playground, just trees and meadows. A smiling teacher greets you and invites you to place your lunch in her large pack basket. You sit on a log in a small circle and meet your classmates for the year. You will soon be spending the rest of the day exploring your “classroom”, which others call “nature”. You will come to view plants, stones and animals as fascinating teachers that capture your curiosity with new seasonal changes to notice every day. This could be a first day of school for a Forest Kindergarten student.” – The Canadian Forest School Movement by ZABE MACEACHREN, Queen’s University (LEARNing Landscapes | Vol. 7, No. 1, Autumn 2013)

Langley Forest School is a place-based emergent learning preschool near the heart of historic Fort Langley, that also offers Outdoor Experience Days for children currently enrolled in Kindergarten and Grade 1. We help develop and nurture values that will prepare your child for later years – socially, physically, emotionally and intellectually.

In order to build on the success of our program, we introduced the forest school model in the 2014-15 school year. We launched our forest school program on the belief that not only do children thrive in a play-based learning environment, but that extensive time outdoors can only serve to enhance their learning.

We believe that today’s children are spending less time outside and more time indoors engaged in technology-driven activities. We believe that as parents and educators, it is our responsibility to steer our children away from this “nature-deficit-disorder” (Last Child Left in the Woods by RICHARD LOUV – 2005).

Our forest school program serves to reconnect children with our ever changing environment, while creating a base of knowledge surrounding the importance of community and sustainability. The first of its kind in the Fraser Valley, our school meets children’s needs for self-esteem, leadership skills and environmental stewardship, while enhancing each child’s connection to their natural environment and meeting a community need for alternative school options.

We are a non-profit school, managed by its Board of Directors and school Principal. Our fully licensed ECE teachers and B.C. Certified teacher develop an outdoor curriculum while running each class with the voluntary assistance of parents. Our program remains affordable through parent volunteerism and allows parents to be more actively involved in their child’s education should they choose to do so.

WHAT IS FOREST SCHOOL?

Forest school curriculum is largely emergent, child-directed, and play-based. The ethos of forest school allows learners the time and space to develop their interests, skills, and understanding through practical, hands-on experiences. At a forest school, children have the freedom to explore, play, build, create, imagine, and use their senses to experience the outdoor environment and engage with one another. Sustainability is woven into the culture of the classroom, and as nature becomes the third teacher, sustainability becomes the foundation on which both children and teachers stand.

There is a strong emphasis on educators observing, learning with, and teaching students in the context of the environment. This process of observation allows children the space and opportunity to delve into various activities and experiences guided by their imagination, rather than explicit, external direction. It also leads to a process of inquiry in which educators’ primary role is to ask a multitude of questions based on what is emerging from a student’s questions, experiences, and imagination. The guiding principle at a forest school is that children are competent and engaged learners, and with guidance and support, are able to lead their own learning process in directions far beyond what an educator can initiate on their own.

The activities that happen in a forest school also vary, depending on the season, climate, landscape, animals that have visited the night before, trees that have blown down in the wind, the kinds of provocations elicited by the educator, various tools and loose parts for building and creating, the children who are in attendance, how long the group has been formed, and most importantly, what interests the child. Sometimes children will work independently, finding solace in their own world and creations and ponderings. Other times children will work collaboratively to create something, problem solve, support one another, dream of a bigger and better world. FS can often be described as a ‘magical’ thing to witness, as it’s often a microcosm of collaboration, communication, trust building, and a working model of consensus building. (Forest Schools Canada, 2014)

BENEFITS OF FOREST SCHOOL

  • Improves health (environmental, physical, emotional, mental)
  • Develops of fine and gross motor skills
  • Increases understanding of and appreciation for nature
  • Augments ecological literacy
  • Makes additional resources available for managing difficult behaviours
  • Accommodates multiple learning styles
  • Affordable and community-enhancing way to deal with school space issues
  • Promotes safe risk-taking, and reduces harmful and hazardous behaviours
  • Creates sustainable and healthy communities
  • Encourages problem-solving skills
  • Improves communication skills
  • Creates engaged and passionate learners
  • Motivates engaged and passionate educators
  • Supports creative and imaginative thinking
  • Empowers learners
  • Boosts self-esteem
  • Increases “school readiness” (when children transition into traditional school environments)
  • Provides greater concentration skills
  • Students experience fewer sick days (Forest Schools Canada, 2014)

OUR CORE VALUES

Play-based learning We believe that children should be allowed to develop at their own pace and to the fullest of their ability. We believe that by having choice in play, they learn and grow in their own unique way. This develops important skills that lay the foundations for reading, writing and mathematics, problem-solving and decision-making, social and emotional growth and many other skills needed throughout their lives.

Environmental Sustainability We believe that it is our responsibility to care for and protect our environment. We believe that this desire to preserve our natural spaces begins by developing our innate curiosities and nurturing our bodies by spending as much time outside as possible. Our aim is to create a learning environment that captivates little minds without overwhelming or over stimulating them.

Parent Involvement We believe that parent involvement in school fosters a child’s sense of self-worth and security, and strengthens parenting skills. We value the importance of family and community in our children’s development. As the parents and teacher work together to build trust and confidence in the children, a strong future is gained for your child and our community at large.

Community Involvement We believe in the importance of family and active participation in the community. Field trips, family days and activities that include siblings and participation in community events are a few of the ways that we make this part of our program a reality for our children.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT FOR YOUR CHILD

  • Small class sizes and a small teacher to student ratio
  • The natural world as their classroom, regardless of weather
  • Learning through composting, planting and harvesting
  • Life-long skills: working cooperatively, building relationships, managing stress and anxiety + understanding and expressing emotions
  • Community guests and involvement for curriculum enhancement
  • Child-directed emergent learning
  • Connection to place and our environment

VOLUNTEER EXPECTATIONS

The success of Langley Forest School (LFS) and the subsequent development and maintenance of the school depends on our family volunteers. A minimum of 2 hours/month or an annual total of 20 hours of volunteer time must be provided to LFS per family per school year. If multiple children (of the same immediate family) are registered in the same school year only 2 hours/month or an annual total 20 hours of volunteer time is required for the school year. There are many opportunities, which if volunteers did not fill, would result in several integral aspects of the forest school not being available to students. It is a mandatory registration requirement to write a volunteer deposit cheque of $250, payable to the Langley Forest School and  dated June 30 2017. The deposit cheque will be collected at the time of registration, as will your choice for volunteer activities. Volunteering for our annual gala fundraiser is mandatory.

PROGRAM + FEE STRUCTURE

REGISTRATION FEE // $50

Preschool
Monday + Wednesday // 9:30am – 1:30pm $2500/year
Tuesday + Thursday // 9:30am – 1:30pm $2500/year
Monday + Tuesday + Wednesday + Thursday // 9:30am – 1:30pm $4250/year

Outdoor Experience Days (Kindergarten + Grade 1)
Friday // 9:30am – 2:00pm $300/term

SITE LOCATION

Our school is based in Williams Park, Langley, B.C.

SAFETY

Children’s safety is very important to us at Langley Forest School. Our excellent adult-to-child ratio allows for vigilant, quality supervision of the children at all times. Our educators are all first-aid trained and are encouraged to obtain their wilderness-specific first aid training as well. All teachers and parents who volunteer with the children must complete a criminal record check. A thorough site assessment will be completed the morning of each school day to ensure that our environment is a safe place in which the children can learn.

ENROLMENT

Priority enrolment is given to returning students and siblings of families currently enrolled in the school. In the event that a class is full, a waiting list will be established.

To be eligible for preschool enrolment, children must be fully toilet trained and three years of age at least 3 months prior to their start date. A non-refundable registration fee of $50.00 is required.

Contact Langley Forest School for more information:
learn@langleyforestschool.com