I have always advocated for children to be outside in all kinds of weather. Our school grounds host a beautiful playground and garden. We frequently take the children on neighborhood walks and we use the surrounding areas to ignite outdoor play and learning. There is a giant forest behind our school and the thought never occurred to us to use it as a learning space. An area that always seemed off limits, almost scary, unknown and a risk. That is until this year.
Knowing the benefits of outdoor learning, this was an aha moment and Forest Fridays was born. The Kindergarten and Pre-K teachers pledged to expose and connect the children to the natural world around them while allowing time to discover, inquire, explore and frankly be kids. We asked parents to send in rain boots and outerwear appropriate for the seasons. Parents obliged and supported our mission of going outdoors every Friday, in all weather. We began our trek into the woods in September. Some children were hesitant as to what we would do and see, while others were ready to run free.
We began with a meeting area and discussed rules of the forest. We brought our forest wagon with supplies and gave the children provocations to extend their learning. Sometimes they extended and sometimes they didn’t. Each week they climbed, balanced, built, chatted and inquired. Sometimes a child pauses when they discover something new, lagging behind the group as they take a closer look. Pretend play takes on new meaning in the forest.
Our forest is home to much suburban wildlife as evidenced by imprints in the snow and fecal droppings We have also witnessed many wildlife visitors from our classroom window; wild turkeys, deer, bears and more. We are acutely aware of the wildlife in the forest.
We understand we are visitors in their habitat and we have learned to be respectful. We spot litter and pick it up, we lower our voices as to not wake or scare animals. We take care of this natural habitat and are cognizant of not disturbing the natural life around us. We enjoy, breath deep and take it all in.
As winter approached, our forest Friday commitment grew stronger. Each week as the weather gets colder we question the Forest Friday journey. Each week we realize it is part of the schedule and the benefits far outweigh the doubts even in frigid temps.
A special shout out to our AMAZING parents for their unwavering support of our program. They send their children in prepared and encourage even the reluctant child. It is really quite astounding to see how this transformation has taken place.
I am in awe at how comfortable and natural the children are in this outdoor learning space they call, “their forest”. They find areas to climb, swing, relax and talk. They talk about everything! They play house, family and school. They build, they create, they learn on their terms. They are interested and engaged in all that surrounds them. They talk about real life happenings at home. There is no competition in the forest, there is only collaboration and camaraderie.
There is patience and tolerance for those that can’t keep up. There is a calmness that can never be matched in a classroom setting. Not once do we hear whining or do we witness sadness because a child has been left out or can’t do something. There is relaxation, comfort and quiet. Each week as the weather gets colder, the children do not question whether we are going into the forest. They put on their snow clothes ..all of it from head to toe. They know and look forward to this weekly adventure. They are at home in the forest and so are the teachers.
As our journey comes to an end each week, the children climb to the top of the hill and sit on a tree log that has fallen to the ground. Once we are all there, they count off. I look closely at their faces and see such happy smiling faces, I think to myself, “yes another successful Friday in the forest!”
Every Friday I go home at 3pm, reflective of the magic of the forest and all its restorative powers. I look forward to the next Friday with the children. As spring approaches, I know new magic will bloom. I am excited to see where the children will lead us and all that we will discover together.