Laurel Tree Forest Kindergarten believes play is an essential way that young children learn and develop.
The following characteristics define play according to Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, “Learning and Developing Through Play.”:
1. Active: In Laurel Tree Forest Kindergarten children are encouraged to interact with the natural world around them. Participants are allowed access to multiple environments to explore, including different terrains and materials. At the beach school site participants have access to sand, water, clay, as well as loose parts such as Eucalyptus seed caps. Participants leap from the edge of the bank and run down the beach. At the forest school site students climb redwood logs, slide down muddy hills and build dens from redwood branches.
2. Adventurous and risky: Participants have access to risky play, which builds resilience. Examples of risky play may include: climbing fallen logs or hallow stumps, swinging on rope swings, climbing rope bridges, sliding down muddy hills, climbing steep terrain, observing mini-beasts, lifting heavy rocks or logs, playing with sticks, building obstacle courses with logs and boards, seesaws on logs, tool use, fire use, etc.
There are safe boundaries in place to mitigate any potential hazards. Participants have the opportunity to assess risks for potential hazards as well as learn to follow agreements that the whole group and/or staff have made.
3. Communicative: Play allows for regular opportunities to communicate with peers. Participants learn to negotiate conflicts and take turns. At Laurel Tree Forest Kindergarten when conflicts arise students may have a “check-in”, sometimes this involves a teacher working to facilitate conflict resolution, sometimes students are able to work differences out on their own. If participants are not following agreements for safety they are asked to “check-in” with the Forest School Leader.
4. Enjoyable: Many studies have shown that learning occurs naturally and easily when participants are playing and having fun. Play is the primary way that young children learn.
5. Involved: At Laurel Tree Forest Kindergarten participants are given time to allow play to develop and evolve. Forest School Leaders provide inspirations for play as well as bring extensions to develop play that is already occurring. When the Forest School Leader observes an interest in a particular play activity they may provide additional supplies to extend this play opportunity. An effort is made to provide primarily natural supplies to the play environment.
6. Meaningful: Participants initiate their own play, make plans for play and communicate these plans to others. Through play participants learn boundaries of their world, strengthen knowledge of their environment and learn to notice and ask questions about the world around them.
7. Sociable and Interactive: Participants have the opportunity to build relationships with peers.
8. Symbolic: Participants learn through their play how to interact in the world. Often stories act as an inspiration to play, building on knowledge and understanding.
9. Therapeutic: Participants are allowed freedom to explore and interact without restrictions. This freedom often leads to increased relaxation and trust in the environment.
10. Voluntary: Participants choose their own activities for play. As long as their play is safe for themselves, others and the environment, there is very little restrictions on the activities chosen.
What is the concept of holistic development and how do you promote it at Forest School?
At Laurel Tree Forest Kindergarten we believe play is the primary way that young children learn. However, we are a public charter school which requires us to develop curriculum based on the Common Core Standards, California Preschool Learning Foundations (for Transitional Kindergarten students) and Next Generation Science Standards. We believe many of these standards can be integrated into the Forest School model. However, we also see a necessity to provide teacher-led instruction to introduce basic skills in reading, writing and math. Our weekly schedule allows for opportunities for outdoor learning (teacher directed learning) and Forest School (student led learning). On Mondays and Fridays we are outdoors on the campus of Laurel Tree. We do small group instruction/activities focusing on letters, numbers, art, baking, gardening, etc. Tuesday through Thursday we are off campus at our nature site.
Tuesday we offer a story, either teacher led or through group storytelling. On Wednesday we offer an opportunity to explore the site in small groups. Students practice the skill of being a leader with the support of an adult as they guide us through the woodland. Thursday we focus on creating a more typical Forest School day. We start the day with a sit spot, sometimes begun with a relaxation story presented by the Forest School Leader or a noticing circle after quiet listening. Students choose a quiet sit spot, encouraging them to return to the same sit spot each week. They can choose to bring their journals if they would like to record what they notice. We then come back to circle to review boundaries, discuss what Forest School activities are available (supplies provided by the teacher and determined by previous interest of the participants) or of interest to students. The only teacher led/required group activity is snack. We believe it is important to have a day that encourages participants to develop their own interests, practice risky play and feel a timelessness to their play. Forest School Leaders and support staff only intervene to redirect hazardous/unkind play or to build upon learning/playing opportunities when participants are interested.
Violet Hales, Forest School Lead Teacher