When you think about your childhood, what are some of your best memories?
Many of them probably involved playing and exploring outdoors.
Unfortunately, many children today do not have this opportunity. Children are often left at home due to electronic devices and other distractions. The developmental benefits of outdoor play are lost.
This is where forest school comes into play. Forest School combines nature with education to provide the best outdoor learning experience.
Since September 2017, MacGregor Point Provincial Park is home to the Saugeen Shores Forest School, the first forest school in a provincial park in Ontario.
What is forest school?
Saugeen Shores Forest School offers fully outdoor, play-based, child-centered programs at MacGregor Point. The program runs two days a week and is open to children ages 18 months to 12 years.
This type of education focuses less on academic facts and instead gives children the opportunity to play freely in nature.
Children spend most or all of the day outdoors learning about their natural environment, regardless of the weather.
Certified teachers (one for every six students) share the enthusiasm for nature and collaborate in the child’s learning process.
How does it work?
The school’s base camp is located in the day use area at MacGregor Point.
The school uses a large renovated trailer as its indoor school space. The trailer is accessible year-round, however, it is only necessary during the winter months for children to warm up, change clothes, and eat their snacks and lunches.
Children will also stay inside in case of thunder, lightning, extreme heat or extreme cold.
Otherwise, children spend the day doing practical classes outdoors.
What do they learn?
Play is an important part of Saugeen Shores Forest School.
Children love to play and play often reflects what is important in their lives. Children play for different reasons, whether to explore new things, practice skills, build relationships, or take physical and emotional risks. Important lessons can be learned from all this.
Students need the risk exposure that is available outdoors. The experience and management of risk is a fundamental part of the forestry school. Children learn about risks and rewards, as well as how to take responsibility for themselves and their actions.
Sometimes children work independently, finding a quiet space with themselves, their creations, and their thoughts. Other times, children work collaboratively to create something, solve problems, or tell stories.
Although forest school is play-based, children are continually exposed to traditional disciplines such as science, mathematics, physical education, literacy, social studies and art.
Using space at MacGregor Point
MacGregor Point offers everything a forestry school needs.
The park offers a complex ecosystem of marshes, marshes, ponds, swamps and peat bogs, bringing a world of wonder to young minds. The fauna that thrives in the park will delight all ages.
In the warmer seasons, our students enjoy a variety of activities in the park. Once the cold weather hits, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skating, and bird watching are some of our favorite winter activities.
Forested areas are used for lessons, exploration and navigation. Students are taught to “leave no trace” while exploring nature.
Using a wooded area allows for games, nature lessons, building temporary shelters, wood carving, knot tying, and learning to use tools. The school uses a fire circle to learn about making a fire and cooking outdoors.
Benefits of forest school
This type of education may seem like a lot of fun, but the benefits are plentiful.
In forest school, children will develop a lifelong relationship with the natural environment. Being outdoors awakens their senses, encourages curiosity, awakens emotions and makes them care about our environment and our history.
The school promotes social inclusion and positive social interactions. Each student is taught confidence, creativity, communication and resilience. Students also learn to work positively with others.
By its nature, the forest school is also very physically active. Outdoor play improves motor skills such as agility, balance and coordination. It reduces disease rates, increases overall use of the senses, and reduces childhood obesity.
Forest school also has emotional benefits. The program has been shown to reduce childhood anxiety and depression. The symptoms of ADD and ADHD are reduced or completely eliminated. Time is spent fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Lastly, it gives children the opportunity to develop independence, autonomy and personal power.
All of these skills pave the way for academic learning and help students succeed in the future.
Spending time in nature is good for you, plain and simple. To learn more about the benefits of spending time outdoors, visit our Healthy Parks Healthy People page.