Learn Naturally—Tree House Learning

Guest posting by April Gutensohn:

When you think back to your childhood what are your favourite memories of play? Where were you and what were you doing? Running through open fields chasing butterflies? Building clubhouses in woodland areas? Playing on beaches, looking for critters under rocks? Climbing trees and making mud pies? My memories are made up of all of these experiences and more. In fact, my fondest recollections of childhood play all have one thing in common—nature. Do yours? Will your childrenʼs?

We all have very full lives that are short on time and, therefore, we may not all have time to allow our children those valuable moments in nature to not only investigate, explore and understand but also to find a connection to and learn a respect for the natural world around them. Tree House Learning, Hamʼs local Forest School, is a way to provide your child with an opportunity to do all of these things.

Forest School is an innovative educational approach that focuses on the processes of learning rather than content transfer. It is play based, child led learning that takes place in the outdoors. It is a way of stimulating a childʼs innate creativity and providing a learning environment that utilises the senses of touch, hearing, sight and smell. It is about connecting with the natural world and learning to manage risk. It is letting the children, naturally, through their play, lead the learning in a woodland setting.

As the focus is on the process of learning, Forest School leaders have to step outside the box of lesson planning and venture into the exciting territory of the unexpected, unplanned and unlimited. The leader facilitates learning by providing opportunities for children to explore and discover through open-ended activities in a woodland space, scaffolding new understandings as they emerge. Rather than a teacher-directed environment, the children lead through their play and the leader observes the children, ready to capitalise on and facilitate within the teachable moment.

Forest School provides a place for children to be children. It provides a known, natural space for them to explore, assess risks and participate in educational activities.  The children are taught how to use full size tools and are trusted to use them appropriately. They are presented with a range of activities and are given the freedom and space to choose the activities when they are comfortable and ready to attempt them. It not only provides them with an opportunity to be in an outdoor space with their peers, communicating with them, cooperating with them, collaborating with them in order to achieve a common goal but also provides them space to sit and be still on their own if that is what they need.

Forest School provides a platform for our children to live those vivid, treasured moments of childhood that most of us can remember but may be unable (for one reason or another) to provide for our children—that free play with your friends out in a natural environment, that space to climb trees, make mud pies, build dens and play hide and seek.


April Gutensohn is a mother of two (Ethan aged 5 and Tegan aged 3) as well as a Canadian trained primary teacher and founder of Tree House Learning www.treehouselearning.co.uk — a small, not-for-profit Forest School in Ham, Richmond upon Thames, Surrey.



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