Nearing the end of August a group of Forest School Practitioners gathered at Lake St. George to plan a Forest School Taster session happening this fall.
We spent several hours sitting around a table, discussing and planning with the beautiful Lake St. George, framed in the window behind us. Before long the trees started to call to us and we headed outside to pick a site.
A Forest School Practitioner cannot resist the invitation to document a tree.
All trees attest to the wonder of evolution, the ability of life to adapt to unexpected challenges and to perpetuate itself over vast periods of time. (Suzuki, Tree, p. 1)
The bark of a tree is breathtaking, particularly when we look closely.
While in the forest we checked sites for safety concerns and had many thoughtful conversations about the many possible invitations for learning. Later as I reflected on some of the notes I had taken during our meeting in the woods, I was reminded of a list of research questions, generated from a research study in a park in Reggio Emilia:
How will the children inhabit this place?
What elements will they stop and focus on?
What will attract their hands, intriguing and stimulating them, and how?
(adapted from The Park is…,Reggio Children, 2008, p. 14)
As the children in the park in Reggio Emilia explored, their particular connection and fascination with trees became evident.
...the trees seem to call to the children, attracting them by their presence, evoking narrations. They are majestic and very tall to the children’s eyes, but they let themselves be smelled, listened to, hugged. Their roots create unusual seats and enable adventurous climbs. Their “skin” stimulates the curiosity of hands and eyes. (p. 20)
Another Forest School Practitioner took an adventurous climb and found comfort in a tree embrace.
As we continued to explore the forest our eyes naturally travelled from the majestic trees above to the velvety forest floor at our feet. Standing along the forest trails and in the grass by the lake were many tree stumps, beautiful on their own but filled with opportunities for inquiry when we looked inside.
A rotting stump stands among beautiful flowers by the lake, inviting a peek inside where it houses a miniature world.
Reminded of the wise words of David Sobel,"children must hide in trees, and hug trees before they can save trees," I wonder, I am sure along with my colleagues, about the unique and sustaining bonds children develop with trees. As adults, it is so easy to take a tree for granted. Do children take this same liberty, or do they see the powerful magic of these majestic, ancient beings?
Trees are among the Earth’s longest-lived organisms; their lives span periods of time that extend far beyond our existence, experiences, and memory. Trees are remarkable beings. Yet they stand like extras in life’s drama, always there as backdrops to the ever-changing action around them, so familiar and omnipresent that we barely take notice of them. (Suzuki, Tree, p. 1-2)
Even fallen trees, lying on the forest floor, retain their importance and their beauty as they sustain other life.
If it's true, if we do as adults start to take a tree for granted, forget to see the magic in bark, the invitation of a climbing branch, the miniature worlds inside a rotting stump, might we risk the same mistake with children? Do we take children themselves, and more specifically the way that we educate a child for granted? Do we expect children to save the forest without inviting them to play in it, to have an adventure in it? The educators of Reggio Emilia made many connections to the importance of the time spent in nature to the vitality of education for children:
Our times are dominated by ideas of knowledge as linear development and strong trends for accelerating children’s learning. Instead, children’s strategies for thinking and acting, their extraordinarily divergent sense of invention, invite us to remark just how much and in what ways creativity, play, expression and aesthetic sense, together with the times and rhythms of reflection and knowledge, are capable of combining and transforming, of emotion and analysis, empathy and connection. They are a vital and structuring part of the educational process. (p. 11)
How much might we learn as educators if we spent some time talking to a tree?