Forest Schooling in the UK (which has henceforth blossomed in Australia and New Zealand) was first modelled on the open air culture and ancient Nordic philosophy ‘friluftsliv’ of Scandinavia. It is a well-known part of life in Scandinavia, but relatively unknown to the rest of the world. This philosophy embodies the idea that returning to nature, is returning home .
In Sweden, the Forest School approach that we know today, has existed since the 1950s, when it was introduced by Goesta Frohm who created the idea of ‘Skogsmulle’. Frohm felt that younger children were becoming more and more distance from nature. To redress this he set up a Skogsmulle school for children from 5 to 6 years of age. Like McMillan and Froebel before him, he believed that his method of first-hand sensory experiences, which included regular visits to the forest, would compensate children for the strictures of modern-day living by reconnecting them with nature. His approach differed however, in that he executed this through an imaginary character called Skogsmulle (in Swedish skog means forest and Mulle is the name of a character who lives in a forest) .
In 1986, the first ‘I Ur och Skur’ (In Rain or Shine) nursery opened and this led to a movement that has resulted in more than 190 nurseries and 20 primary schools that are based upon Skogsmulle pedagogy being established in Sweden .
According to Niels Ejbye-Ernst, Researcher at Copenhagen University, the first record of a Danish nature school is from 1950, when a woman named Ella Flatau formed a “Walking Kindergarten,” where a daily hike in the woods was part of the curriculum. Within a few years, mothers began organising schools that bussed their children from Copenhagen’s congested neighbourhoods into the countryside .
By the 1970s, as record numbers of Danish women donned bellbottom suits and joined the workforce, local governments were tasked with filling the huge demand for childcare. More preschools, including ones with nature-based themes, opened every year .
In Denmark, the use of the outdoors as a part of the pedagogy of early years settings has its roots in the work of Froebel, who inspired Danish pedagogues to start a kindergarten system that included natural environments and opportunities for young children to develop and learn outdoors. From this a more child-centred approach to learning and development evolved, leading to more humanistic beliefs around childcare and education .
There is no one type of ‘forest school’ in Denmark; each setting varies depending on where it is situated (in a rural, semi-rural or urban area), and according to the people using it (pedagogues, children and parents) – no two are the same. There are settings that are situated in woodland, usually referred to as forest or nature kindergartens. In these, the natural surroundings provide the starting point for activities inside and outside, for either the whole or a significant part of the day, every day, all year round. Sometimes things are discovered and investigated by the pedagogues and children in the natural surroundings outdoors, and at other times items may be brought inside for further exploration and discussion .
Most of these kinds of kindergarten are relatively small, with between 20 to 30 children and four or five practitioners; though a few are much larger with over 100 children.
Another common type of provision are the kindergartens that have ‘forest groups’. These are assemblies of children and carers who go out of their setting for either part or the whole of the week to a woodland area, often by bus. Such groups usually have a permanent or semi-permanent shelter in the wood, although others, in urban areas where woodland is too far away, rent allotments in the town and develop these as their outdoor environment .
Our hope here at Wildlings is that this type of Forest Schooling becomes the norm in Australia in the very near future. We want to see nearly every Early Childcare Centre, Kindergarten, Primary and Secondary School in Australia have access to a Forest School program where children are immersed in nature. Every. Single. Day. No matter the weather.
- Outdoor Learning: Past and Present. 2012. Rosaleen Joyce.