I t’s 9 o’clock in the morning and the sunlit forest behind the Slovenian Forestry Institute is full of children. Each group of children is observing and performing experiments under careful supervision of researchers. The wide-eyed children ask bright, yet sometimes seemingly unrelated questions, which researchers happily answer.
Later, they are going to visit the laboratories and conduct experiments related to photosynthesis, observe tree rings using a magnifying glass, or inspect fine root growth under a microscope. At home, they are going to tell their parents about what they have experienced and learned and maybe, just maybe, some of them will treasure this experience and choose a path in their life that is connected to forests and nature.
The Forest of Experiments was initiated in 2011. It was designed as an educational trail in urban forest of the City of Ljubljana, which is part of the Landscape park Tivoli, Rožnik and Šišenski hrib. With the help of a group of passionate young researchers, working on different research, demonstration or applied projects, The Forest of Experiments grew into an innovative environmental education center. Constantly developing fresh ideas and testing innovative knowledge transfer approaches, researchers joined the Slovenian Network of Forest Kindergartens and Schools (http://www.gozdnivrtec.si/en/) and cooperate closely with the Forest Pedagogy Institute (http://www.srce-me-povezuje.si/gozdnapedagogika/).
The Forest of Experiments was presented at several workshops for teachers for kindergartens and schools, in Nature science days, Fascination of plants days, European Researcher’s nights, Week of Slovenian forests etc. and even traveled to „Walderlebnistag“ in Austria and the European Forest pedagogy Congresses (http://www.forestpedagogics.eu/portal/annual-congress) in Slovakia and Norway.
With the sequence of games and activities we follow the framework of “Flow learning”, developed by Joseph Cornell, Founder & President Sharing Nature Worldwide (http://www.sharingnature.com/) : ”Learning must be fun and explorative, it always works best, regardless of a group’s age, mood and culture.”
Most researchers tend to avoid this way of communicating to public, because they find it stressful, difficult and very different from what they are used in their daily busy work schedule. Fear and uneasiness usually accompany public performances, clashes of facts and opinions can be tiresome and unpaid hours of work when preparing messages make most of us wonder if it is worth it.
“When I was starting my professional career, I looked with frustration at the great divide between technological achievement and actual awareness, implementation and accessibility of research results to an average person. It was then that I decided to work on my own communication skills. My opinion is that it is the utmost duty of any scientist, expert or person with knowledge to spread this knowledge in an ethical way and for the betterment of human society.” says Boris Rantaša.
Combination of outdoor activities and more demanding experiments in laboratories has proven to be very interesting for children. They love to explore and conduct experiments, it makes them feel like real researchers.
The Forest of Experiments (https://www.gozd-eksperimentov.gozdis.si/) is a part of the Slovenian Forestry institute’s efforts to bring forest science in Slovenia closer to public. We work with different people for different purposes, preparing messages and activities for children, teachers, media members, parents, retired persons … and more specific groups such as forestry professionals, scientists, government officials, NGOs, etc. It is of great importance and we make our best efforts for our messages to be heard in this age of information hyper flow (also with blogging).
The Forest of Experiments is supported by different projects, e.g. LIFE projects Emonfur, ManFor C.BD., LIFEGENMON; GoForMura project from the EEA Financial Mechanism 2009–2014 (SI02); Erasmus+ “Green Learning Environments – Taking advantage of the stimulants in green environments for non-formal learning with children with mental disabilities and learning disorders”.