I n many countries forest pedagogy is reasonably well established. But often there is a curious relationship with schools. Going to the forest is viewed as something other than the normal school day. It is done irregularly, maybe once or twice a year and it either focusses exclusively on having fun or on learning about forestry.
But learning out in nature has a lot more potential, not just in forests, but also in any other natural space you can find. There is quite some evidence by now that learning out in nature benefits teachers and students on many levels: it enhances their cognitive development – complex Math is solved better outdoors. It encourages social interaction – pupils make more friends out in nature and the social interaction between teachers and students, but also amongst students and towards other adults improves. It makes teachers and students healthier – it buffers against burn-out and stress and everybody is moving around a lot more. But it also has a positive impact on self-esteem, it shows pupils in a real-world environment that they are capable of achieving things.
Precisely because learning in nature is not just carnival – the exceptional fun day compared to normal life – SILVIVA encourages teachers, head teachers and schools to transfer their normal teaching, in whatever subject, outside the classroom for one day a week. This is something the Nordic countries have done for many years, but here in the heart of Europe it is still the exception to the norm.
Precisely because it is a challenge for many teachers, SILVIVA has developed a broad suite of actions to support teachers to go outside and teach math, sports, languages, art and music as well as social studies in a living, dynamic learning environment. There is a manual in German (www.silviva.ch/draussen-unterrichten) and French (www.silviva-fr.ch/foret-ecole/enseigner-dehors), there are courses for teachers at teacher training universities, there is support for schools which want to embed learning outside in their school culture, there is even a film: https://youtu.be/89WLAljPvnY .
SILVIVA is also trying to encourage research in the area so that learning in forests and other natural learnscapes has the credibility and legitimacy so that parents, politicians and the media understand its importance, not just for the development of the kids, but also for the health of the teachers.
Learning outside the classroom is certainly not the new wizard trick that solves all the problems schools and teachers tend to face. But it is a wonderful and effective option for teachers to use varied learning environments and to offer a wide variety of learning opportunities for their pupils.
Let's take Math: already on the way to the forest, pupils can get busy with tasks to count or collect. Depending on the season and the area, the focus can be on birds, plants, leaves, trees, things with corners, soft things, long sticks. Once at the meeting place in the forest pupils and teacher exchange their findings, their experiences. The sticks for example can be turned into an oversized centipede: this insect is perfectly suitable to learn different concepts of numbers, such as sequences and numerical series. Or pupils can attempt to calculate how many young trees can sprout under different tree species. This forces them to find out how large an area the tree canopy covers, how to determine the size of that area, and much more. And out of this question many others arise: how many seedlings does a tree generate per year, how many actually survive, how long does it take until they turn into a fully grown tree....
The forest is not unspecific background, but important element to reach the learning objectives of the school curriculum – so much more than carneval: serious fun!