Forest Exploration- Building the Foundations of Thought
“But, what do your kids learn?”…………
A question which I have gotten over the years more than once. To answer it would be difficult, for the school of Waldorf education in early childhood is the school of evolution. “We allow the children to develop their motor skills which in turn grows the brain as humans have done for millennia.” Successfully done, I might add. This answer will seldom truly satisfy most people who will then dismiss what we do as good for children; they get to be outside and play, blah blah blah. These people might say “But they aren’t learning anything.”
Oh would they be soooooo wrong. There may be a math equation for it but I might argue that our kids work as hard with their brains as a fully engaged doctoral student. Or harder. I would also add that they have such profound capacities to work on in their brain that too much emphasis on the cognitive (letters/reading for example) can become a source of a lack of freedom until they are truly ready for more formal learning. Human brains are developed through doing, touching, communicating, relating, experiencing. We are born a sensory organ that needs satisfying our entire lives. Early childhood is the foundation for this brain development. I am slowly coming to piece it together. It is of course very complex, but as a whole it makes simple sense. To survive we need to know our place in the world around us. We do this by experiencing it. It really can be stated that simply.
One of the many ways I assist this brain development is going far a field. Not just to create an appreciation for nature, not just to let them burn energy but to allow the children to find their place in space. The goal is to find landmarks, to find points of relationship and familiarity. The capacity for a young child to orient surroundings varies from child to child. Sometimes it can be poorly developed, sometimes it clicks much sooner. At times I give them opportunities to lead, “Alaia and Eloise can you get us from here to Birch Land?” Alone? This early in the year? Unlikely. But together, sharing ideas they make it happen. Birch land is challenging to find. It’s a small area within the larger forest. No real landmarks to lead you there. The girls used a general direction, obvious clues (we don’t cross the stream on the right), and the memory of place (recalling the familiar). They never stopped to think, just constantly adjusted.
The real landmark you can only recognize when you get to Birch Land. A huge downed tree with a sky-high root structure to climb on. That and a pile of birch we collected over the last couple years. Kids are not born with this ability, it can’t be taught by lecture, they have to experience it. I have children who are challenged to find the water bag ten feet away to fill a cup despite having just visited it a few minutes prior. This means this child needs to work on this capacity. If a child asks me where something is such as the climbing rope. I might say “where do you think it is?” being purposefully vague to encourage them to find their own way. Once I am comfortable with the children’s familiarity with a given route to one of our destinations, I change it up somehow. Every destination has some loop we can do so they develop a more complex awareness of their environment and challenge their brain to orient in their own way. One specific destination has at least five different ways to get to and from. My job has been successful when on approaching a destination from a different direction they begin to be aware of things they are familiar with in that area. Not landmarks mind you but the vegetation and terrain. Though we may approach from the backside, it “looks/feels” like “The Outpost.” They recognize it before we even get there. I don’t know how to put in words the importance of these experiences for a young brain. Children in our program are not educated in a formal academic sense in the early years. Instead their brains are built, dare I say forged, into tools with the capacity to problem solve and develop a healthy curiosity which is essential to learning from others and on their own.
“But what do your kids learn?”........
The simplest answer
“They learn to love learning.”