As a grown woman smack in the chaos of midlife, I intuitively know that the cure for any bad day is to simply get outside. A walk in the woods is soul restoring goodness! The smells of nature… the sounds of the critters… the warm embrace of the pine boughs canopied overhead. There is nothing that cleanses the mind, body and spirit quite like being in the forest.
And if getting out in nature is good for me, that means it’s good for my kids! But just try and ply the 10-year old off her gaming device. Go ahead, I dare you! In addition to rampant screen addiction, children these days are spending less time cultivating their creativity and restoring their own wee souls outdoors. What’s more, there seems to be an emphasis on keeping them ruthlessly busy, from multiple nights of competitive sports to taking on paid jobs as young as fourteen. I know this to be true, because it’s how we roll in our house. The calendar is overrun with activities and it seems to rule our every move.
Look, I’m not knocking any of what they’re involved in, as these things offer a multitude of benefits. The sports keep them active and out of trouble, while teaching them the value of teamwork and persistent effort. The job teaches my eldest responsibility and early life lessons on managing money. Plus, Mom doesn’t have to fork over cash for frivolous things at the mall – winning! Like I said, there are some definite positives.
But the reality is, playing outside – the way we used to as kids – seems to be an afterthought these days. And that’s sad. Really sad.
As far back as I can remember, my sister, friends and I would rumble through the forest like we ruled planet Earth. It was our sacred stomping ground! We’d build forts out of bull rushes, hunt for leprechauns and scramble up rock faces with nary a care in the world. Only the bellow of our moms’ voices – the dreaded “Come for dinner!!!” call – would bring us back home. It was often already dark by the time we’d be corralled inside. No Netflix nor Youtube had distracted us… nothing but fresh air and unhindered exploration of nature.
Ahhh....those were “the good old days.” Today? It seems that competing demands of our time – and our children’s time – eclipses the luxury of playing in the woods.
Thankfully, mercifully, there is Forest School! What a discovery this was last year! We are now in the final countdown to the start of their Spring semester, where my 10-year-old daughter, Saffron, will partake in the Tree-nagers Session each Wednesday from 9-3:00.
The simple joy of being in the woods with the freedom to learn and explore makes my heart sing. What a gift for these kids! Thanks to the pioneering leadership of Roots & Branches Forest School founder, Natasha Robertson, the natural curiosity of children plays a lead role in their learning – all of which is outside. I’m excited to see what this session brings, as if it's anything like last year I might be taking a day off work to join the kids in the forest!
I’m equally stoked for Saffy to reconnect with her inner spirit, something she learned through the breathing and meditation techniques taught to her last year at Forest School. I saw a marked difference in her ability to manage her emotions and she seemed to exude such happiness after a full day of playing in the woods. I can’t wait to see what natural trinkets she returns home with – the treasures she found near the marsh last year line her desk like little trophies she proudly displays.
Someone asked me last week if I was worried about her missing out on a day of “regular” school each week. Though I knew the funny look I gave them likely said it all, I unequivocally replied “Absolutely not, no way.” The truth is, Saffy’s teacher herself believes a program of this nature – pun intended – should be a regular part of the curriculum. She wholeheartedly supports my daughter’s decision to embark on a once-a-week alternative learning journey.
Did you know there is math in the forest? There is also science, history and physical education. In fact, entire school lessons can be found in the great outdoors if kids are inspired to be in the moment.
And let’s face it, that’s really what happens when you get outside and leave behind the pulls and pressures of real life. We become inspired. We start to relax. We see things in a new light. We understand how we fit in with the big picture and our entire universe. It’s the work of the Restoring Forest, and if you haven’t yet felt it yourself, stop right now and walk outside.
I’ll be chronicling the adventures of Forest School for the coming months. I invite you to submit any of your stories or ideas that we could share with others.