The sound of children laughing rippled through the woods, as I trundled down the frozen path towards the firepit. Along the way, I was greeted with smiling faces and rosy cheeks. “Excuse me, who are you?” said a precocious little one. “Oh, hello there! I’m Saffy’s Mom and I thought I would come a little early to check out all the fun you guys are having!” Not moments later, my daughter emerged from the woods clutching an epic, almost *Gandolph-like* stick. It was beautiful and crooked, clearly a magical find for the day. And then Natasha approached me with a sweet-smelling pot of balsam tea she had just brewed.
Could someone please pinch me? Was all this real? Indeed, people. Indeed! This. Was. Forest School!
Immediately overcome with emotion over the magnitude of the situation, I wanted to shelve my responsibilities for the day, grab a spot by the fire and howl along with this happy wolf pack. I couldn’t believe my kid had just spent 6 hours in the fresh air. All that oxygen, though! Even more enticing was the warmth of the sun hitting our backs. It had thawed the earlier frosty temps and turned the snow into a perfect, sticky blend that beckons for creation. You know the kind: the tree-fort/snowball making stuff. What a gift to have such glorious weather on this, the first day of the new semester!
I was eager to get my daughter’s impressions in the car ride back to town. She had only attended Forest School at the Marina in the past, and this was an entirely new experience for her. Despite some wet boots – easily remedied with plastic bags around her feet! – she unequivocally gave the day an 8.75 out of 10. Yes, she was that specific. (Also, you should know that’s a pretty big deal for her; the child has ruthlessly high standards!) It turns out that she had an absolute ball hanging with her Tree-nager friends, Madison, Mya, Charlotte, and Cash. I was tickled to hear her stories and noticed an unfamiliar enthusiasm in her voice while she prattled on and on.
For this particular post, I thought I would reach out to Tree-nager, Madison, to get some fresh insight from the eldest of the kids in the outdoor classroom. I had a chance to speak with her late last week.
Maddy is a sparkly and vivacious 11th grader with a multitude of talents, but attending high school every single day can be an admitted challenge even for this straight A student. And while some kids will take a break by building a spare period in their timetable (and let’s face, some kids will just skip class altogether), Maddy looks forward to her own mini escape, via the chance to be in the forest all day, once a week.
For her, it’s a welcome mental break from the pressures of real life, where it’s not always feasible to get outside. As a young entrepreneur, she’s often on her laptop either working on her business plans or just plowing through homework. Forest School provides the opportunity for Maddy to let go and give herself a much-needed break. “I like that I’m taking the time to take care of myself; I’m learning lots of new skills, helping lead some of the programs with the other kids and also giving back to the earth.” This gives Maddy a tremendous sense of satisfaction.
Her favourite part of this first day was the meditation, held inside the yurts that blew my mind (no, really… I wanted to move in! They are so cozy and lovely!). All the children participate in the practise of meditation, facilitated by Miss Natasha. Maddy describes feeling as though she’s in outer space, transported by the ethereal sounds of a crystal singing bowl. Now, I’ve never heard of a crystal one before. I had only ever used metal ones – I can’t imagine how other-worldly it must have been!
Just to keep things on the real side, I also asked Maddy to help me understand some of the challenges that she and the other kids might face during the day. It is, after all, a great deal of time to spend outside in the elements! “Probably being properly prepared for the weather is the most challenging thing of Forest School,” she claims. “But it teaches us to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” (Ummm, excuse me, how are you this wise and insightful at just 16?!)
She’s not out of line, either. Forest School requires a real commitment to preparation. Parents (and kids) must learn what it takes to keep the body warm. Dressing in layers is extremely important, for example. I definitely did not heed enough attention to the emails stressing the need for things like hand and feet warmers, not to mention an extra pair of boots and socks would have been ideal.
But these are all minor little tweaks that we will make as their Forest School journey evolves. And at some point, it won’t be the cold, but the mosquitos! Taking accountability for our choices is a practical life lesson not just for the little ones, but for us parents, too.
All in all, I would say the relaxed atmosphere of this first day back set the tone for what is sure to be a memorable second semester. And remember, if you’re ever having a bad day, put on some boots, ditch the cell phone and make an immediate beeline for the forest. There are healing energies that will welcome you with open arms!