International Perspectives on Forest School: Natural Spaces to Play and Learn


Edited by: Sara Knight

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    This book is dedicated to the memory of my husband David (1943–2012), without whom this book would not have been created.

    List of Figures


    My grateful thanks are due to the huge number of international academics and practitioners who have given up their time and devoted their energies to write the chapters in this book, and to the groups they have worked with in giving their permission to tell their stories or share their photographs.

    The chapter author would like to thank the Director, Mary James (PHD ch), and the staff of LETCEE for their insightful discussions about the introduction of the veggie bag and for making the photographs available. The organisation has a strict protocol of using photographs of children participating in its programmes, and the pictures in this chapter are included with their permission and in accordance with that protocol.

    The director, parents and educators at the Westgarth Kindergarten were an inspirational group that fully supported the development of the Bush Kinder programme and the later evaluative study. The chapter author sincerely thanks them for their participation and for inviting her to share their journey. Further, she acknowledges the contribution of her colleague Dr Barbara Chancellor and the support of the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and RMIT University for the evaluative study. Louise Dorratt, Doug Fargher and Ben Goodes kindly provided the photographs in this chapter; and our deepest thanks go to the children and parents involved in the photographs.

    Notes on Contributors

    The Editor

    Sara Knight is the course group leader for work-centred learning in the Department of Education at Anglia Ruskin University. As such, she oversees the undergraduate degrees awarded to all sectors of the Children's Workforce. A former nursery teacher in mainstream and special education, she contributed to the development of Forest School as an early years intervention across the UK. She has published several papers and three textbooks on this subject, and has been a keynote speaker at conferences in the UK, mainland Europe and Canada. Her chapter will link the importance of accessing and engaging with wilder spaces to laying the foundations for a lifetime of concern with sustainability and environmental issues.

    The Contributors

    Eva Ärlemalm-Hagsér, PhD, has a background as a preschool teacher. Her main current interest is in early childhood education with a child-oriented approach, focusing on the lived curriculum. In previous years, she has focused on research on outdoor play, learning and gender and education for sustainability. Since 2008 she has been the convener for the Special Interest Group (SIG) Play and Learning in European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA). She also serves as the Stockholm president of Organisation Mondiale Sweden pour l'Éducation Préscolaire (OMEP).

    Lori Driussi, an educator for 23 years, developed an interest in outdoor learning early in her career when she accompanied her 6th-grade class to Earthkeepers, a three-day camp designed to inspire a love of nature. Excited by students' deepened understanding and active involvement in sustainability projects, she became an Earth-keeper leader and trainer. Since then she has facilitated a variety of outdoor adventures for students and is now working to weave outdoor learning into students' everyday school experiences in urban environments. Lori has taught in elementary classrooms and as a Faculty Associate at Simon Fraser University. As Program Consultant K-12 in Burnaby, BC, she provided district direction and staff development in Literacy. Lori is currently the Principal at University Highlands Elementary in Burnaby, BC, Canada. University Highlands is a ‘Learning in Depth’ School where all students engage in inquiry-based learning. She is passionate about the role of outdoor learning and imagination in developing the whole child.

    Dr Sue Elliott is a senior lecturer in early childhood education at the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus. She has experience over many years as an educator in early childhood settings and as a tertiary lecturer. She is a long-term advocate of education for sustainability and, in particular, natural outdoor playspaces. Sue has completed doctoral studies investigating sustainable outdoor playspaces and is an acknowledged author in the early childhood field; in 2008 she edited The Outdoor Playspace Naturally (Pademelon Press Pty Ltd, 2007). Sue is the Convenor of the Australian Association for Environmental Education Early Childhood Special Interest Group and is currently engaged in research, publication and professional development regarding forest preschool approaches and education for sustainability in Australia.

    Aida Figueiredo is Assistant Professor at the Department of Education, University of Aveiro, and a collaborator at the Research Center for Didactics and Technology in Teacher Education (CIDTFF), University of Aveiro, Portugal. She has a BA in Nursing and a degree and master's degree in Psychology. She lectures in disciplines related to practice supervision and health in early childhood. She has also been involved in several projects in early childhood and health. In recent years, she has developed interests in outdoor play and learning, and is developing her PhD in Psychology: ‘Interactions between children and the outdoor environment during free play’.

    Edson Grandisoli is a biologist with an MSc in the Ecology of Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He believes that nothing is better than hands-on experience to understand the world and all its complexity. Edson has been a high school teacher for more than 15 years and is the author of didactic and paradidactic book collections in Science, Biology and Environmental Education, which have been adopted in several different public and private schools in Brazil. As an independent consultant, he has recently collaborated on the diagnosis, development and implementation of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) projects in different high schools in Sao Paulo.

    Elizabeth Jackson-Barrett is a lecturer within the School of Education at Murdoch University. Libby has previously taught on Kulbardi's Aboriginal Tertiary Entrance Course (KATEC) at Murdoch University. She currently teaches in a variety of undergraduate courses within Murdoch University's School of Education Initial Teacher Education programme. As a Nyungar Yorga, Libby's research interests include exploring factors that promote and develop successful outcomes for Indigenous students in education and developing pathways into tertiary education for Education support workers. Libby has a particular interest in culturally relevant and critical pedagogy, diversity, inclusivity and Indigenous education issues. Currently, Libby is involved in The Pilbara Aboriginal Health and Education Needs Analysis for the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation; Walliabup Connections for Burdiya Aboriginal Corporation; and the Northwest Early Childhood and Primary Teacher Workforce Development Strategy for the WA Department of Education and Training.

    Ithel Jones Ed.D. is a professor of early childhood education at Florida State University. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Wales, a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin, and a doctoral degree from the University of Georgia. Ithel was a primary school teacher and head teacher in Wales for several years. He has been a teacher educator at three universities in the USA. He currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in early childhood education. His research interests include early childhood education, science teaching and learning, and service-learning.

    Mallika Kanyal is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education at Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, UK. She teaches across a range of Early Childhood programmes and has been engaged in research around the areas of children's peer relationship, children's participation, blended learning in Higher Education and using the Virtual Learning Environment as a pedagogic tool in Higher Education. Mallika has received various research grants within the University and has successfully engaged undergraduate students in various research projects under her mentorship. She has written chapters for books and has organised workshops and presented research papers for both national and international conferences. Mallika's specialist area is the early years.

    Mojca Kokot Krajnc is a researcher and PhD student. She works as a young researcher at the International Centre for Ecoremediations in the Faculty of Arts, University of Maribor. Her BSc is in geography and history, and her research work covers the sustainable development of brownfields, which is also the main topic of her PhD thesis. She is studying the advantages of and opportunities for using green infrastructure in urban and degraded areas. Her work also covers analysis of the quality of the water in Slovenia. She is also active in the pedagogical field, where she prepares exercises for experiential learning on learning polygons. In the polygons, she also guides groups, and, as a supervisor, participates in experiential learning on learning polygons.

    Dr Libby Lee-Hammond is Associate Professor, Early Childhood Education, at Murdoch University. For the last 12 years, she has been involved in early years research and development in Australia, and is extensively published in journals and books. Her most recent book chapter is ‘Big expectations for little kids’ in Down and Smyth (eds) Critical Voices in Teacher Education: Teaching for Social Justice in Conservative Times (Springer, in press). She is currently Voluntary Co-ordinator of Ngarn Moort Noonook Moort (My Family to Your Family), a community project providing support for local Aboriginal families.

    Vickie E. Lake is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Oklahoma. As a former teacher, staff developer and early childhood district coordinator, she has worked to further the efforts of high-quality education for young children and effective practices for educators and schools. She teaches courses in Mathematics Methods, Family and Community Connections, and Senior Capstone as well as doctoral courses. She has authored articles about service-learning with young children and preservice teachers, and has recently published a book entitled Service Learning in the PreK-3 Classroom: The What, Why and How-to Guide for Every Teacher (Free Spirit Publishing, 2011).

    Theodora Papatheodorou, PhD, MEd, BEd, PGDip(SEN) and MBPsS is an international early childhood educator and researcher, and currently visiting professor at the University of the Free State in South Africa. Trained as a preschool teacher, she worked initially as a nursery teacher in Greece and then in higher education in various countries. Her teaching and research expertise are in preschool curriculum and pedagogy, educational and social inclusion, behaviour problems, multicultural pedagogy and bilingualism, and early childhood programme evaluation. She has extensive research experience in both qualitative and quantitative research, including participatory approaches to monitoring and evaluation and a strong background in research ethics. She is the author of Behaviour Problems in the Early Years (Routledge, 2005); co-author of Child Observation for Learning and Research (Pearson, 2011); editor of Debates on Early Childhood Policies and Practices (Routledge, 2012); and co-editor of Learning Together in the Early Years: Exploring Relational Pedagogy (Routledge, 2009) and Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Early Childhood (Sage, 2012).

    Carlos Neto is the President of the Faculty of Human Kinetics, Technical University and Professor in the Department of Sport and Health where he coordinates the Masters in Child Development. For several years, one of his research interests has been outdoor spaces and children's motor development. He was behind the founding of the International Society for Child Studies (SIEC), of which he is president, and is the delegate for the International Play Association (IPA) in Portugal. In recent years, he has conducted several projects in cooperation with the Portuguese Language Countries in the area of graduate and postgraduate training. He teaches on several master's degree programmes in universities in Brazil in the fields of Children and Play, Motor Skills Development and Children and Sports. He is the author of several books and articles.

    Gabriela Portugal is Associated Professor in the Department of Education at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, where she coordinates the training of early childhood teachers. A member of the Research Center for Didactics and Technology in Teacher Education (CIDTFF), her research interests unfold around questions of promoting the development and learning of children, considering their emotional well-being and involvement (experiential education), analysis of the ecology of development, the quality of educational settings, assessment, early childhood teacher training and, more recently, play and outdoor learning in the early years.

    Pedro Sá-Couto is Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Aveiro, Portugal. He is a collaborator in the Probability and Statistics Group of the Center of Research and Development in Mathematics and Applications (CIDMA) at the University. With a background in Applied Mathematics, Pedro has developed an interest in Biomedical Engineering, in the areas of physiological modelling for educational simulation and applied statistics in biology and health sciences. He has collaborated on a number of research projects at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering in Porto, Portugal, and is presently finishing his PhD thesis. In the Department of Mathematics at Aveiro, he lectures in numeric and statistical methods, and collaborates with the School of Health on applied statistics in health sciences.

    Anette Sandberg is a Professor in Education at Mälardalen University, Sweden. She is a researcher focusing on early childhood education. Her interest in the preschool environment can be traced in most of them. She has several ongoing research projects, including Human Rights for Children and Language Environments in Preschool. She is also involved in two international research projects: Preschool Teacher's Views on Children's Learning and Participation and Support for Preschool Teachers' Professional Development. She is also involved in projects that focus on other fascinating areas of education, i.e. community and university partnerships. She is a contributing author to Engaging Play (Brooker and Edwards (eds), Open University Press, 2010); Early Childhood Grows up: Towards a Critical Ecology of the Profession (Springer, 2012); Professionalism in Early Childhood Education and Care: International Perspectives (Routledge, 2010).

    Jochem Schirp has a degree in Political, Historical and Sports Sciences from the Philipps-University of Marburg, Germany. Since gaining his qualification, he has been involved in developing programmes that use adventure, nature, sports and other concepts of movement in the field of child and youth care. Jochem is the Director of the bsj Marburg, a non-profit youth and childcare organisation. He has been responsible for several innovative national and international pilot projects, and has authored and edited a range of publications in the context of education and social problems. Jochem has lectured at the Philipps-University of Marburg and the University of Kassel. He is a member of the board of the European Institute for Outdoor Adventure Education and Experiential Learning.

    Martin Vollmar has a degree in Historical and Sports Sciences from the University of Marburg, Germany. Since gaining his qualification, he has been a researcher and lecturer at the University of Marburg. His main areas of interest are in the sociology of sports and outdoor and experiential education, especially issues concerning nature, experience, and child and youth development. Since 2009, Martin has worked at the youth and child care organisation, bsj Marburg, in its Center of Early Education. He is concerned with academic reflection on and the development and support of an early education approach dealing with nature. In particular, the current task is to support and research the bsj model project on the ‘educational potential of nature for deprived children (of preschool age)’, which is co-funded by the Land Hessen and the municipality of Marburg.

    Ana Vovk Korže works as a professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Maribor. She is the founder and head of the International Centre for Ecoremediations. Ana received her first PhD in the field of pedogeography and her second in the field of environmental protection. Her research work covers the sustainable development of region, and the fields of ecoremediations and pedagogy. She studies and forms systems on a national level – for example, how can small local areas connect to common regions with the goal to provide common development of the area and to ensure the sustainability of such an area? She also contributes to the development of the curriculum for the study of environmental education. Ana has created learning polygons in Slovenia for students and pupils to learn about nature, sustainability and environmental problems.

    Jane Waters is the Head of Initial Teacher Education and Training at Swansea Metropolitan University, part of the South West Wales Centre of Teacher Education. Having worked initially as a primary classroom teacher and, more recently, as Director of an undergraduate Early Childhood Studies programme, she now works most closely with postgraduate students training to be teachers. Jane lectures in outdoor play and learning, early years education and the ethics of research with young children. Jane's research interests lie in early childhood education; young children's agency and voice; and young children's experiences of outdoor spaces. Current research projects include working with international colleagues to consider pedagogical intersubjectivity in early education contexts in different countries. This project is an extension of Jane's doctoral research which focused on adult-child interaction, sustained shared thinking and the affordance of different educative spaces.

    Christian Winterbottom is an assistant professor at Ohio State University. He earned his BA degree in English at the University of Bedfordshire in England, and a master's and PhD in Early Childhood Education at Florida State University. He has taught preschool and elementary children in Japan and worked with preschools and Head Start programs in Florida. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in child development and in social studies. His research is primarily on ethnic minority children and families in early education, both in the USA and the UK, and in working with pre-service teachers and children in service-learning.

    Tingting Xu is a doctoral candidate and an instructor in early childhood education at Florida State University. She earned her bachelor's degree from the Nanjing University of Finance and Economics in China, and her master's from Florida State University. Tingting worked as a preschool teacher for several years and is currently a graduate teaching assistant at Florida State University. In addition to teaching undergraduate courses in early childhood education, she is engaged in research concerning issues related to children's health, physical activity, and physical and nutrition education.



    Across the world, professionals from many disciplines are becoming concerned for the future health and well-being of both our children and the planet. We recognise that more children are obese or overweight, and that more of them spend a greater part of their time indoors, often on screen-based activities. Fewer children understand where their food comes from, or have an appreciation of the importance of their environment to their future. ‘Education for Sustainability’ has traditionally been the privilege of older and more able children in developed countries. However, there is a growing recognition that the younger you engage children with their outdoor spaces, the deeper their understanding will be. Perhaps the future of the planet lies in this recognition and in this understanding.

    In this book, academics and professionals from many different countries recount ways in which various groups of people are trying to counter the problems associated with a disconnection from nature. Many of them are working with our youngest children, echoing the old Jesuit maxim ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’.

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