Do you have class outside all day, even in snow and rain?
For the most part, yes. We do have a building for inclement weather, such as lightning, ice storms, hail, extreme cold, etc. And we might take some breaks according to how the kids are doing, but generally, we have a motto: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." And bear in mind, forest schools are operating all over the world, including Norway, Maine, California, New York, and Germany. It gets pretty cold in some of these places.
Sometimes we forget that Kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. But we pay close attention to their well being. In addition, we communicate with families about proper clothing for different seasons, and we make partnerships with outdoor clothing companies such as REI and BOGS. What all forest schools have found is that when the kids are prepared for the weather, they thrive and have fun. The kids at our school, for the most part, love bad weather! During rainy days, the salamanders and turtles are a lot more active. During snow, there are snow forts to be made and the owls are a lot more visible. All weather brings opportunities for learning.
Will my child be safe exploring nature all day?
Of course there are inherent risks in nature, but no more so than any risk anywhere everywhere. At our school, yes, there are probably more bee stings (though rare) or poison ivy stints (rare too), and our kids may come into contact with a spider or a snake (not as rare). But we train them to recognize danger and avoid it. At the same time, it is important that our kids learn what is and is not dangerous. At Knox Forest School, our kids don't scream, "SNAKE!" and run away. They learn to keep their distance but explore, "What kind of snake? What shape is its head? How would I properly handle a snake? And what is the value of a snake?" Putting our children in situations where they learn to navigate risks is one of the most important things we can do for their future safety in the world. This is becoming more and more uncommon, and therefore our children are losing a sense of the world and themselves in it. At Knox Forest School, they are being well prepared with the skills necessary to go through life with intention and care.
And of course, our teachers are there to lead the way into safety and recognition. All our lead teachers are more than aware of the environment and what risks are involved. Our lead teachers are NOLS Wilderness first aid certified and CPR trained. Our low teacher to student ratio (1:5) ensures that children are watched at all times, interacted with and cared for with great concern.
Does Forest School prepare my child for primary school?
Yes! Our program does not emphasize letters or numbers. If the children are interested in them, we certainly incorporate them into our nature play. But this is not our focus. Multiple studies have shown that this model of education is naturally ingraining soft skills in our learners, such as perseverance, ingenuity, curiosity, collaboration, risk assessment and resilience. A child with this make-up thrives in all learning environments. It is prepping the soil of learning. If there is good soil (curiosity, wonder, ingenuity), plant life flourishes (letters, numbers, grammar). At this early stage in their lives, it is vital that our kids learn HOW to learn, not merely memorize WHAT things we have deemed necessary for them to know.
While this is the case, we recognize that the children that leave our school for more traditional models of schooling may be behind at first. But studies show that children leaving forest school models, while behind in the beginning of first grade, are exponentially ahead of the class by second grade. Again, this is because they have been prepped on HOW TO LEARN and not told WHAT TO LEARN. You can't teach a child to be curious. You simply need to give them the space and encouragement to use their curiosity.