Kingston Forest & Nature School

Children exploring the shoreline

Forest and Nature School (FNS) is an educational approach that has existed worldwide since the late 1950s. FNS goes by many different names (i.e. Nature Kindergarten, Outdoor School, Waldkindergarten, etc.) and can take many different forms.

FNS programs can be offered just a half a day per week or full-time and can take place in many different climates and settings – urban or near-urban parks, natural spaces adjacent to or on schoolgrounds, natural playgrounds or outdoor classrooms, forests, meadows, or beaches – and with varying age groups.

The activities that happen in FNS also vary depending on the season, climate, landscape, animals that have visited the night before, trees that have blown down in the wind, the kinds of provocations elicited by the educator, various tools and loose parts for building and creating, the children who are in attendance, how long the group has been formed, and, most importantly, what interests the child.

FNS is frequently described as a ‘magical’ thing to witness, as it’s often a microcosm of collaboration, communication, trust building, and a working model of consensus building.

Despite all of this variation, all FNS programs adhere to the following two principles, which also distinguish them from other outdoor and environmental education programs:

The defining feature of this type of nature-based education program is that children are provided with opportunities to build an ongoing relationship with the land, to a dedicated educator, to one another, and to themselves.

Children looking into a culvert

Forest and Nature School (FNS) is an educational ethos and practice that puts nature and the child at play at the centre of learning. Children and educators build a relationship with the land through regular and repeated access to the same natural space over an extended period of time. Learning is supported through a pedagogical framework that is rooted in place and play, directed and inspired by the child, and driven by a process of inquiry.

According to the Child & Nature Alliance and Forest School Canada, Forest and Nature School:

  1. Takes place in a variety of natural spaces, including local forests, creeks, meadows, prairie grasses, mountains, shorelines, tundra, natural playgrounds, and outdoor classrooms.
  2. Is a sustained process of regular and repeated sessions in the same natural space, supporting children to develop a sense of place, an ethic of care towards nature, and an understanding of themselves as a part of the natural world.
  3. Views children and youth as innately competent, curious, and capable learners, and aims to promote their holistic development.
  4. Is led by a qualified FNS educator who is rooted in and committed to the FNS pedagogical framework, its theoretical underpinnings, and practical applications. FNS educators use place and play-based, emergent, and inquiry-driven teaching and learning methods. Their role is that of facilitator, guide, supporter, and co-learner, rather than expert, and they are constantly balancing those roles.
  5. Values play in and of itself, as a vehicle for learning and skill development, and as a way for children and youth to exercise agency in their lives. FNS therefore carves out and protects the time and space for children and youth to dive deeply into their play.
  6. Views the opportunity to experience risk as an integral part of children’s learning and health development. FNS educators are knowledgeable about and qualified to support children and youth to access and co-manage risk.
  7. Relies on loose, natural materials to support open-ended, creative play and learning.
  8. Values the process as much as the outcome.
  9. Seeks to honour the past and current realities of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples by building reciprocal relationships with members of those communities in order to learn how Aboriginal ways of being, knowing, teaching, and learning intersect with FNS theories/practice, and how one can support the other.
  10. In grounded in and prioritizes building engaged, healthy, vibrant, and diverse communities by always considering issues of access and equity.
Head Heart & Hands

Forest and Nature School in Canada: A Head, Heart, Hands Approach to Outdoor Learning

"If you want a child to listen to their heart, start by teaching them to listen to the wind, the rain, and the littlest birds." – Nicolette Sowder