BY SHERI GRACE, PHD AND DENISE TERRY, MA
It is 10 AM on a warm but drizzly Tuesday morning. After putting on their rain suits and finishing their snacks at the picnic table, five children begin clay work with Ms. Annette at the outdoor art studio, and several children head to Babbling Brook Bend on the property with Ms. Denise. Madeline squats near a shallow stream, watching the water flow. She has an idea! She says she will make a fairy boat! Quickly, she picks a Poplar leaf sail off the nearby tree, snaps a twig just the right size for the mast, and finds a large piece of pine bark for the hull. She assembles her little boat, walks it upstream slightly, and lets it float downstream. Jonathan decides this looks like fun and he asks Madeline to help him build a boat, too. Meanwhile, Martha and Lydia are squatting in the sand, using sticks to write their names. Miguel and Aiden stack river rocks to make a mini-fort for their stick people.
Ms. Denise observes these explorations carefully, taking pictures and writing notes to document skill development. She asks the children questions that encourage them to make predictions and explain and stretch their thinking. She expands their language skills as she has in-depth discussions with them and facilitates these discussions among the children. She is also ready to help the children resolve conflicts, should these arise.
Sheri Grace, PhD, and Denise Terry, MA, of EdPath Specialized Learning Services, LLC, are working to make the experiences like the one above a reality for the children of the Forsyth County area. They, working with the help of community members and organizations, are in the beginning stages of opening EdPath Forest School. They hope to enroll ten children between the ages of three and five and a half in the first class, and hold it from 8:30-12:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays, August 27th to just before Christmas. Once a wooded site and park in the Winston-Salem area are chosen, and other final arrangements are made, the class will be open to children of all ability levels. Denise will be the onsite director and environmental educator for the class, and a second teacher with a degree and experience in early childhood education will co-teach. Sheri will provide direction and professional development. Parent participation will be required, and volunteers will be welcomed.
Forest Schools originate in Scandinavia. They incorporate “playwork,” self-directed learning, and immersion in interest-driven nature study. Sessions are outdoors year-round, even in rain showers. Teachers are co-learners who expand and document learning while keeping children safe. Children are free to run, climb, be active, get dirty, explore, and take risks, while being protected from danger.
EdPath Forest School will use an emergent curriculum, blending nature play with the “Reggio” approach. Mornings at EdPath Forest School’s nature preschool will begin with a gathering circle. Afterwards, children will prepare and eat a snack, then engage in self-directed nature play, creative projects, and facilitated nature study with their teachers. They may walk to a nearby playground before returning for a picnic lunch and the closing gathering. Storybook sharing, storytelling, and singing will be part of all gatherings. Children will keep journals by drawing and by taking pictures and dictating notes to their teachers to write down for them. Children will be free to make art with items they have collected in their nature explorations and with other media, and they will get teacher support to build social and communication skills as they interact together. Teachers will track weather alerts, and the class will go to a nearby church or another community building if it starts to thunder. School will be cancelled or dismissed if the county schools close due to inclement weather.
Sheri and Denise hope families will take advantage of this first-of-its-kind opportunity for Forsyth County parents to provide their children with the rich learning opportunities of a forest school, and they are available to answer your questions and register your children. Please feel free to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org;on Facebook at www.facebook.com/edpathlearningandforestschool/;email@example.com.