Lots of different families have joined Forest School For All to explore nature together. If you're curious about what that looks like from their perspective, this series called Outdoor Family Profiles, might be especially interesting for you. With each post, we'll introduce a family and give you a little more insight into what their experiences have been like in the forest.
What Does Nature Play Look Like for Families?
We kickoff the Outdoor Family Profiles series with Shannon, mom to two girls: 19 months and 3 years old. Shannon and I chatted one day earlier this summer about her time with Forest School For All in New Jersey where she's taken part in both Forest Explorer and Forest Creator groups. Here's our conversation:
What made you want to give Forest School For All a try?
I grew up not far from here (in New Jersey). It was much more rural, so I spent a lot more time outdoors. I wanted to do that with my girls. In my childhood I remember gardening, playing outdoors, using all sorts of nature things to be our soup or imaginary play props. We were lucky enough to have friends with a farm so we could walk in their creek. We would go to Island Beach State Park for camping and nature stuff. And then even as I grew up with snowboarding and hiking.
And so what has your experience been like with Forest School For All?
It was really great. I was nervous at first because my (youngest) daughter was really small, but it was much easier to manage than I thought it would be. Because of daycare - I'm sure it's personality too - (my oldest) was tentative, not very confident about getting dirty and muddy. At daycare there was always a specific time for being outdoors and that made a difference. But my youngest, she's never had that, she loves playing in the mud and exploring, even when her boots keep falling off. It's just really exciting to see the friends they've made and the older girls looking after the other girls.
What’s your favorite aspect of playing in forest?
I love the freedom. I love how far away they can get from me and I don't need to bug them. I think they love being able to test those limits. And friends are a big part of it. They always gravitate toward each other. I've seen them grow a lot and (with my oldest daughter) build her confidence because I will let her experiment and climb and go far.
Can you tell me about any challenges you've had in the forest?
It's been pretty seamless for us. I think some people might feel limited if they can't spend a lot of money on gear. But you can overcome that just by being out there and understanding what they (your kids) need. And then go to second hand shops for your gear. That was a worry of mine in the beginning. Would we be totally able to access everything we need on a small budget?
What other advice do you have for parents who are curious about playing in the forest?
I don't know. I guess when it comes to facing fear, I see that as a challenge faced by many parents. There is a looseness to playing in the forest that takes more time for some families to feel comfortable with than others. Some parents are slightly more cautious in general, and are less comfortable or experienced in taking their child's lead. It can be hard to communicate the intentional purpose of the looseness of our exploration in the forest. Some parenting styles and children's personalities adapt more quickly to the child-led philosophy. It was a very comfortable fit for me and my family. But playing in the forest takes some flexibility and each family can find their own way to participate if they keep trying. For me it was getting out there and trying and knowing that if it didn't work I could just go back to me car. Trial and error.
Any other thoughts you'd like to share with other parents?
I was ready (for playing in the forest). My oldest wasn't yet. So for her, to start, it was just watching her peers have fun in the woods. I had to be really patient. No specific expectations. In the beginning, she just enjoyed eating a picnic every time we went out there. We focused on having fun doing that and nothing else. And even now some days that's the same. But the more often we go the better. Once we started going every week, when it was the same kids week after week, that helped. My (oldest) daughter is slow to warm up. So when it was the same kids it was easier to jump right in and form a bond.
And before we'd go, I'd try to get them psyched about the gear. To make it fun, we talk about splashing in the mud. I try to talk them through, leading up to different events that might happen. We also read a lot of books about nature, so our play is reinforced at home. That really helped my daughter get excited.
Want to share your story?
A big thank you to Shannon for sharing her experiences, her thoughts and her pictures with us. If you're interested in sharing your family's story in the woods, we'd love to connect. Just contact Sabrina
to get started.