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Challenge # 4: Lessons in the Forest

September 22, 2013

The third week of September every year is National Forest Week in Canada and this year that means classes can celebrate it from September 22 through to September 28th, 2013.

Our forests are true ecological communities where everything depends upon everything else. A forest is so much more than just a bunch of trees. It is an opportunity to study soil, plants, animals, air, water, habitats, ecosystems, populations, urban vs rural issues and more.

However it is equally vital to make use of a forest for its intrinsic value as well. I work for an urban school board and although it is made up of 2 large urban cities and a rural agricultural town I feel safe in saying the students growing up on 200 acres of land in the country often are spending just as much time as those in high-rise apartment buildings in front of screens playing video games or watching television rather than out exploring.

Often, students receive their first experience in the forest at one of our field centres and while we are more than happy to watch the ray of sunlight filter through the trees and land on a student as they marvel at all a forest is – this should not be their only visit to a forest for the school year. Classroom teachers need to be encouraged and supported in providing their own environmental education within the school community.

As such I’m throwing out five ideas to help teachers think about and discuss with each other ideas for the upcoming week on studying forests with their students.

  1. Many of our schools are adopting trees. Exactly what does this mean? Well, for each school or each class it can mean something different however a year or so ago I developed a short Prezi on The Concept of a Pet Tree for elementary schools to help.
  2. Create Reflection or Solitary Sit Spots. Bring your class to a nearby forest and have then all find their own spot, their own tree to lean against. Visit this spot often throughout the year. The more you do, the more the student will feel a part of the forest rather than a visitor. Read here, reflect here, write here, draw here.
  3. While time-lapse photography is extremely eye-opening and not all that hard, it is time consuming. Anyone with experience doing this with their class – please let me know how it worked out. Having said that however, do have your class take photos often of how the forest is changing. They could create calendars, narratives, or journal their experiences in their forest classroom all year.
  4. Explore and discover using your senses … One of the critical differences between television and computers as opposed to time outdoors is that only by being there can you feel the sun, listen to the melody of birds in the canopy or smell the fragrance of the soils, flowers, trees and air combined. Not even GoogleNose offered the bouquet of senses the real experience offers.
  5. Use the forest to build upon literary skills. Imagine students writing a forest tale, or developing a movie or play on what they have witnessed, explored or experienced themselves.

This last one in particular I encourage you to explore more. I guarantee you have a young Thoreau just waiting to reflect on her Walden Pond or a budding James Cameron eager to create his own Avatar-like scenes in the forest. Give them the atmosphere to bring the story to life this week.

So this week, as autumn settles firmly upon us, I encourage teachers to visit a forest, and initiate a relationship that can last the entire year long.

Some wonderful forest related resources for teachers are out there such as Focus on Forests from the Ontario Forestry Association or perhaps Resources for Rethinking  which is organized by Learning for a Sustainable Future.

As with each of these challenges, I’d love to hear how it goes!

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