A complete guide to forest school provision and nature pedagogy

I’m delighted that this post brings you three things in one: news of the publication of a masterpiece of a book; a lively, live on-line book launch in which we can hear from the two authors; and some reflections from the deep and prolonged experience of writing such a joint Magnus Opus!

As described on the cover, “this book is a complete guide to Forest School provision and Nature Pedagogy and it examines the models, methods, worldviews and values that underpin teaching in nature.  Jon Cree and Marina Robb show how a robust Nature Pedagogy can support learning, behaviour, and physical and emotional wellbeing, and, importantly, a deeper relationship with the natural world.  They offer an overview of what a Forest School programme could look like through the year.”

We have long needed a text that situates the current idea of ‘Forest School’ within the rich historical context of nature-relationship approaches in the UK, as well as from many other cultures, describing how it draws from a long, complex continuum of understandings and practices.  Drawing from their combined 70 years’ experience in working with nature-based practices, this authoritative and very comprehensive book should become a foundational text for people developing their role in learning outdoors, and be used widely to inform nature-oriented pedagogies.

If you would like to join Jon and Marina at their live ‘Virtual Book Launch’ on July 27th at 7 to 8pm please follow this link.

The event will be hosted by Lily Horseman, and I’ll be setting the context for the importance of this book with some of my own thoughts about the big picture of nature-based practice in the UK.

Big thanks to Jon and Marina for this labour of love – and thanks too for inviting me to share your special event with you.

A blog about a book!  Marina Robb and Jon Cree.

“There’s a book in you that has to come out” were the words offered up to Jon Cree about 6 years ago and he shrugged it off.  Marina was delivering a presentation on her local community woodland, when a publisher approached her saying ‘you need to share this in a book!’  Why not get in contact with Jon Cree!  This co-writing of a book about Nature Pedagogy and Forest School was a series of fortunate coincidences.

At first, we thought there was surely enough books about Forest School.  So, we put them all out on the floor and skim read them all again and sure enough we both felt there was a new book to be written, but both wanted to widen this out and pull on both our lifetime’s work in the outdoor/nature education field.  To cut a long story short we eventually published ‘The Essential Guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy’ with Routledge this May.

Essentially, we wanted to try and paint a picture of what this thing ‘nature pedagogy’ looks and feels like in reality, pulling on our own combined 70 plus years of witnessing of interactions between learners, educators, place and resources.  In essence, trying to get to the heart of how the ‘theory’ of learning and development alongside, and with, nature is embodied in real life.  We also wanted to ‘challenge’ the normal often transmissive and unequal partnerships seen, even in a Forest School setting, between learners, ‘leaders’ and the ‘more than human’ natural world.

The question we are now reflecting on is, ‘How was the process of synthesizing our combined life’s work and bringing this into the world for us, in this time of change, pandemic, division and yes climate change?’

First off we would both like to say unequivocally co-writing is such a privilege and while things take longer, our own learning and, we hope, writing has been the much richer for it.  Synthesising our own ideas and thoughts on this stuff has been sometimes hard work, but also hard joy and very supportive challenge.  For those who know Jon, once on a roll he can go on and on, and while threads are all valid, having the focus of another colleague, Marina, to challenge and redirect has been such a blessing.  And what’s more our friendship has become all the deeper for it.

Self-reflection is so hard, it takes skilled active co-listening and reflecting back to make true reflection the rich companion of learning that it should be.  What ‘Nature Pedagogy’ actually is was something we wanted to really try to pin down.  While there is a nature pedagogy movement, facilitated by Claire Warden, we felt that it has never really been spelt out in specific terms to reflect what symbols and ‘mind and body sets’ the natural world reflects to us, with regards to the ‘nature of teaching’ (pedagogy).  We came up with a definition which is seemingly simple but has much depth below it, as spelt out in the book, that really is about the ‘cycles’ of life.

The definition….. ’Nature Pedagogy’ is the practice of teaching alongside nature and the learner.’

At the heart of this definition is relationship, reciprocity and a deeper understanding of cycles and connections.  What emerged through the book for both of us was how we, as practitioners (note we do not use the term leader!), fundamentally observe and evaluate developing relationships and choices made by learners and the non-human when responding to each other, and importantly how do we as facilitators respond and embody that response.  We are always reflective about how power in relationship is shared and that an adult-led directive space often diminishes an inner opportunity to grow and develop and build self-esteem.

This is skilful work and when offered well, requires a willingness to look within.  Jon’s learning journey has taken a new projection, partly as a result of the book, and that is one of delving deeper into his own ‘soma’ – i.e. his whole body and soul – and how this impacts on his ‘here and now’ relationship to the world.  As a result, he possibly would have included more in the book about how important it is for practitioners to delve into their own history and culture, to see how influential this is in how we frame our own relationships and dialogue with learners.

Marina wants to build on what is ‘good nature-based practice’ and make it available across different sectors, including the health sector (see the new training: Nature-based Practice Training for education and health: https://circleofliferediscovery.com/education-and-outdoor-learning/nature-based-practice-training-for-health-and-education/).  One of the important lessons for us both has been to let your own experiences and language fill the leaves of the book.  While we have pulled on many of the great thinkers and authors in the nature, education and health sectors, and personal conversations with friends and colleagues, in the end it is our own interpretations, words and real-life experiences that will hopefully ‘illuminate’ for the reader.

It is the putting into words and pictures that has been the great learning for us and has probably slightly changed our views on some of the topics covered through the book… language and its nuancing is such an important aspect of being human, especially in the realm of education.

Since finishing the book our first feeling was PHEW and THANKGOODNESS – it’s been birthed and it is finally getting to the doorsteps, in these times of online retail, and yes even shops’ bookshelves.  Then 500 copies were sold on the first day of launch – WOW maybe it is wanted.  We still have no idea whether this is a large or small number!  Then come the self-doubts… does it do the job we hoped it would?, will people find it useful and challenging at the same time?  Will it be useful to this oh-so-important job, in these times when well-being and nature connection is so much more important in what is possibly one of the most stressed times the planet has witnessed?????

We hope so.  Feedback gratefully received.

To get hold of the book go to The Outdoor Teacher website www.theoutdoorteacher.com

Marina’s previous posts for Early Childhood Outdoors can be found here:

Why did I set up The Outdoor Teacher?

Wellbeing: the self, other, our mental health and nature

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