Birdwatch Ireland has recorded an increase of 350% interaction with its website nationally. People are taking social isolation as an opportunity to turn to nature for mindful moments, stimulation, relaxation, entertainment, learning. Below are ideas for outdoor learning taken from Forest Fridays sessions. These are relevant for every age. Forest school looks like it’s all free play. However, it works as a deep learning experience because of lots of planning and trusting in the value of curiosity and creativity. We thank all our outdoor enthusiasts for sharing ideas. Our Forest Friday page has lots more information and pictures to inspire. The good weather is a great motivation to get out there for some part of the day and enjoy!

Outdoor learning at home

We are really aware that families are working within different contexts and have access to varying amounts of outdoor space. You do not need a big space to benefit from being outdoors. Your garden or a small patch of unmown grass or a tree within your 2km radius will work well. Try as much as possible to use some natural, found materials in the activities – this is a practice in resilience and helps to teach the children that what they need is all around them. Restrictions give us opportunities to be creative. Saying that, a kit of string/wool/scissors/pencils/journal/clay/magnifying glasses etc is wonderful for being able to adapt to any situation. Let the children decide what they want to bring!

This type of learning works best when everyone, including the adult, is curious. Allow the children to be the leaders wherever possible. Child led learning is one of the aims and deviating from the plan to follow the child’s interest is a sign that you’re doing it right! In fact there is no right and wrong with this if you keep yourself, each other and nature safe and happy. (the three golden rules)

You could play forest school with the children. Here is a draft outline of a possible session. The ideas within it are just there to support you; not to restrict you. Go with the flow of your child’s interest and your own.

Inspire: Start with a story of how you used to play outside when you were a child.
Game: This is not a stick.
Explore and observe: Treasure hunt: 7 different greens (or get your child to make up one that’s more relevant to your location) Try not to answer questions but to enter into the the wonder.
Free play: Children learn through play. Let them play as much as possible. Enter into their play if they invite you. Or feel free to play with what’s around you.
Creative Focus: Using natural found objects where possible create and play a game of x and o’s
Take a break: Wash hands, have a snack, share a nature story. (The story about seasons below is one option)
Game: Choose a favourite running game of yours or the children’s.
Sit spot: Pick a sit spot in nature and stay there quietly for 5 minutes.
Gather and share:
What did you notice? – Share what you noticed (what you saw or heard or felt) with each other.
What are you grateful for from this session?

The story about seasons:
One day, the seasons had an argument. Each one of them said, “I am the best!”
Spring said, “I am when flowers bloom and it is green and fresh everywhere. Birds fly and insects have fun with new flowers.”
Summer said, “Yes, but I am when the sun shines brightly and it feels too hot to do anything. People eat ice-cream, enjoy cold drinks and eat yummy watermelon.
Autumn said, “I am when trees shed their leaves and cover the earth in orange brilliance. The air feels cool.”
Winter said, “I am when people wear woollen clothes, caps and gloves to keep their bodies warm. They get to drink hot chocolate. Birds fly south for the winter because it’s too cold.”

Since they couldn’t decide who was best, they agreed that they were all important because one could not do without the other.