Gerber, Kohn, Lansbury, Ockwell-Smith….

Twelve years ago I did my Level 1 Forest School training which involved both observing and supporting work outdoors with Reception age children. I am a secondary Geography Teacher by training and twelve years ago I didn’t have children of my own so very small people were a bit of a mystery to me and Forest School was an eye opener. I am not a Forest School expert at all but I can tell you that an important part of Forest School philosophy is that activity is child-led: children opt in to things rather than being told by a teacher what to do.
Around the same time a friendly conversation on a summer day in the woods with my clever friend Louise Ambrose (of Outrageous Nature Company and Birchwood Learning fame) also sowed a seed. Louise was talking about working in a Primary School and how sad she felt about systems of sanctions and rewards.
Fast forward 12 years and I now have my very own small person. The stakes are high! I have this child with me 24/7…..I need to do my absolute best for her. So I rooted around. And when you root around you uncover so much. There’s plenty of duff stuff in parenting but one of the lovely things is that we can get to intimately know our little ones and navigate through raising them by choosing the philosophies that we think will work best for them, and us, in our own unique situation. Parenting advice is abundant and diverse…….you have to wade through it all to find the things that chime with you.
Thanks to Forest School and resonating chats with my good friend Louise Ambrose and more recent mummy friend, Karolina, I found things that chimed with me in Elevating Childcare by Janet Lansbury, Toddler Calm by Sarah Okwell-Smith and Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. Exploring their approaches led me to Magda Gerber’s RIE philosophy. explains clearly that the basis of RIE philosophy is respect for, and trust in the baby to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self learner. Magda encouraged parents and caregivers to provide:
• An environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing.
• Time for uninterrupted play.
• Freedom to explore and interact with other infants.
• Involvement of the child in all care activities to allow the child to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient.
• Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand his or her needs.
• Consistency, clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline
So you know a bit about my personal parenting choices but how is this relevant to learning outside of the classroom? Well, for me it comes down to remembering to give children time and space. On my courses I try to build in 5 minutes of silence in an outdoor space: so simple but almost always greeted by delight among the teachers because these opportunities are not forthcoming in day to day life. It’s the same for children; to develop enquiring minds I believe they need to be given the time to observe and explore. Not every minute of our outdoor learning needs to be structured and planned out. I think as educators we’d all benefit from stepping back, waiting and observing the children in our care. What are they interested in? Can we provide more opportunities that inspire them? Can they negotiate interactions with peers without our interference? What have they got to say on a topic? What happens when we back off? How do they problem solve?
Our school system and National Curriculum dictate our school childrens’ days so wouldn’t it be good sometimes to just give them (outdoor) space to breathe?