Educating Naturally



Children’s education is a most interesting topic. The debate rages on over a teacher-led, intense, academic curriculum that forces children to sit for long periods of time and follow a succinct set of teacher imposed guidelines, or a more fluid design that is child-led using an emergent curriculum with a focus on enquiry learning. The profound element in decision should lie in the direct impact of children’s social, cognitive, physical, spiritual and emotional health and the role of the educator in supporting holistic learning and children’s  self regulation at Forest and Nature School.


It is an educators job to indiscriminately make provisions that support all the domains of a child’s learning, which include biological, cognitive, emotion, social and pro-social. All learning should be differentiated as research has proven that children learn in multiple ways and at different paces. According to Daniel Goleman a child’s emotional intelligence is not fixed at birth but rather is shaped by their young experiences.

“…emotional intelligence: abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate ones moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathise and to hope.” (Goleman, 2005).

That being said, what would be the emotional cost for sitting a four year old student on a carpet for 60 minutes listening to a lesson that has no contextual meaning? It is experiences that children have that give meaning to their learning. It is the seed that grows from hands on experiences that enable a child to expand their learning and understanding. Learning that is scaffolded through a skilled educators hand and eye is the glue that binds. This is what builds cognition, desire and passion for learning. This is the goal of the educator.

“…John Dewey saw that a moral education is most potent when lessons are taught to children in the course of real events, not just abstract lessons- the mode of emotional literacy.” (Goleman, 2005)

Contrary to the child-led learning discussed, a teacher-led program also has many positive aspects to learning. The educator builds upon the existing knowledge of the child and guides the child in the direction of the passion. It is in the recognition of small moments of connection that may spark an inquiry and that when pursued are enough to engage and inspire the learner.  This is where forest and nature learning are second to none.

Forest and nature learning offer an exploratory, inspiring, sensory calmative, and an explosion of learning opportunities that engage and interact with students on a tangible level. This juxtaposition has the ability to allow the immersion of the joy and wonder in nature and is a holistic way of learning and teaching.

Forest School educators are skilled at observation and allowing children to practice their skills across domains. Often it is the educators position to listen and observe. Being quiet and mindful of the children’s play in the forest rather than interrupting the play models respect for the child and their learning. Knowing when to join in play and when to step back and only listen is imperative to the success of a forest and nature educator that sees value in fostering the holistic child.


The ability of children to naturally self-regulate is natures way.

“…primary goal of a social-learning approach is to enhance children’s desire and ability to take a willing, active part in social interaction rather than a passive role in which they are externally conditioned to perform desirable behaviours and avoid undesirable ones.” (Shanker, 2013).

When educators offer opportunity to take risks and fail in a trusting setting it subjects children to a growth mind-set rather than a fixed mind-set.  Trying, failing wondering and discovering are fundamental to intrinsic learning for children. I can think of no better place for education than in the magic of the forest.



Children use negotiation, co-operation, tenacity, social skills, and mostly a sense of wonder. I capture the best moments when I simply sit back, watch and listen.

Wander, Be Wild, Always Wonder

Gail Molenaar RECE, Self-Reg Consultant and Forest and Nature School Practitioner

Offering workshops and presentations for educators locally and internationally.

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