I just began my forest school practitioners training and with it, a deeper understanding of the theoretical frameworks for this educational movement. Before this, I was basically 'winging it' and teaching these kids through intuition. One thing I know I've been doing right is pretend playing WITH the kids in order to help promote and protect their play.
It goes something like this...I start a structured activity and all of a sudden, the kids all see their favorite cedar tree tunnel and run towards it excitedly. I do the same! I'm so excited to play! The kids all run into the tunnels which I can barely fit into but I try. They enjoy that I do try and all climb up to the top of a cedar shrub where they can see clearly as far as the eye can see. Instead of interrupting them 'as their cedar tree has become a hawk perch', I just observe and start thinking about how to respond to their play. Suddenly, I become their victim and must hide so they can find me with their 'hawks eyes'. This is fun.
Another example. The kids ask me how old I am. I tell them guess. They say '88'! Of course I then break into an old lady walk, voice, and grab a stick as my cane. The kids love it. I ask them to lead me into our dirt pit area that they love so that I can rest. The kids start to explain how to get there and what the trees are and birds because I can't 'see' clearly. I then am turned into a solid icy mass that can't speak or move as it seems that they want me to observe them. Kids have creative ways of asserting their needs.
It was great fun.
Another example. We are at Etienne Brule park and find a cool inlet forested area that has logs, trees, and shady areas with some natural swings. The kids all jump onto a swinging branch and say it is their unicorn who is going to fly them into different kingdoms. They tell me I am a guard and must ward against any evil spies. I do it and then I see a group of birds 'turkey vultures' flying above us. The kids and I decide that they must be spies and we need to come up with a magical spell to ward them away.
All of these examples showed me that when I partake in their play and let them lead, really engaging, deep, and intricate types of fantasy worlds and pretend places and characters can emerge. Whatever emerges, we just co-create it together and it makes the learning very easy.
Instead of structuring the children's play, let us adults immerse ourselves into the children's play again.
Until next week...
I'm a teacher, outdoor educator, forest school practitioner and all round nature lover.