1. The process of increasing in size.
"the upward growth of plants"
2. Something that has grown or is growing.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Growth is our second value at Canopy Forest School and like everything else nature is where we begin. Everything in nature is geared towards growth and the fulfilment of purpose. Growth takes time and that is why the long-term element of the Forest School ethos is so important. In today’s world of convenience culture, quick fixes, and instant results it is easy to forget that growth is a process and requires the virtue of patience.
The Forest School ethos and approach to learning is holistic in form and focuses on developing and supporting healthy lifestyles including mental health.
“Our ethos is focused on supporting Personal Sustainability through transformational pedagogy and new scientific knowledge is paramount to our focus. It supports children and enables practitioners to understand and adapt their methodology for the maximum benefits of the end user, children, and ultimately for society as a whole. It will be these children, as they grow into adulthood and positions of responsibility and independence themselves that will inevitably influence policy decision-making, and innovation.” (Blackwell, c1988-2020, p1:2)
Growth therefore takes place socially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually and all areas are nurtured by nature and the Forest School leaders. The role of the Forest School leader takes many forms they will guide, scaffold, support, facilitate and awaken a deep connection to the natural world, self, and others. The style and approach to learning is very much based on developing “Growth Mindsets” which was developed by American psychologist Dr Carol Dweck and is based on the belief that everyone has either a fixed or growth mindset. A growth mindset as Barnes summarises in her book Building Confidence, Resilience and Emotional Intelligence in Young People (2020) is:
“ …when you believe that your intelligence or talents alone can create success. A person with a fixed mindset does not believe that they need to develop or grow their intelligence as they see them as a fixed trait” (Barnes, 2020, p41)
Consequently, a person with a growth mindset believes that they can:
“develop their abilities through hard work and dedication, and they love to learn because it means they are developing resilience and continuously improving. When you have a growth mindset you embrace challenges, take on board constructive criticism, ask questions, keep on trying regardless of setbacks and are inspired by the work and success of others” (Barnes, 2020. p41).
Forest Schools embrace this approach to teaching and educating students and believe that it is the Forest School Leaders role to support their students in building their own confidence. This is achieved by not simply praising talent but teaching students to embrace challenges and problems:
“Challenges, hardships and mistakes are vital ingredients for developing hard-working and successful learners.” (Barnes, 2020, p42).
Forest School leaders can instill growth mindset in all their students by providing them with challenges so that they can test out their own abilities, become resilient to hardships, learn to think creatively and as a result they build their confidence.
Angela Duckworth an American academic, psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania studies grit and self-control. In her book Grit-why passion and resilience are the secret to success (2017) she writes about the qualities that lead to outstanding achievement and that it is not talent or luck that makes the difference but interest, practice, purpose, hope and effort. She writes:
“…the focus on talent distracts us from something that is at least as important, and that is effort.” (Duckworth, 2017, p42)
Forest Schools provide their learners with opportunities and activities in an “enabling environment”. This means that the woodland or natural setting is rich with learning opportunities and the leader supports and nurtures but also challenges and extends. This allows students to be encouraged to think critically to link their ideas and think carefully through a problem using the skills of resilience and creativity which also builds confidence.
Resilience is a skill that we teach in Forest Schools when children do come across a problem or a barrier. They tackle it instead of giving up and as educators we support, encourage them along the way which gives them the confidence to believe in themselves because we believe that they can figure it out.
Making mistakes, having falls, and not accomplishing a goal straight away is all part of the learning journey. Too often today we associate mistakes with failure, but they are a vital part of success. Teaching students this helps them to develop a growth mindset and helps them reflect and evaluate their learning journey. Grit as Angela Duckworth points out is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Duckworth, 2017, pxiv) and those that have grit can inspire themselves, courage to carry on and passion to stay motivated. These are all vital elements in the development of resilience, confidence, and creativity.
The Forest School leader is patient, supportive, encouraging and always communicates a strong belief that each student can achieve, solve problems, and reach their goal.
At Canopy Forest School our ethos, core values and mission are centred around the concept of these theories, and we aim to build resilience, self-confidence, and creativity through giving our students opportunities and experiences that will make them more knowledgeable about the natural world (appendix 1). The six Forest School guiding principles (appendix 2) upon which our ethos is based were agreed by the UK Forest School community in 2011 (Forest School Association, 2021). These principles are interwoven into every aspect of our teaching practice, approach, and curriculum delivery. The Archimedes E.N.E.R.G.Y model designed by Sarah Blackwell is an enormously powerful acoustic which highlights the:
“key components of the Archimedes Forest School approach to learning and the Archimedes Forest School Principles” (Blackwell, 2021, PowerPoint Presentation, p7)
The letters each stand for: Everyone, Neuroscience, Emotional Wealth, Relationships, Generation of ideas, Yearly. The principles of Archimedes Forest Schools are important as Sarah Blackwell writes:
Forest School is an ethos and consists of principles, it is not a building or a place and is not a static program or step by step process of working (Blackwell, 2021, PowerPoint Presentation, p7)
These elements are used and applied by Forest School leaders to provide the right conditions and opportunities to affect the participants development. The longer the exposure the greater the personal rewards as Sarah Blackwell writes:
“The longer the exposure during the programme the greater the personal rewards – nature is a great teacher and facilitator and it models and creates excellent metaphors for change and development and that no two seasons are the same.” (Blackwell, c1988-2020, p 5.1.2)
The role of the Practitioner is to help cultivate all these experiences through having a deep understanding of the needs of the students so that support can be given at appropriate times. This means that the challenges need to be set exactly right so that the momentum of each pupil’s engagement is not disturbed. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this in this book “Flow” where he describes the balancing act of reaching the flow channel which lies between anxiety and boredom. He writes:
“One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2002, p75)
The Archimedes Forest School’s 5 R Characteristic scale (appendix 3) is a means of measuring and homing into the ways we can build self-worth and independence. The 5 R characteristics are:
Having strong 5R characteristics helps individuals to know themselves, understand their place and purpose in the world and leads to lifelong learning, happiness, and wellbeing. Forest School programmes aim to build these characteristics so it is important that the Forest School leader knows everyone’s starting point so that they can build and develop these accordingly.
The process of reflection at the end of every session also builds confidence, resilience and creativity as the students develop a sense of ownership as they are trusted and respected to consider what their next steps could/should be in their learning. Emotional literacy is another device that is continually used in Archimedes Forest Schools, and this encourages talk and discussions about feelings and emotions.
“Emotional literacy is a fundamental facet of the Archimedes Forest Schools Model. It encourages practitioners to aim towards the development of an understanding of children’s own emotions, as well as of those around them encouraging the promotion of social relationship.” (Blackwell, c1988-2020 p5.1.4)
All these elements make Forest School education distinctive and different from other systems. Its ethos is developmental and open to the learning journey that each group needs/wants to take. Practitioners and learners constantly develop their learning styles and skills to support new and imaginative learning, but the core ethos/mission and values remain central to all that takes place. As Sarah Blackwell writes:
“In contrast to the more traditional outdoor exposure offered to children, Forest Schools Education provides a very comprehensive and broad-base experience for overall development. Some very positive developments observed in children attending Forest Schools are: self-esteem, (to include increase in levels of self worth, a rethinking of actual self and ideal self, a more realistic self image) self-confidence, new skills, ability to make independent decisions, ability to take care of self, communication abilities and social linkages. Among these developments in children, the most distinguishable aptitudes are in relation to the nature and environment, the environmental identity and the longer-term respect towards it. Such an experience is very distinct and highly advantageous from the point of view that these children are learning the foundation of sustainable development. (Blackwell, c1988-2020, p1:4)
Hence, growth is an essential factor in our work at Canopy Forest school and this is why it is our second value. As we watch ourselves grow as individuals and reflect on our progress we also become more attuned and aware of the growth and changes that are continually taking place all around us in nature.
Barnes Jamie Victoria, Building Confidence, Resilience and Emotional Intelligence in Young Children, (2020) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, p41,42
Blackwell Sarah, (c1988-2020) Archimedes Forest School, Archimedes Earth, p1:2, p1:4, p 5.1.2, p 5.1.4
Blackwell, 2021, PowerPoint Presentation, p7
Csikzentmitalyi Mihaly, 1990, Flow: The Classic work on how to achieve happiness, Rider, London, p75
Duckworth Angela, Grit-why passion and resilience are the secrets to success, (2017), Vermilion, London, pxiv, p42,