Classrooms in nature – a forest pedagogy seminar

Prospekt News

Photo 1. Day One – A rope and circle (Photo by Alenka Padežnik)


At the beginning of September of this year, a three-day
forest pedagogy seminar “Classrooms in Nature” was held as part
of SOŽITJE (Together we safeguard life and the diversity of nature for
future generations), an EU project developed within the framework of the
IPA Operational Programme Slovenia-Croatia. (For more on the SOŽITJE project,
see: link1,
)Holding seminars and forest pedagogy workshops is one of the tasks of
the leading partners of the project, Zavod za gozdove Slovenije (Slovenia
Forest Service). The main goal of the seminar was to train participants
to lead groups in nature schools, that is, to conduct “Classrooms
in Nature” for various groups and especially for children (first
and foremost, in forest ecosystems!), based on the principles of forest
pedagogy (gozdna pedagogika /Waldpedagogik). Forest pedagogy is a new
concept in Croatia and largely unknown to the wider public. While forest
pedagogy is mentioned here and there in the journals of Hrvatske šume
(Croatian Forest Enterprise), such as Šumarski list, most people have
no idea what it is about and cannot imagine the importance of a sensory/experiential/
educational stay in nature /forests, nor can they understand the importance
that forest pedagogy should have today. Conversely, this concept is better
known in Slovenia, where forest pedagogy has a firmer foothold and where
many activities are carried out according to its principles.

Held at Fara School Centre and in the surrounding woodlands
of the Kupa Valley (Slovenia), the three-day seminar was attended by six
participants from each side of the border (Zavod za gozdove Slovenije,
Ljudska univerza Kočevje, Risnjak National Park and the Public Institution
Priroda took part). The “high-spirited” Slovene pedagogues and
excellent instructors Boštjan Hren and Alenka Padežnik used their substantial
practical experience and knowledge in forest pedagogy to direct and expertly
manage all activities in the seminar.

The first day of the seminar passed in an introductory
presentation of the concept and importance of forest pedagogy. In the
afternoon, after a tasty lunch, (meals were provided by Fara School Centre),
practical work in nature began where we learned about the basic postulates
of forest pedagogy through a variety of activities and games. Unlike the
settled way of transferring knowledge in classrooms, forest pedagogy seeks
to provide forests and nature as an open encyclopaedia with innumerable
possibilities for the elementary experience – in the form of games – and
the comprehensive experience (of the forest world) using all available
senses. (One of the catch-phrases of forest pedagogy is “Head to
the forest for knowledge!”).

The second day was spent in the beautiful woodland near
the Nežice waterfall. First we chose a spot in the woods suitable for
carrying out the seminar and the activities of “Classrooms in Nature”.
We enthusiastically took part in educational and experiential games such
as Pantomime – guessing the names of animals in pairs, and Looking for
Animal Tracks, as well as games that focus on the sense of touch, on spatial
awareness, and on kinetic senses (and which are played with eyes closed
or blindfolded!) such as Find Your Tree, Caterpillar, Blind Trail and
Camera; games that focus on hearing, such as Listen to the Sounds of the
Forest, Water in the Forest; and games that put the sense of smell to
“work”, such as Forest Scents. There were also other games that
require full concentration and the use of a variety of senses, such as
Picture – Slide, How Many Trees in the Circle, and The Final Circle –
Mandala. The afternoon was spent in assigning tasks using a special computer
forest-pedagogy programme (Tourplanner) and choosing activities for working
with children and leading groups the following day.

The last day of the seminar was especially important.
Each participant took part in practical work with groups of schoolchildren
from Fara School Centre. The children were divided into groups comprising
grades 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and 7 and 8. The activities and games
from the previous day, as well as some new games, were chosen for work
with the children. To ensure the concentration, “discipline”
and safety needed when moving through a forest, a game called The Wolf’s
Test was included. In this game, group members were required to follow,
in absolute silence, in the footsteps of those in front of them, as wolves
do when travelling in a pack. After the practical part of the seminar
was over, it was evaluation time. At the end of the seminar, the host,
Ljudska univerza Kočevje, and the instructors presented the participants
with certificates confirming their participation in the seminar. We would
like to extend our sincere gratitude to all seminar organizers and participants,
and especially to our hosts who were responsible for “logistics support”.
We look forward to meeting them again.


Photo 2. Seminar attendants doing the Caterpillar (Photo by Alenka Padežnik)

Photo 3. An obstacle on the Blind Trail (Photo by Alenka Padežnik)