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Kiwi Educators Named Among World’s Most Innovative

Kiwi Educators Named Among World’s Most Innovative

A group of NZ education consultants who created a teaching model from their work in forest schools, now adopted by other schools around the country, have been named among the world’s top innovators in education.

Longworth Forest, of Longworth Education was selected by Finnish based education experts HundrED which chose their organisation as one of 100 inspiring educators to profile globally.

The HundrED’s project was established to help schools evolve by seeking and sharing inspiring innovations in education. The insights and best practices gathered from their work are documented and shared online to facilitate this process.
A forest school is based on an outdoor education model in which children spend time in natural spaces to learn personal, social and technical skills.

There are a growing number of forest schools in New Zealand as well as mainstream schools which have adopted the forest school philosophy into their indoor and outdoor learning environments The curriculum model originated in Wisconsin 90 years ago.

Former teacher and company founder Linda Cheer says during her time teaching she became increasingly concerned that NZ children had too many restrictions put on them and could benefit from the forest schools model.

“I became very disillusioned with the traditional classroom and the system. I felt that there was a need to have children learning outside, playing outside. I didn’t think they got enough time outdoors and the only times they did head out was during lunchtime and morning tea, and if they were taken outside for PE then it was adult directed,” she says.

“What I wanted to see was children having the opportunities to play, and to self choose, to make up their own games. I think it struck home to me that even when we just had the slightest bit of rain, they were all called inside, and there wasn't any leeway at all for them to play outside. I think also our schools are not built for outdoor play, there is very little for them to play on and it's usually adult constructions,” she says.

Cheer and her husband Bruce also a teacher, established Longworth Forest on their 1.6 hectare property in Poraiti, Napier, where children attended three days a week.

“The children were involved in self chosen activities such as dam building, constructing huts, climbing trees, making habitats for insects, making mud slides etc. In addition, they received daily literacy and numeracy instruction. Being immersed in such a holistic form of education ensured that all the children developed a real connection with their environment,” says Cheer.

Massey University doctoral student and company co-director Sarah Aiono says there is a great deal of research which highlights the importance of having children learning through play.

“We’re not talking about free play, rather about the opportunities for children to engage in learning that develops problem solving skills, risk-taking, or resiliency; the sorts of skills that they need in life,” says Aiono.

Aiono says the research and literature also suggests that those children who are denied outdoor play and experiences are not developing in a positive way, nor are they building the skills they need in adult life.

“We are seeing a lot of children at the moment that just aren't resilient to any challenges that come along, and the studies are linking some of that now in terms of the decline of play opportunities. They are now finding a distinct correlation between the decline in play and the rise in mental health disorders in our children, linking this with a lack of resilience, a skill needed to be able to manage life's ups and downs". ,” she says.

Aiono says along with resiliency and the development of gross motor skills forest school children develop not only literacy and numeracy skills but higher order cognitive skills, such as task initiation, organisation, flexible thinking problem solving and innovation. These skills are now seen as important for success in the 21st Century workforce.

“They also develop their social and emotional skills particularly if that play is with others. They learn how to negotiate, to resolve conflict, to concede, to get along with others, and hear different perspectives and ideas,” she says.

Cheer says the demise of national standards creates an opportunity for schools and educators to consider other types of teaching methodologies - particularly for those who lack confidence or whose behaviour is challenging.

“We don't need a whole generation of kids who do things by the book, we need kids who can actually solve a problem from a different angle.

“We've got a number of schools we work with, that have recognised that they would like to do something different in this school. They want to get back to teaching the whole child, not just children’s literacy and numeracy, and so they are seeking support from us to know how to do that,” says Cheer

Cheer says adopting a play-based learning model does not negate or replace the teaching of reading, writing and maths. This is a common misunderstanding that it is ‘one or the other’ when in fact great teaching incorporates a balance of teaching the basics, along with providing opportunities for children to develop much higher order cognitive and socio-emotional skills.

She says forest schools and the learning through play model are of benefit to children who don't fit in the traditional box that the system tries to put them in.

“Some students may have additional support needs such as ADHD or autism, which can present challenges for their learning in a standard education environment - but research has shown that they respond well to a nature based programme.” she says.

Cheer says global demand for their teaching model has seen inquiries come from as far afield as Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates but at this stage they are focused on meeting the needs of New Zealand schools before exporting their services..

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