Beautiful young woman outdoors relaxing in park in yoga pose

What is “Holistic Development” and how is it applied in Forest Schools?

Holistic Development is an approach in which one attempts to address all of a child’s development needs at the same time. It is suggested that this approach “leads to a better understanding of why a child behaves in a particular way” and encourages “children’s natural intelligence” and “natural curiosity, love of nature,… sense of responsibility and to problem solve”.

The child as a whole can be explained through the acronym SPICES referring to their Social, Physical, Intellectual, Communication (or Creativity, or Character) and Spiritual needs and development.

It’s basis is in the Holistic Education movement, a “philosophy of education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace.”

Here, ” the teacher is seen less as person of authority who leads and controls but rather is seen as “a friend, a mentor, a facilitator, or an experienced travelling companion” (Forbes, 1996). Schools [are] seen as places where students and adults work toward a mutual goal. Open and honest communication is expected and differences between people are respected and appreciated. Cooperation is the norm, rather than competition. Thus, many schools incorporating holistic beliefs do not give grades or rewards. The reward of helping one another and growing together is emphasized rather than being placed above one another.”

How is this applied in Forest Schools?

Anne-Marie Medhurst suggests;

This holistic approach is perhaps best seen when applied to a particular activity. In this instance the activity started when the leader silenced the group and led them on a mysterious and circuitous route through the woods to a bush with strands of wool draped over it. This, he explained, was the breath of the Choo- choo people and had been left for the group to create friendship bracelets. The group worked in pairs, helping each other to plait 2 strands of wool and tie them to form a bracelet. They then continued their walk to find the Choo- choo village which they discovered had been destroyed by a dragon. The group was given the task of finding materials to rebuild the village (small shelter building) and the Forest School leader moved around the group encouraging them to talk about who lived in their houses. These stories were then developed and shared with the rest of the group during the celebration of work.
Using the SPICES methodology you can see how all aspects of development were covered by this activity.
Social – supporting others, working collaboratively and in a team, self- esteem, sharing and turn taking, understanding the difference between reality and imaginary play (able to have fun), decision making, negotiation, ability to cope with others using and adapting their stories/ideas.

Physical – movement, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, using different muscle groups.

Intellectual – story telling vocabulary, design and building of structures, imagination, decision making, thinking skills, problem solving, independence.

Communication – creative expression, decision making, eye contact when making friendship bracelet, listening skills, story telling vocabulary, non verbal communication.

Emotional – individual points of view respected, sense of achievement raises self- esteem, empathy and respect of others stories, creative expression, excitement, perseverance, imagination, dealing with emotions through play. Ability to cope with others adapting their ideas and story

Spiritual – beauty of nature, individual points of view and belief, community ethos.

Whereas a Forest School Trainee suggests;

The morning activities were all about the importance of play and how holistic development can be supported. We discussed how we could ensure that a child’s Social, Physical, Intellectual, Communication, Emotional and Spirtual (SPICES) could be promoted through Forest School Play. We agreed that these aspects of development transcended everything we did in our woodland play activities and how with adult support, children would recognise this too.  We discussed Mindfulness and that this naturally occured as we just went around the forest, engaging without threat or fear of time constraints or failure of succeeding in things.  Our pleasure was our own, we could take it from whatever we chose to do, from watching others from taking Risk and Challenge and in Exploration of our Natural Environment. We felt safe and recognised if we as adults could feel this way, imagine how empowering it must be for children.

Leanne relayed stories to us of children who had had life changing moments within the forest, my favourite was that of a young boy (Year 2) who recently on a Spring morning had entered the Forest from a slightly different route and on doing so had been exposed to an area he had never come across before.  Leanne told us how he ran towards her shouting, “Iv’e found it, I’ve found it, I’ve found the Land of Peace”. Recognising his excitement she followed him to a meadow like spot in which Bluebells and Wild Garlic was growing and the bright morning sun was dappling the meadow with its rays, it did indeed look a ‘Land of Peace’. Soon other children ran to see his discovery and shared in his wonderment, For the rest of the morning the children played around the Land of Peace making up stories of the little people that lived there and building them resources they might need. On their return to school news soon spread to other classes and year groups who all wanted to visit this amazing land.  Their teachers soon picked up on this amazing unplanned learning opportunity and in turn each class visited the Land of Peace.  Literacy lessons became more interesting as the younger children wrote stories of the adventures that took place there. Older children wrote pieces of persuasive writing on why people would want to live there.  On the school council the children put forward their desire to preserve this beautiful area of the Forest and to prevent people from trampling the beautiful flowers and herbs that grew wild and free there.  So strong was their determination and appreciation of this special place that the Governors handed over 1500.00 pounds so that the children’s wish for a bridge could be built so that it became a protected area.  All this from one young boys discovery during a play session in Forest School, such is the power of this approach to education.

You will in time look upon your own practice and be able to decide how your activities meet the needs of the whole child.

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