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A Reflection on Forest Experiences

Originally appears in the Winter 2015 issue

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share in rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
–Rachel Carson1

CHILDREN ARE BORN WITH the strong desire to explore the world around them. Their rich imaginations take them on journeys untouched by the realities of everyday life. Through their senses, they are eager to touch, smell, taste, observe, hear and physically challenge their bodies. These qualities of early childhood are most crucial for early child development and should be cherished. As an educator and a doctoral candidate conducting research on young children’s forest experiences, I understand the value of bringing children into a forest. A forest environment that can range anywhere from a ‘wild’ woodland, to a simple backyard park or yard. It is an environment comprised of non-human built elements, such as earth, water, air, animals and vegetation. Although influenced by human life, a forest is independent of human design and man-made objects and offers many rich opportunities to fulfill a child’s natural tendency to take risks and directly explore the world around them.

In the opening passage, Rachel Carson urges that a child must have at least one caregiver who shares a passion for the outdoors and supports a child to go outside – rain or shine – with all the risks involved. Throughout my time working in the outdoors, I have recognized the common tensions that caregivers must contemplate over prior to entering the
forest environment. The aim of my refection is to focus on just that, specifcally focusing on four possible tensions: human-nature hierarchy, degrees of risk propensity, between stepping in and ‘letting go’, as well as trusting the ‘un’ in unstructured play. The refection points described below do not have predetermined answers. Rather, my goal is to open
up a conversation for deeper refection in regards to our actions and intentions.

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Magdalena Rudkowski is a graduate of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) bachelor program and Masters of Early Childhood Studies (ECS) program at Ryerson University. She is currently pursuing her Doctoral Degree in Education at Simon Fraser University, studying experiences young children have in a forest program.

1. Carson, R, & Pratt, C. (1965). The Sense of Wonder. New York: Harper & Row.