I Love Forest School: Transforming early years practice through woodland experiences (2014)
by Martin Pace
Book Review by Sarah Gilmore
Martin Pace is an educator and founder of Reflections Nursery in England, which is heavily inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to early years education. Martin is passionate about the Reggio Emilia approach, but as he told us in his interview with Professional Learning Conversations, he is also very much inspired by the Danish ‘Forest School’ approach, but as he writes:
“‘Forest School’ is a loaded term - it carries specific meaning, or expectations.” (p. 8)
In I Love Forest School, Pace begins by helping the reader to develop an understanding of the guiding principles behind forest schools, and shows how those principles are applied in different nurseries in Denmark and Scotland through case studies rich with photographs.
Pace goes on to describe how Reflections Nursery takes the Reggio Emilia and Forest School approaches and combines them to create a style and environment for learning that is rich, child-centred, and inquiry-led.
“In Reggio emilia there is an expression that ‘the environment is the third teacher’ - the first teacher being the adults and the second being the other children. This phrase gives significance to the environment (and resources) that children encounter on a daily basis. In my view there is no richer environment to offer a child that the forest where they can access a wider range of resources and need only heir imagination and experience.” (p.30)
Every page of I Love Forest School is loaded with inspiring photographs of children engaged in learning in the outdoors, but there are also extensive case studies, diary entries, diagrams, and examples of learning engagements and provocations to inspire educators in their own practice. Pace’s passion for the topic is clear from the outset, but he manages to strike a balance between the inspirational and the practical, with later chapters going into greater detail about the risks and benefits of woodland play and learning and assessing risk. The book also acknowledges that, sadly, not every teacher or school has access to a forest and offers alternative ways to give children meaningful access to the outdoors.
Although I Love Forest School is primarily focused on the specific practices at Reflections Nursery, the deeper message, examples and approaches can speak to educators in many different settings. For all children, access to the outdoors is enriching, educational and, Martin Pace would argue, necessary. I Love Forest School shares a vision of how transformative that access can be.
Pace, Martin. (2014). I Love Forest School. Published by Featherstone, an imprint of Bloomsbury, London/New York. ISBN 978-1-4729-0607-6.
Martin Pace podcast with Sarah Gilmore, on Professional Learning Conversations. "Early Years, the Reggio Approach and Forest School." February, 2018. https://www.professionallearninginternational.com/professional-learning-conversations-martin-pace-podcast/.