Our school is located in the center of Preili, small town in Latvia.
We have a schoolyard, it has a fence. Students can move around and feel safe. For pre-school it is obligatory to have fence in the school theritorry. That is not obligatory, but recommended for schools. They have plenty things to do outside. School children have special time from 12:00-12:45 when they have outdoor time. This outdoor time for school age children is not typical in Latvian schools. In pre-school children are haveing 2 outdoor times in the morning and in the afternoon.
Latvian National Health guidelines are recommending to spend outdoors around 60 minutes of mid-active to active movement time for children and teenagers.
The teacher can use outdoors as much as needed. We encourage children to use their time outdoors, which they love. After outdoor break they have lunch. Such a long outdoor time is not typical for Latvia, it is something that we felt children need - opportunity to move. As many of children have after school activities, they don't have time or opportunity to spend enough time for outside games or go for walks. It is not common to let children play outside alone in cities or urban spaces so children are dependend on adult for their outdoor time and ability to move.
If we speak about outdoor learning in nature, then we like to use local city park - which is huge and nearby forests. We go for excursions as well, but not so often as we focus on school yards and forest place outdoor time.
Not far from our school 5 minutes drive is our forest space. It is 2 hectars of private forest, where we are allowed to work and explore the nature. We go by transport there once a week with every group seperately (4-6 year olds, 1.-3rd grade and 4-6th grade) and spend there around 2 hours. Children love their time in the forest. We start with 4-6 years old children and keep this practise also in 1.-6. grades.
Children enjoy making fire, cooking and building in the forest. They learn basic skills needed to feel comfortable and safe in the wilderness. They learn how to make fire, what wood better to use, hot to cut it and prepare. Use simple tools for that.
There is alway time for free play and practising social skills. They love to climb trees, hide from each other, run and just enjoy the space without any fence. Children feel safe and confident in the forest. They have opportunity to develop their motor, communication skills and gain knowledge about forest in different seasons. We develop their skills of self-regulation, understanding the boundaries, space and limits.
It is usually 2 teachers and 1-2 volunteers for 12 children. We prepare lessons and topics for learning, but also provide opportunity to enjoy time outside freely, we observe children a lot, how they change their behaviour and how they develop.
Not many schools go out in the forests with children. “Latvian state forests” (LVM) encourage teachers to go out more, to use opportunities forest is giving us. They do special training courses for teachers and develop programmes for different age groups to promote outdoor education.
Latvian educational ministry is not so supportive. “Latvian state forests” invites to learn from nature, to go in state forests and use recreational opportunities it gives us. For each age group LVM offers environmental educational programme, which can include exploring activities, topics and study materials.
We see forest and nature as a great tool for children development and self healing. It is not just a classroom. it is about our values, that forest and being in nature in important part of our lives.
One of key elements in sucessfull outdoor education practices are keen teachers and support staff, who are willing to go to forest in any weather conditions, teach children valuable lessons and attitudes about forest and nature as well as be ready to develop the outdoor education practices. What we have seen from our and other experiences, it starts with passionate teachers.
About state programms:
Since 2005 JSC "Latvia's State Forests" (LVM) invites schools to discover nature as the best classroom and attend the Mother Nature Masterclass: to feel the Earth beneath the feet, the touch of the Sun, and the water playing on the skin. Hand-in-hand they create a real masterpiece every day, day-by-day, by strengthening the green heart of Latvia – the forests! The emphasis is on learning by doing, experiencing natural surroundings and exploring woodlands.
LVM organizes various activities for schools, including different contests and courses for teachers. Starting with the programme for kindergartens “Pigman’s detectives” up to the secondary school programme "LVM School of Bioeconomics" and Forest scholarship programme for university students – everyone has a chance to learn about forest! And there is a special offer to 6th graders - LVM Forest expedition - programme that hosts every year thousands of pupils!
JSC Latvijas valsts meži (Latvia’s State Forests – LVM) invites schools to explore nature as the best classroom and attend the Mother Nature Masterclass: to feel the Earth beneath your feet, the touch of the Sun, and the water playing on your skin. Hand-in-hand they create a real masterpiece every day, day-by-day, by strengthening the green heart of Latvia – the forests!
LVM carries out environmental education in Latvia in cooperation with National Center for Education of Republic of Latvia, International forest education programme “Learning about forests” (LEAF) and Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).