Exploring East Coast Forests and Nature with Children

As if the two cannot come together …

Children bringing the "technological world" into the "natural world."

Mud painting: Pikachu in the Forest – bringing the “technological world” into the “natural world.”

Since starting this class, I have noticed more and more ways the digital/technological world have become entangled with children’s worlds. This week I had an interesting conversation with a 7 year old about technology and then about human-nature relationships.

She began by telling me that she gets an hour on her Ipad a day, after that, because of parental locks/controls the apps on her Ipad are no longer usable. She was excited that on this particular day she would be able to use it for two hours. A moment later she reflected on how we (the human race) need to go back to “the old ways (her words)” to help save the planet and animals. She gave examples such as making clothing from furs and skins of already dead animals (instead of killing them) and living off of berries and plants (instead of eating animals). I think what struck me most was her desire for technology with her simultaneous desire to “go back” to how “how we used to be.”

This moment came back to me this morning as I was reading through the Forest School Canada handbook (2014). I was trying to bring together my ideas of digital storytelling/inquiry and Forest School.

The child’s desire for technology and her desire to “go back” to “old ways” (a time before technology?) seemed contradictory. I wondered if this disconnect extended to her forest school experience ? Did she see her experience in the forest  as separate (like another world) from her experience in the technological world? If technology is absent from the Forest School program are we modeling that the two are binary, are we missing out on opportunities to critically think with children about the technology-nature entanglement … maybe I am thinking too much about this!

I am intrigued by my inquiry in theory, however I have been thinking a lot about it in practice. By reading through the handbook I was hoping to make connections between technology use and Forest School Principles. Sometimes it seems as if forest school programs are framed as “technology free” zones – the answer to too much screen time (See: here and here ), as if the two cannot come together. I’d like to show that they can.

As I read through case studies and research in the area I can definitely see the use of technologies such as cameras for photos, videos, and audio recordings can allow for deep inquiry and reflection (literally being able to play back or revisit for months and years to come), open-ended experiences, valuing the process of inquiry (while digital technologies provide products, they also document process), allowing for diverse perspectives, building a community of knowledge sharing, and providing another tool/voice for children to express themselves, their views, and knowledge as competent and capable learners ((O’Byrne, Houser, Stone, & White, 2018; Land, Hamm, Yazbeck, Danis, Brown, & Nelson, 2019). Further, educators as facilitators, during technology use, can encourage children to think deeper with their inquiries through open ended questions and experiences, while also prompting critical inquiry about technology, and sustainability (Sauerborn, 2015). All of which align with many of the Forest School Principles.


Forest and Nature School Principles:

  • takes place in a variety of spaces, including local forests, creeks, meadows, prairie grasses, mountains, shorelines, tundra, natural playgrounds, and outdoor classrooms.is a long-term process of regular and repeated sessions in the same natural space.
  •  is rooted in building an on-going relationship to place and on principles of place-based education.
  • is rooted in and supports building engaged, healthy, vibrant, and diverse communities.
  • aims to promote the holistic development of children and youth.
  •  views children and youth as competent and capable learners.
  •  supports children and youth, with a supportive and knowledgeable educator, to identify, co-manage and navigate
    risk. Opportunities to experience risk is seen as an integral part of learning and healthy development.
  • requires qualified Forest and Nature School practitioners who are rooted in and committed to FNS pedagogical theory and practical skills.
  • requires that educators play the role of facilitator rather than expert.
  • uses loose, natural materials to support open-ended experiences.
  • values the process is as valued as the outcome.
  • requires that educators utilize emergent, experiential, inquiry-based, play-based, and place-based learning approaches.

(Forest School Canada, 2014, p.21-22)

Many of the principles make reference to or are connected to place-based learning. The handbook explains:

“Place-based learning is firmly rooted in the act of connecting children to a particular place through direct experiential
contact.The ability to know a place intimately and to return to a natural space again and again, provides children with familiarity while honing their ability to recognize and understand processes of change. With connection to place comes a desire and sense of responsibility for caretaking and protection. Frequent encounters lead to an increased sense of belonging and, ultimately, to a sense of stewardship for that place, for the broader community, and beyond (Forest School Canada, 2014, p. 30).”

Again, I return to the conversation I mention at the opening of this post, technology is here to stay. If one of the goals of FS is to foster “a sense of stewardship,” in a technological world. Shouldn’t it also provide opportunities for children to explore what stewardship does (now) could mean (in the future) in a technological world ?

While I see how technologies can fit with the goals and principles of Forest School, I think it is still important to think critically about what technologies are being incorporated and why they are being incorporated.

I have been asking myself (and others in FS programs) what technologies fit the  FS context (financial, being out in all weather, being away from power sources) and values (focus on nature, not technology).

In my next post, I’d like to dive deeper into what technologies (and possibly apps) could be used in forest school that align with context and values (such as an app that would require more time editing/away from nature and focused on the product than on the process of exploring in nature).


Land, N., Hamm, C., Yazbeck, S., Danis, I., Brown, M., & Nelson, N. (2019). Facetiming common worlds: Exchanging digital         place stories and crafting pedagogical contact zones. Children’s Geographies, 1-14. doi: 10.1080/14733285.2019.1574339

Sauerborn, M. (2015). Place based learning and inquiry in a digital culture: Honouring student voice through digital storytelling

O’Byrne, W. I., Houser, K., Stone, R., & White, M. (2018). Digital Storytelling in Early Childhood: Student Illustrations Shaping Social Interactions. Frontiers in Psychology9. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01800


  1. Ruth

    I like the question you posed about whether or not technology and FS are a binary. The idea that we can blend seemingly contradictory ideas, like nature and tech, into a tailored experience to achieve our own goals (deepening the learning by using specialized tools) is interesting. It is a more individualized approach, that allows the practitioner to respond to the learning taking place and provide tools and experiences to deepen it. This is in contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach where everyone opens the same app and completes the same exercise about tree frogs.

  2. Sherri-Lynn Yazbeck

    I am always surprised how technology weaves and lingers in our spaces and time with children, even when not physically present. Like the story you share above with the child discussing iPad use, we often see trickles of digital technology enter play and conversation between children, even when not physically present (building iPads/iPhones out of blocks, creating computers with paper, role playing house and Skyping with grandma, asking me to ‘just google it’ when I don’t have the answer). I guess what I am thinking is it seems we are always engaged or entangled with technology, even when not physically present in the classroom/nature school etc. I wonder if we can ever be in a place where we are not in the presence of digital technology, does the ‘old way’ now that we have had intra-actions with these technologies even exist for us or the children who are growing up in this connected time–they sort of live as part of our story now?

    “I think it is still important to think critically about what technologies are being incorporated and why they are being incorporated.”

    I am appreciate the above statement you make about what and why. Thinking about the forest and nature school principles, along with the place-based description you give above, I wonder if carefully choosing the right device, app etc might help to gain understanding and work to create relationships with the places we encounter. For example, we have used the app ‘Plant Snap’ to distinguish native and invasive plants in a nearby forest to understand the places we encounter and the histories that are present. The plant app led to conversations about colonization and how these plants came to be and the complicated relationships we have with them. Denise (one of our pedagogists) expanded on this in a blog post comment– “technologies can help story pedagogy but the technologies have been explored, sought out, or engaged with for very particular reasons”– and I would add …not just to try something new out but in an attempt to build understanding/reflection/relationship with place.

  3. idanis12

    Your conversation with a 7 year old about technology and then about human-nature relationships reminds me of a Harraway quote that we (Sherri-Lynn and I) are all so familiar and in ‘love with’)
    “It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.”
    ― Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene

  4. idanis12

    The least ‘invasive’ or disruptive/distractive technology I think would be great on our forest walks is having a device on, that would simply record the sounds and voices we hear or make while in the forest. What would that be? An iPhone voice recording? I imagine how nice would it be to be able to listen, ‘re-hear’ the recording afterwards and reflect on the experience with the children and educators. Reverse technology: The “omit-ation” of other technology attributors such as images movements, just so allowing the voices to tell the stories.
    I wonder if you think this book would be interesting for you to read about the history of technologies, see info below referenced.

    Morton, D. (2004). Sound recording: The life story of a technology. Greenwood Publishing Group.

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