Exploring East Coast Forests and Nature with Children

Tag: technology in nature

What is lost .. what is gained ..

My initial goal for this week was to look into the types of digital technologies (and possible apps) that other preschool forest and nature programs were using for inquiry and place-based learning. However, after reaching out to those I know locally who run outdoor programs, as well as groups I am a part of online (Reggio Inspired Early Childhood Educators, Wildschooling, & Newfoundland/Labrador Early Childhood Educators), I decided to change my focus.

The responses I received seemed to align with what I was finding in the literature. First, there were strong opinions that technology and nature should not mix (the nature/technology binary), Second, the ways that technologies are integrated into programs/contexts varied from substitution to performing tasks that may not have been otherwise been possible without the use of technology. This informal research however, did not, give me any feedback into the critical thought that went into choosing these apps/technologies. I felt I needed to look into this binary further, and gather some tools to better evaluate the types of technologies and apps being used in preschool inquiry place-based experiences. 

The questions I sought to answer were, Where does this nature/technology binary come from ? What are ways to evaluate WHAT technologies are being used for inquiry place-based learning, and WHY ?

Curiosity Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/t2ODooWyQWI)

Nature/technology binary

Rose, Mersereau, and Whitty (2017), reference,  Affrica Taylors (2013) book “Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood” as instrumental in challenging their conception of nature and culture (technology being a component of culture), and encouraging them to think critically about the relationship between the two. Taylor (2013), encourages us to move away from a romanticized view of children in nature, and nature as purifying childhood (therefore technology is polluting this experience ?). The first part of her book explores the ways Rousseau created idealized links between children’s innocence and the purity of nature, which has continued to inform current conception of child-nature relationships. This romanticized and adult idealized view of childhood innocence and nature as good and pure, has further informed, Taylor argues, the current movement to return children to nature. Positioning nature and culture as binaries, further creates a dichotomy of children in nature and technology/culture. Instead Taylor (2013), suggests viewing nature and culture, as fluid – “naturecultures”, looking at (learning with) the entanglements of the two (their common worlds).

Taylors (2013) work provides a different lens on which to reframe child-nature-technology entanglements, one which looks at learning with and inquiring with these entanglements, instead of viewing them as separate and in opposition.


Pictures of the Garden
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/iu3MkDoQXDM)

Part two of my inquiry was to gather tools used by others programs or researchers to critically evaluate the technologies and apps being used in preschool rograms for inquiry and/or place based learning practices. This inquiry has led me outside the field of education and into the fields of geography, environmental science, and beyond.

What is lost – what is gained?

Cuthbertson, Socha, and Potter (2004) made an interesting argument about the “insulating” or “filtering” effect that the adoption of modern technologies have on the ways we experience nature with nature and with others. While modern technologies such as digital technologies (though the article also discussed modern adaptations to traditional technologies – Birch bark canoe to plastic canoe), may make certain tasks easier or more efficient, what is lost in the move from analogue to digital ? Cuthbertson et al. (2004) caution that some digital technologies in nature are merely shortcuts to information or skills that already existed. Some questions they ask practitioners to question are; what messages are we sending with the technologies we choose to use? is the addition of the technology in line with the programs goals ? Is it adding to, or diminishing the experience ?

Affordance theory and learning 

The article “Technological affordances, social practice and learning narratives in an early childhood setting” (Carr, 2000) questions what is learned from the materials and tools that are made available to children. In this case Carr (2000) used affordance theory to look at the affordances of non-digital technologies in the making of hats in a preschool classroom.  However, this same theory could be used to examine the affordances of digital technologies. Carr (2000) uses three categories to analyze the level of affordances a material provides.

  • Transparency: How easily something (device,app etc.) is able to be understood or used. A person does not need to be trained how to use these devices, their design makes it obvious. Transparency can also depend on context (such as a child’s previous experiences). 
  • Challenge: How many options something has for use. The more ways it can be used, makes it more challenging. Further, it is can be combined with other materials/matters, this can add to its level of challenge.
  • Accessibility: How much social participation the device allow for, for instance can only one person use it at a time or does it allow for multiple users. 

The argument being that the greater affordances a device provides, the greater the complexity of interactions, the greater amount of learning that will take place. Perceptions of possibility surrounding a material or tool are also influenced by the experiences of the individual and other social actors in the environment, such as educators or other children (Carr, 2000).


While the Common Worlds framework is relatively new to me, I would like to spend more time with it, Affrica Taylors work, and others who inform this way of learning and inquiring with. In particular I wonder how it will change the way in which I frame forest school practice, child-nature interactions (intra-actions?), and how it all ties together with technology use. I imagine this inquiry will go beyond this course.

I began my inquiry with a goal to build a toolbox of technologies and apps that I could pull from to meet the context of my program and deepen children’s place-based inquiries, which I have. However, more importantly I have been gathering tools to evaluate WHAT technologies I will integrate, and WHY I am choosing to use them.

For instance, What types of technologies/apps are being afforded and what are the affordances of these technologies/apps ? How do these affordances change within different contexts (social, environmental) ? How might the technology impact the experience ? Pedagogically, what am I (and colleagues) noticing about the intra-actions between technology and nature, children and technology, and nature-child-technology ? What are children noticing ? By reframing children in nature as children with nature and technology am I increasing the affordances of space and place ?

Family and societal concerns that technology may disrupt our connection with place is valid, however, through critical refection on use, purpose, and context, could it also deepen our connections ?  Going back to seeing technologies as another language in which to express as well as decode the world around us, technologies/apps could be reframed as another tool for connecting with (nature, others in the space) and inquiring with (children, adults ect.).

Next post

Ipad-TV-Computer, created in the forest for “watching shows.”

Tablets and other smart devices appear to be the most contested in the nature/forest school context. I have gathered a few articles that look at the ways these devices have been used for inquiry-place based learning in outdoor/indoor preschool environments. Next post I plan to dive a bit deeper into these articles. stay tuned …


Carr, M. (2000). Technological affordances, social practice and learning narratives in an early childhood setting. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 10, 61–79.

Cuthbertson, B., Socha, T. L., & Potter, T. G. (2004). The double-edged sword: Critical reflections on traditional and modern technology in outdoor education. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 4, 133-144. doi:10.1080/14729670485200491

Rose, S., Fitzpatrick, K., Mersereau, C. & Whitty, P. (2017). Playful pedagogic moves: digital devices in the outdoors. In D. Harwood Crayons and ipads (pp. 16-28). 55 City Road, London: SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9781473916012.n3

Taylor, A. (2013). Reconfiguring the natures of childhood. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

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