Research

PhD: ‘Adult Experiences of Forest School’. Anticipated 2013.

Academic achievements: McCree Academic Res, Pub & Lect

Purpose of study

An effective outdoor practitioner can help a child or participant to grow, amongst other things, a sense of wonder for the natural world. As a practitioner, remaining engaged with the process of growing and learning can also help to maintain one’s own sense of wonder, open-mindedness, playfulness, relationship to the natural world and the ability to be a ‘co-learner’ in a shared outdoor experience. Yet how does a practitioner learn to do this, or inhabit this state? What are the inherent challenges to Forest Schools practitioners at this time in the UK?

‘Growing Wonder’ explores the delicate balancing act of the Forest Schools practitioner, performed through continually creative and improvised relationship, interaction and collaboration with the self, participants and environment. For the PhD I’m researching this process of ecological collaboration and continual learning, through case studies of Forest School leaders in early years pedagogical practice, supported by reviews of relevant literature and contextual influences.

Case study methodology

I followed Forest School leaders over a year or more, from their initial training to establishing practice in their settings. I used qualitative data collection techniques of observation and interviewing to build nine in-depth case studies. In-depth case studies give rise to ‘thick description’ (Geertz, 1973) where many layers of interwoven influence and action can be considered. Methodologically, case studies are criticised because of their small sample size. Grand claims cannot be made; the results are not generalisable beyond what Stake (2000) calls ‘naturalistic generalisations’. Yet the narratives in themselves are powerful and coherent, attempting to give as full a picture as possible. Positioned alongside literature and context reviews, new relationships can be drawn between the emergent data and previous research.

The case studies examine the influence and impact of Forest School training and life experiences upon the practitioners, for example, socialisation, own childhood, social norms, values and approaches to practice. I used grounded theory to code and analyse the data, which allowed emergent areas that deserved greater attention to be considered as the fieldwork progressed. During the fieldwork I found significance in the improvised experiences, which make up the main body of Forest School interactions, as a child-centred practice in response to natural, outdoor stimuli. Participant’s perceptions and world views, or that of their setting and context, are often acted out in their behaviour. On the basis of the initial analysis, concepts of shared space / child-centred theories / pedagogical relationships / improvisation and interactions became important to clarify.

Analysis

I am using standard interpretive methods of analysis for the case studies, arising first from the outcomes of applying grounded theory. I interpret the data from a post-structuralist and ecofeminist standpoint. Further, I am examining the results within several frames of analysis:

Transformative learning
Goffman’s frames analysis
Interaction analysis
Comparisons with improvisation principles
Ecopyschology and ecological systems theory

Implications

It is hoped the research will contribute towards:

  • Insight into Forest School Leader’s perceptions of their role and a greater understanding of UK practice.
  •  An impact upon training and CPD in adult and higher education, both Forest Schools and statutory, such as early years practitioners and initial teacher training in the Foundation Stage.
  • New knowledge within improvisation studies exploring the value of improvisation in pedagogy, play theory and ecology.
  • A professional and policy impact on curricula and pedagogical approaches towards interaction between adult, child and environment.
  • A critical cultural impact vis-a-vis adult values and attitudes towards children outdoors, adult relationships to the natural world and inherent socialisation factors.

Keywords

outdoor play, outdoor learning, adult role, Forest School, early years, transformative learning, improvisation, child-centred, ecopsychology, ecopedagogy, frames, attitudes, socialisation.

My research interests include:

Forest School, ecopedagogy, ecopsychology, improvisation, transformative learning, arts-in-education, outdoor play, imaginative play, progressive / radical / transnational / emancipatory / experiential education, risk, emotional intelligence, the creative process, imagination and consciousness, self-reflexivity, creative writing, ethnography,  arts-for-development, ecocriticism, poststructural feminism & critical theory.

Previous

Masters in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University (2006-7)

In the MA I studied nature writing, narrative non-fiction and majored in scriptwriting. I funded the MA with a commission for a new children’s play ‘Squirm’ which toured in 2007 (Sixth Sense Theatre Company for Young People).

Postgraduate diploma in Music Therapy from the University of Bristol (2002-3)

In my music therapy dissertation, I researched ecological applications of arts therapies. At the time ecopsychology and ecotherapy were very much at the margins of the clinical world. Now there is such a variety of applications and opportunities, particularly in therapeutic or non-clinical services, such as gardening for health or creative writing, green gyms and walking groups being offered in GP surgeries. Ecopsychological approaches have experienced a massive surge of interest and application. On a further multi-disciplinary note, cases such as Baby P have highlighted the need for a systemic approach to sharing case information and working together to help clients.