Children spend less and less time outdoors, whether in cities or in the countryside. Even to go to school, they are now accompanied. When we look at their daily lives, they very often go from home to the classroom, sometimes passing through activities, frequently indoors. This confinement in a closed space can also be accentuated among adolescents who now have a very rich online life. It is this observation that prompted Coraline Molinié to take an interest in pedagogy through nature, developed in certain Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries and to devote a documentary to it,
She explained on the show
The Earth Squared the origin of the documentary, inspired by a questioning linked to its ecological concerns: “How do we prepare the generation that is arriving for the ecological challenges of tomorrow? And I said to myself that a priori we were preparing them very badly, considering that we live in a society that is completely disconnected from nature.The numbers are quite staggering. On average, children today spend less than an hour a day outdoors. That’s less than the people who are in prison. So they have very, very little opportunity to be in contact with the living world. How can we expect them to protect him tomorrow?”
The earth squared
In her documentary, she strives to show the benefits of this link to nature, for the children themselves, but also for the future of the planet.
“At the school of the forest”, an immersive documentary
The director Coraline Molinié followed a kindergarten class at several levels, made up of children from 3 to 6 years old, who are outside half of school time, for four seasons. It is a Montessori associative school, near Arras. She films a private school, which bothered her at first because she would have preferred to follow the life of a public school, but rare are the experiences of this type in France for the moment. There are about twenty of them and the one she chose is a very accomplished version: “What I wanted to do in the film is to bear witness to an experience that is pushed to the maximum. And there, at the school that I filmed, children spend half of school time outside every day. They are outside 3 to 4 hours a day and I wanted us to be able to really feel with them the impact that it could have on them, on their development, on their relationship to school, to the environment. So that’s why I filmed this school.”
Filmed from a child’s perspective, the documentary follows their experiences and their development. The children begin the adventure at the start of the school year by building a cabin in the woods, their base camp for the year, with their teacher and school director Jennifer Maréchal, endowed with great patience. The children play, look for mushrooms, have leaf fights, learn to respect the animals that live in the forest, rest in the beds formed by the external roots of the trees. The toddlers, with their refreshing candour and wonder, speak directly to the trees and insects. All of this is intercut with beautiful images of sun-swept forest gliding through the leaves, and accompanied by birdsong and hoots. We shiver the first times the children roll around in the mud, then we quickly get used to it. They are watched, but can trudge and give free rein to their experiments.
Benefits for children
The school in the forest is a bet on several levels. First of all, the ecological component is strong. Children who know nature will want to protect it. It is at this age that the way we look at the world is constructed. This makes them aware of the living world.
Then, this sensitivity to life and this freedom that they acquire over immersion in the forest would also be beneficial to their development. According to Coraline Molinié, studies carried out in the English-speaking world are unanimous on the benefits : “All research shows that it is ultimately children who will have better school results, but not only. These are children who will be healthier physically and psychologically.” In particular, it is a question of better concentration skills.
She adds: “In France, there is a study that is currently being carried out by teachers who are in collaboration with researchers from the University of Montpellier, with the idea of having figures to show. to National Education to try to advance this pedagogy.
In France, alternative pedagogies – such as Montessori or
Freinet – are on the rise. Is pedagogy through nature gradually gaining ground (in the forest)?
Pedagogy by nature, an idea that is spreading in France
This school, in Arras, is one of twenty schools in France that are experimenting with “pedagogy by nature”. In the public, for the moment, there are initiatives, with teachers who are beginning to practice it, but the experience has gone up to half a day, or even a maximum day per week. It is also a question of material and human resources.
Initiative, was presented a school in the Gard where the pupils of CM1-CM2 of the village manage, with the help of professionals, a plot of communal forest of 3,500 square meters. The class is then made in the forest once a month. 1,000 forest municipalities are expected to take part in this operation.
Coraline Molinié wanted to make her documentary a tool for discussion on this pedagogy by nature which seems to be gradually more and more taken into account in National Education, especially since the Covid, where students spent more time than previously outside, to avoid the transmission of the virus.
In other countries, it is truly integrated into the public education system. Forest Schools have been widespread in Denmark, Germany and England for about fifty years. In our German neighbours, there are several thousand schools of this type, in our Danish neighbours, one nursery school out of five is a school in the forest.
Talking about ecology to children is good, showing them concretely what we risk losing, perhaps that would be even better. In France, will ecological awareness go as far as National Education?
The forest school52 minutes, directed by Coraline Molinié, is available online, in replay, on Wéo, the Hauts-de-France channel.