When Water Speaks: The Power of the Forest School Movement

by Amanda Crawford

issouri is a treasure trove of outdoor places and wild spaces dedicated to adventurers of all kinds. The natural brilliance of the Missouri landscape is no secret. And yet, unbeknownst to many, tucked away in the heart of West County, a forest awaits discovery. But not for long…

The muffled sound of little feet treading on crunchy leaves can be heard as a small group of preschoolers make their way through the woods.

“Is the forest alive, do you think?” Molly, age three, wondered aloud.

“Of course it is! Because flowers are growing.” Nora exclaimed. She’s three, too.

“The water is talking to us,” four year old Arian stated observing the creek.

“What’s it saying?” Molly inquired.

“I’m not really sure yet.” Arian replied.

“I want to go down to the creek to listen,” said Danny, four.

And down they went, taking care to check on the friend behind them. The forest echoed with splashing water and playful laughter until the chill of early spring sent them back to dry land.

The slope was slick as wet rain boots met the muddy ground. One after another, the children climbed up the narrow path their boots had made on the way down. Grabbing onto protruding roots, low hanging branches and rocks within arm’s reach, the crew used all the resources the forest had to offer as they worked to pull themselves up. One friend, however, struggled at the base of the hill.

“Try to grab onto this stick,” Nora suggested as she extended a branch to Danny.

“No, it’s too small. We need a bigger stick. ….. How can I get up?” Danny stammered, looking up to his friends for ideas.

“Well you can climb up the way I climbed up. I had to pull on roots and it took a long time but I still got up!” Arthur, also four, explained.

Danny’s face suddenly lit up. “We can connect some sticks together! Nora can connect hers to Arthur’s and Arthur can connect his to Austin’s! Then it will be long enough!”

“But how can we stick them together? Tape?” asked Arthur.

“No, the tape is at school.” Nora reminded him.

“Mud! It’s sticky! If we leave it, it will dry and we can use it.” Arthur exclaimed.

“Look, he’s climbing! See, I knew you could do it, Danny!” Nora beamed. “And sometimes you slip and it’s okay. It just means you have to grab on really tight.”

“I can’t climb up but I have to!” Danny said resolutely.

Arian’s right. Wild places are talking to us. The forest has a lot to say to children; they are problem solvers and critical thinkers, they are compassionate and confident and filled with grit.

All of these skills came into play as the children rallied together to help their friend. Children want their communities to know something about the forest – that children have the right to play in them.

Forest school is an educational movement sweeping its way across the nation as research continues to assert the importance of time spent outdoors. Interacting with nature is as vital to one’s education as time spent in a classroom, if not more so.

Raintree is Missouri’s first Reggio Emilia inspired Forest School where children bask in the beauty of winding deer trails, wild flowers and a babbling creek every day.


Amanda Crawford is a teacher and forest school practitioner at Raintree School in St. Louis, Missouri.