Denise Heppner, Tirzah Reilkoff
Leaders in education are wondering if the COVID-19 pandemic will nudge educators to explore the benefits of outdoor education. This research will take up that challenge and delve into the aspects of literacy learning that are fostered by participation within an outdoor educational context (Forest School), adding to the emerging research literature that outdoor play-based activities provide authentic learning for all students. Using action research, this study will examine literacy development fostered through the sociodramatic play of students in a Kindergarten/Grade 1 class as they engage in play-based learning within Forest School. Skills in oral language build the foundation for emergent literacy and supports the development of reading and writing. In dramatic play, students adopt imaginary roles and build on each other’s oral story-telling abilities during story co-construction; teachers can then extend this knowledge to teach narrative writing.
Research shows that children are healthier, happier and more attentive when outdoors (Louv, 2005). Studies related specifically to literacy reveal that kindergarten students are consistently more on-task during outdoor language arts lessons (Largo-Wight et al., 2018); and through participation in Forest School early learners demonstrated greater gains in reading and writing abilities than their matched peers in traditional indoor classrooms (McCree et al., 2018). Additionally, drawing on sociocultural theory of learning (i.e., development is embedded within specific cultural contexts) participating in Forest School meets the needs of Indigenous students by using the Indigenous teaching strategies of oral story sharing and land-based learning (Bell & Brant, 2015). This study will provide important information into facilitating the learning context of Forest School and examples of the teacher’s role in supporting students’ narrative competence and emergent literacy skills.