Free Range Learning: Teachers Replace the Classroom with Outdoor Adventures

Step into a world where school is not confined by classroom walls but surrounded by nature

Imagine a school where there are no classroom walls, only nature and adventure. Gavin and Tennille Murdoch founded The Forest School to realise this “free range learning” vision, bringing a cutting-edge and dynamic educational experience outside of the conventional classroom. The school is situated amidst the lush backdrop of New Zealand’s Hibiscus Coast, offering a unique and inspiring learning environment.

By converting the vibrant, untamed forest into a living classroom, the visionary couple Gavin and Tennille Murdoch founded The Forest School as an educational environment where textbooks and exams are replaced with hands-on exploration and creativity in nature, challenging traditional learning paradigms. This unique educational setting is not just about learning; it’s about experiencing life in its most authentic form.

The four walls of a classroom tend to frame our memories of school, which contrasts sharply with the immersive learning environment that Gavin and Tennille have created. The curriculum at The Forest School draws inspiration from the natural world, giving students a rare chance to interact with their surroundings directly. This innovative approach to education is grounded in the belief that learning should be a dynamic, interactive process where the environment plays a central role.

Free Range Learning: Teachers Replace the Classroom with Outdoor Adventures

In this school experience, students are not required to sit at desks or take standardised tests. Instead, they are encouraged to explore the wilderness, where learning comes alive through practical experiences. They become architects of treehouses, engineers of drainage systems, and artists, creating masterpieces inspired by the forest and beach that serve as their classrooms. This hands-on approach extends to environmental stewardship, with students actively participating in the conservation of their local ecosystems.

The philosophy behind The Forest School is straightforward yet profound: education should not only focus on academics. Tennille, the school’s founder and a mother of three, believes in a holistic approach to education that nurtures students intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally. “Children are more than just academic learners,” Tennille emphasises, advocating for a balanced education that produces both knowledgeable, happy, and confident individuals.

A typical day at The Forest School is rich and varied, designed to spark curiosity and foster a sense of community. The morning begins with a warm welcome, followed by team-building activities and caring for the resident farm animals. The afternoon offers adventures at the beach or in the forest, culminating in group reflections and the communal preparation of meals over a fire. This structured yet flexible schedule ensures that each child’s learning experience is both meaningful and enjoyable.

Tennille and Gavin have a story that’s all about passion, dedication, and a shared commitment to providing an alternative to conventional education. With Tennille’s vast experience as a primary school teacher and Gavin’s background in outdoor pursuits and education, they have created a unique educational model that puts engagement, creativity, and personal growth at the forefront.

Their quest to create a better learning environment for their son and the other kids has led them to establish a school where learning is an adventure and the forest is the classroom. “There are more than 20 one-day nature schools nationwide now,” says Gavin. “We knew it had the potential to impact education across the country, and I hope this is just the start.”

At The Forest School, every day is an opportunity to explore, learn, and grow in a setting that celebrates the natural world. It’s a testament to the power of innovative thinking and the transformative potential of education that respects and utilises the environment. This pioneering approach to learning enriches the students’ lives and sets a precedent for future generations, illustrating the profound impact of reimagining the boundaries of education.

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