Red Tailed Hawk Forest School – A Visit

Principal Brown had the chance to tour Red Tail Hawk Forest School today.  He has written the following post to share with us.


I’ve just got in from touring Red Tail Hawk Forest School, operated by Shannon Foley and her husband, just outside of Collingwood.  What a fantastic resource for this community!


The first thing that struck me, aside from the fantastic location, was the pride that the students showed me in touring me through their forts.  They had even laid some ‘tile’ in one and has exciting plans to build an entire village.  We then proceeded to a river where salmon come up in the Fall and enjoyed some ‘forest soup’ in the woods.


Shannon spoke passionately about the Forest School Canada’s focus on building a sense of place in children.  Obviously, in our ever-speeding-up pace in this world the concept of place, and a connection with nature, is lost for most children and adults.  Reconnecting children with nature is a fantastic goal in and of itself – we at Headwaters use Richard Louv’s seminal works (The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods) as philosophical underpinning to our own outdoor work.  However, there is value in this ‘place’ work that goes far beyond academics and nature.  What I was reminded of today is that moving out of the ‘boxes’ that are our classrooms gives children a whole world of possibility, right before their eyes.  And, unlike most adults, children are not scared of the endless possibility… it is – when it’s allowed to be – their everyday reality.  The boys I sat with at lunch were willing to chat not only about Apple versus PC (we can’t pretend that these technologies don’t exist, even at a Forest School!) but also share their vulnerabilities with each other and someone whom they had just met in the woods an hour ago (me!).  This may seem like it belongs only under the ever-growing-in-popularity-in-fashion concept of ‘Character Education’.  However, that ability to share weakness – something that would never happen at these boys’ public schools at their age (they were 9 and 10) – stated to me that here were boys open to experience, open to learning, and more than willing to ‘give it a try’.  ‘Giving it a try’ is rare in schools because the fear of failure is an epidemic there … children hunt the ‘answer wilderness’ hoping to find the ‘right answer’ and most often are too stressed to ‘just try’.  Here, at the Forest School, children were allowed the space to be children.  To try; to fail; to experience the endless possibility that is childhood.


Those possibilities don’t end with childhood and today were borne out of connection to place – a safe place. (As an aside, when was the last time ‘connected’ was a verb that didn’t bring visions of cell phones?).  Our goal, at Headwaters, which I can see also see in the work of the Red Tail Hawk School, is that our graduates continue to see possibility and opportunity at every corner – through childhood and beyond.