Forest Learning and Other Unique Education Models Rising in Popularity During the Pandemic

Before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, society was beginning to come around to the idea of alternative forms of learning that happen outside the traditional classroom. Many K-12 schools were beginning to implement online courses, and some families chose to do homeschool. But now these and other forms of alternative education are increasing in popularity due to stay-home orders, and we think they may continue to make their mark on our world long after COVID-19 has been eradicated.

One reason parents will turn to non-traditional education methods is because they may be frightened to send their children back to school. Some schools may require children to wear masks or face shields when returning to school, or they may implement other new policies or staggered schedules, which could turn off some parents or children. There’s also the possibility that school will start up again before COVID-19 has completely vanished or before a vaccine is available, leading parents to want to keep their kids out of school.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Oksana Kuzmina

The myriad benefits of working and learning from home may also prompt parents to explore innovative types of education for their kids. Many people have been forced to work and learn from home in the last few months due to COVID-19, but it’s likely that this will continue to be a popular option after the pandemic is over. As companies realize their staff members can work from home efficiently and effectively, they’ll become more open to making work-from-home a permanent option, and parents may want their kids to be afforded this option as well.

This isn’t the first time a pandemic has kept kids out of school. During its reign in the early and mid-1900s, polio caused school closures, and when schools opened back up, some parents opted not to send their children back to school. In the case of New York schools in 1916, about a quarter of students stayed home when the school reopened after a bout of what was then called “infantile paralysis.” The city was forced to relax its attendance policies because so many children were still staying at home.

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In a recent study conducted by Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation, 15 percent of parents say they will turn to homeschool after the pandemic ends rather than send their children to public schools. But some parents are getting creative and finding out that homeschooling is far from the only option.

So what else is out there? Well, for starters, there are virtual schooling programs that allow parents to homeschool their children without actually becoming their teachers. As long as a parent is home to help the child get online and access whatever meetings or online classwork they need, the child can be taught by a real teacher without ever leaving their home.

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There are also microschools, which are less institutionalized learning environments. Typically, a group of parents or a local community organization sets up a microschool, and adults take turns educating a small group of 10 or fewer children while the other parents work.

Perhaps the most interesting alternative is the idea of forest schools. Forest schools are gaining in popularity among kindergarten and preschool classes, and they involve spending all or most of the day outside. Coursework is often nature-based and hands-on, and the teachers are energetic and encourage kids to explore and try new things. As the pandemic winds down and things return tentatively to normal, it seems likely that parents might gravitate toward this unique form of education that allows kids to maintain social distancing and get plenty of physical activity and time in nature.

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Will your child be returning to school when it reopens, or will you be trying out a different approach? We’d love to hear what your new normal will look like in the comments.

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