Critical Thinkers

There’s a saying that a goldfish will only grow to the size of the bowl it is confined to, whereas a fish in the ocean surrounded by space, freedom and the wonders of the natural world can grow to its full capacity.

This saying has been creeping into my mind this week as I am visiting schools in California and have attended a conference on Deeper Learning. During this conference, we’ve enjoyed some fascinating discussions with experts from Harvard Education department, education greats like Ron Berger and many others about various elements required for deeper learning.

One of the topics for discussion has been the need for children to be able to think abstractly and use metacognition in middle school (the equivalent to our secondary school). It made me so happy to see so many people talking about the skills we need to be developing in children to give them the tools they need to be successful in today’s world. It also made me so proud of our amazing Little Forest Folk children.

We give our children freedom, time and space to play, to think, to tinker and to explore. Whilst we remain guiding adults alongside the children, ready to support and scaffold them in their learning. With that freedom of time and space come incredible results. Recently one of our 4-year olds was turning 5 and was working through a scenario involving dinosaurs and his whole family, during which he wondered aloud how much he and his siblings would add up to now that he was going to be 5. Within a split second he answered his own question,

‘5, 6 & 2 is 13 so we will be 13!’.

The speed in which he calculated this surprised me and this obviously showed on my face as he turned and asked ‘do you want to know how I added that up so fast?’. ‘When I want to add numbers I go backwards first then I can go forwards fast like lightening!’. I asked him to explain a little more what he meant and he added...

‘When I add numbers I go backwards to use the best numbers first like 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 or 10, 20, 30, 40…(this went on for some time!) then I do the rest. So for 5 & 6 & 2 I first of all went backwards and did 5 & 5 is 10 then added the 1 from the 6 like LIGHTENING then adding 2 is really easy, so see, 13!’.

I was speechless at this declaration. Not because he has a fantastic grasp of mathematical concepts, including calculation. Not because he doesn’t see maths as anything other than a fun tool to make play easier, but because at the tender age of 4, almost 5, he has become metacognitive. This is a phenomenal level of self-awareness, being demonstrated by his knowledge of his strategies for mathematical calculations. Self-awareness plays a critical role in improved learning because it helps students become more efficient at focusing on what they still need to learn. The ability to think about one's thinking increases with age. Research shows that most growth of metacognitive ability happens between ages 12 and 15….our Little Forest Folk-ers are beginning to think this way at age 4-5.

I remain consistently in awe of our children. I truly believe they are the most incredible children in the world. If they continue along this path of astonishing development, they will be 10 times the person I am when they reach adulthood. I remain consistently grateful for our amazing educators, who daily walk that delicate tightrope of being incredibly supportive adults, ready to scaffold learning, encourage sustained conversations and critical thinking without ever tipping over into wholly directing the children's learning. Following my conversations with teachers in California I am also grateful for the fact that we are able, as a social enterprise organisation to offer our high quality early years learning and life changing experience to children from all backgrounds. In a world rife with social injustice, it feels good to be trying to do our best to ensure as many children as possible get the childhood they deserve. Many teachers I have met are desperate for the opportunity to offer exemplary education to those who need it most, it reminds me how lucky we are to have created an organisation which allows us to do just that.

Thank you to our educators for being amazing guides to our children in a way that allows them to develop incredibly…. whilst being happy and joyful, free children. Thank you to our families for supporting us so strongly. And thank you to our children for continuing to astonish us with what genuinely amazing little people you are. We are so excited to continue to watch you grow.

Leanna Barrett - Little Forest Folk Founder