Implementing a Play-Based Forest Classroom Following the Onset of COVID-19

Authors

  • Kevin Stinehart Central Academy of the Arts, Pickens County School District Central, South Carolina
  • Jill Shelnut Department of Teaching and Learning, Clemson University Clemson, South Carolina
  • Meghan Chandler D. W. Daniel High School, Pickens County School District Central, South Carolina
  • Barry A. Garst Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, Clemson University Clemson, South Carolina
  • Stephanie P. Garst Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, Clemson University Clemson, South Carolina

Keywords:

K-12 education, forest school, COVID-19, nature-based learning

Abstract

This field report describes how a forest classroom was implemented for elementary-aged students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim was to provide students with an opportunity to connect with nature, engage with diverse nature-based learning experiences, and participate in arts-integrated subjects utilizing outdoor spaces adjacent to the school. In addition to describing how this play initiative was developed and implemented, children’s perspectives are provided on the academic and socio-emotional outcomes associated with the forest classroom. Recommendations for research and practice are shared, suggesting clear future directions for advancing this work.

Author Biographies

Kevin Stinehart, Central Academy of the Arts, Pickens County School District Central, South Carolina

Kevin Stinehart is a 4th grade teacher at a Title 1 magnet school in rural South Carolina. He is a Masters-level educator and a contender for 2021 South Carolina State Teacher of the Year. He founded South Carolina’s first Play Club in fall 2019 and created a forest classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic, which are explored in this paper. His focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) has helped steer his school and others around his district toward a stronger focus on teaching students more holistically with a strong SEL focus.

Jill Shelnut, Department of Teaching and Learning, Clemson University Clemson, South Carolina

Jill C. Shelnut, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in Early Childhood Education in the College of Education at Clemson University where she instructs pre-service teachers at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research focuses on social and emotional development, play, and early intervention for young children.

Meghan Chandler, D. W. Daniel High School, Pickens County School District Central, South Carolina

Meghan Chandler is a National Board-Certified English teacher and Teacher Cadet instructor at a high school in rural South Carolina. As a Master Teacher, Meghan mentors student teachers and interns, guiding them to develop engaging, student-centered approaches to teaching. She is currently working on her doctorate of education, conducting research focused on experiential learning in the K-12 setting.

Barry A. Garst, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, Clemson University Clemson, South Carolina

Barry A. Garst, Ph.D., is a Professor of youth development leadership at Clemson University. His applied research focuses on critical and emerging issues facing the out-of-school time community of youth, staff, parents, and program providers, with a focus on summer camp experiences.

Stephanie P. Garst, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, Clemson University Clemson, South Carolina

Stephanie Garst is the executive director of the U.S. Play Coalition, a partnership that promotes the value of play throughout life. She has been an informal educator in camp and museum settings and is an instructor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University.

Published

2022-05-31

Issue

Section

Reports from the Field