Foresta KIDS is a European collaborative creativity studio, where we design and facilitate learning experiences and creative projects for kids of different ages in a variety of countries. Our work is dedicated to sustainability in its broadest sense and is centred around the theme of Human.Nature. It unfolds within the context of humans and nature (inner and outer) and their relationship to each other. In our projects we focus on subjects children usually don’t learn about at schools (such as culture of personal and relational sustainability, inner and outer forest, sense of self and empathy, and others that contribute to the core subject of La Foresta >> Multi-Layered Sustainability and the quest towards a more regenerative, collaborative and sustainable society). Below you will find out more about the principles in which we ground our work, tools and formats we use, with whom we work, as well as the background story of our educational philosophy.
Each human arrives on Earth with their own nature. Personal nature includes individual potential as well as limits. We arrive into the world that is already in itself a living nature of ecosystems, cultures, and other individuals. We see purpose of education as a way to understand and unfold one’s personal nature and to learn discernment and care for the natures around. Here are key principles, in which we base our work.
* Transdisciplinary and Phenomena-based activities
Foresta stands for a metaphor of a forest — an alive organism that contains multitudes of beings and perspectives co-existing in one eco-system and enriching the whole. In the work we do with and for kids we aim to bring back together and reconnect pieces of our fragmented world. We are interested in education that transcends narrow borders of disciplinary thinking, allowing to see connections between things, and through them to explore the world around and within. We adopt the approach that is currently implemented in the educational system of Finland — phenomena-based learning. It means that the learning process is structured not around a concrete discipline, but around a chosen subject, and disciplines provide a meeting of a variety of perspectives on this subject.
* Experience- and context-based learning
Educational projects are a response to real needs. Theory and practice need to go together. The limitations of theories is that they tend to make people cling to a learned mental model, even when it’s not working in the present conditions of real world, or even people try to fit the new world into an old system of thinking. Practice invites people to be present in whatever the situation is, and act as the situation requires, to be attentive, and to find solutions. Theory is a space for refection on the practice.
* Holistic approach — Embodied Culture
Intellectual, emotional, and physical content together allow for creation of a space where one can be fully human. Understanding and knowledge through the intellect are just as important as movement and body knowledge, as well as emotional and aesthetic development. Humans are multitudes. We have also manifold self-expression. Learning together we explore our multifaceted versatile qualities, like a craftsman learns to balance strength and gentleness, speed and patience, working alone and working together. Expressing thoughts is just as important as expressing feelings and bodily sensations. To be able to feel emotions, even the difficult ones, and to be supported, guided in the process, enables children to learn how to deal with these emotions instead of suppressing them, running from them, overreacting, or other patterns one learns when emotions are not allowed. We are convinced that humans of any age need to be respected in their holistic being. We incorporate different expressions of being into our learning experience design, including the body, movement, deeper experiences of senses and perception, and so on.
* Personalised learning
Personalised learning develops in two senses — we are all different, all learn in different ways and speed, all have different interests. Personal approach respects these differences. The other sense is that all learning is personal in a way of being connected to the lived life of children, not removed into theories of subjects that don’t require personal involvement. A child comes into the world with her or his own wish to live and develop. Their curiosity, learning capacities and playfulness were not given to them by us, adults. But so often children are encouraged to listen to everything and everyone except themselves. We find it very important to encourage inner listening and respect principles that children naturally follow.
* Inquiry-based approach
It means that everything starts with a question and there may not be a ready answer. We invite children to find their own questions rather than learn the answers to questions that others asked. This approach develops in each kid their personal agency and critical thinking and supports in understanding the bigger context, as well as hidden values and feelings. In the age of information it means to separate facts from opinions, sense from nonsense, honesty from deception. It also includes engaging with knowledge as opposed to “having” it. We never own knowledge, we build on it. Everything changes continuously, and what we know today may be different tomorrow.
* Focus on creativity and learning through arts
We join Elliot Eisner in his reflection on art as a literacy of the heart, and a way to reach one’s poetic capacities, to learn to say what cannot be said. We also see it as a way to continually reinvent ourselves and the world around, to learn to dance with the unknown and to realise that questions can have more than one answer. A living relation between art and education means that processes of creation are intrinsically and mutually affected by open and living discoveries. Echoing Jacques Ranciére we understand aesthetic practice as both a finely tuned and unconscious process of “knowing what you are doing without knowing what you are doing”. To continue reading on how we see art and what we can learn from it click here.
Creativity is an inherent drive to experiment, inquire, ask questions, develop original thinking, generate new ideas and apply them in practice. It enables us to respond imaginatively to the world from the position where we don’t copy but are uniquely ourselves. Creativity also gives us more safety in the unknown and constantly changing circumstances - it helps us to stay open-minded, to adapt, to find new ways for being and doing. It’s a basis for smart decisions in life, and for staying curious all along the way. If we only teach our children what we know they won’t have a chance to grow beyond the limits we’ve established through our knowledge. Creativity is more important than knowledge. It enables children to discover things the teachers can’t imagine.
* Fostering culture of collaboration
We are deeply interested in supporting the emergence of collaboration mindset as a change in relationships between humans. Who we are is always in relation to others. So by fostering culture of collaboration we strive to foster more respectful, attentive, and inclusive relationships to each other. Trust and empathy are the base of common work. Trust goes both ways: trusting and being trustworthy. We understand empathy as an interpersonal sense of being able to see, feel and recognise the other person and not our assumptions or interpretations of them. That is true for learners and educators alike. We value communication on eye-level. Education is an encounter between someone who knows something and someone who knows something else. Everyone is a teacher and a student in their own ways. Another aspect of cultures of collaboration are mixed age groups based on interests and wishes to explore together.
* Learning and joie de vivre have a lot in common
Through and with enthusiasm, brain creates new connections so that we are able to learn, grow and feel inspired to live. Watch our interview with Gerald Hüther to hear more on this subject — he has researched it extensively and gives a good insight into the essential role enthusiasm and joy play in the learning process.
* Liminal spaces and the Outdoors
Fascination and love for nature and the experiences it gives us is one of the major driving forces of our work. La Foresta stands for a forest, real and symbolic, inner and outer. We are convinced that some of the wisest and most sustainable methods developed to tackle the problems of modern life are based on nature's holistic ways of being. To learn from nature we need to spend time with nature. We aim for the experiences we design to take place in the natural environments or in the liminal spaces, close to the presence of nature. Natural environments provide for a higher-level of concentration, deeper inner and outer awareness, and a healthy grounds for the flourishing of all senses.
* Nomadic Nature
We are not settled in one place by choice. We are convinced that nomadic and mobile life-style is a great teacher. Traveling and shifting perspectives physically you also shift inner perspectives of how you see things. We strongly value multicultural cosmopolitan worldview, especially in the contexts of shared identities, “othering”, and multitudes of ways of being in the world. In can also relate to projects we do in the same city, traveling to different places depending on the context and theme of the project. This “school” has no walls, the whole city is a learning space.
We design and facilitate a variety of children programmes, workshops, journeys, exercises and games that encourage kids of different ages to sharpen their attention, to explore perception through different senses, to work alone and with each other, to connect to different aspects of their being, including their bodies, emotions, intellect, intuition, to move as well as to be still, to understand themselves better and learn to be true to themselves, to learn about the world and to express their personal vision of things through different media: drawing, painting, sculpting, book-making, filming, story-telling, dancing, and others. Clicking on the links below you will find more examples of the work we do.
We offer workshops in a variety of formats and constellations: short and long ones, one-timers and long-term programmes, indoors and outdoors, fun and serious, wild and peaceful, concrete and in-between. We do workshops for kindergarten children, school kids, and teenagers. We do workshops for families, and share our experiences with educators or anyone working with kids. We create children programmes during events, conferences and festivals. Click here to have a look.
We create space installations for children around a specifically chosen subject, often in combination with workshops for children or families. We also design exhibitions from the work that kids created in a workshop or a learning course. Click here to have a look.
Under projects you’ll find a special edition of our Woods event that we organise for children and teens, our project for museums — “Personal Museum”, as well as writing and photography that we do for children magazines. Click here to have a look.
* Engaging with stories
Stories is how we make sense of the world around us. Engaging with stories, fairytales, myths, collective reading, story invention and other activities with storytelling, we learn, change and grow under the influences of stories we hear and tell each other.
* Doing things with own hands
Learning to do things with our own hands is indispensable for a healthy and holistic personal development. Rooted in our cultural tradition, it is also a powerful way to express something about oneself and to gain confidence. There is plenty of research showing that making things with one’s own hands enhances well-being in our technologically saturated culture.
* Variety of materials and mediums of expression
To experience different materials and mediums of expression expands child’s world and allows to explore the diversity of ways and means to play, to try something new, or to find the fitting expression for whatever is searching its way to be expressed.
* Movement and awareness
Chemistry of the body is inseparable from the chemistry of the brain. Movement stimulates our brain in ways we often do not appreciate. We are not "brain on a stick” - we are embodied beings. Our bodies are ancient, millions of years old, very intelligent and very powerful. Movement and physicality is an inherent part of any learning process. The difference between movement as we understand it and sports is that movement is done with awareness, and therefore brings us closer to experiencing our bodies as inherently part of our sense of self.
* Moments of silence, observation and reflection
These are just as important as times of activity. Sometimes these moments are for simple being, just to do nothing. Sometimes these are moments for reflection (what I’ve been doing, what was good, what can I improve, what I want to do again). It’s time to listen, to digest, to get a personal feeling, to learn, to realise what’s true for oneself.
* Free Play and Exploration
Les us linger here a little. We understand play as an unstructured time and space to explore the world without any external guidance. It’s an extremely valuable and necessary activity for any age group. It develops curiosity, willingness to try, to experiment, to make mistakes, and try again. It fosters autonomy of an individual - through independent action to find out what works for them and what doesn’t, what they like and don’t like, until they understand who they are in this process, and what is their own way.
Free play is improvisation, but it still gives a framework, within which people can experience different situations, try things out, explore, create, learn about the world around, communicate with others, handle different situations, be changed by each other, and also discover things about themselves, their different reactions, emotions, abilities. They learn to develop different feelings and ways of being, and in this process also to own themselves through playing those different roles. They learn how multifaceted and versatile they are. Everyone involved into a play can be many things. For example, in stories about animals, each animal is a kind of crystallization of a character, a certain aspect of a personality: the rabbit, the bear, the wolf - everyone stands for something, has different qualities and ways to relate to the world. In play anyone can try out a myriad of roles. They learn to listen, to express themselves, to develop their creative impulses, to sympathize, to contribute to the common process, to take responsibility according to their curiosity. From such responsibility, intention and purpose are born. Different roles, different reactions, different plots, different characters - everyone has their own voice and right to exist. So in play individual’s personality, range of developed feelings, consciousness, their whole world is expanding. This description is true for children just as much as for adults. Grown-up’s work and play are two sides of the same thing unwilling to exist without one another. Most authentic play is built on work, on something real and committed. Deepest work is built on play, on something light and fluid.
Children by their nature are explorers of the world around. Curious of all life, natural learners, interested to try, experiment, and experience. In free play children have the space to follow their own curiosity, find their questions and form their own intentions, to develop freely as their individual growth requires. Adult is a reference point for a child. Many times children learn their ways of being from who we are and how we act, and not from what we say or want them to be. Adults responsible for a child day to day of course influence the world of a child and bring their own order to it. That’s important of course. However we see it as equally important for kids to be in a structure that takes seriously their needs, ideas, wishes, and acts, and doesn’t try to interfere into those. In free play adults's role is shifting between co-creator and attendant, accompanying children in a journey, but leaving them to invent, create, and act in their own reality. In this role the adults doesn’t impose any of his or her standards of a successful future onto a child that seem reasonable to an adult but overburden the child and prevent the child from fulfilling her or his real task, as Natalie Knapp puts it “to be ambassadors of spring and to give an entire society the primal power of life”, as a child is a child not in order to become a successful professor or a brilliant musician, but in order to experience the world as a child and to enrich it.
We Work With
We are born into the world that is not fresh for us to start. We come into the world with its history given to us as a baggage. Often we end up embodying and reproducing systems that pre-exist us, when in fact we need to consciously sort this inherited baggage out: what can stay and what needs to go. Times are changing, and it is clear that “factory model” of education doesn’t fit into our new worldview anymore. This text explores what education could be if it were to become an ally to creation of a healthy sustainable society and foster each person’s well-being in a broader sense of the word.
There are three main reasons as to why the current education model doesn’t fit into our contemporary worldview anymore. First of all, it leaves much of human potential undeveloped: many people feel alienated by current systems of standardisation and are left behind. This has far reaching consequences for a society as a whole (unemployment, high rates of depression and anxiety, crime, and other human issues that call for human responses). Talents of lots of people are not being acknowledged and developed, as they are not recognised by the value system of the current educational practices. And even those who feel supported by the current model, often learn to hide a half of themselves, leave it at home, in order to fit in - their lives are normal but not their own. Personal integrity is often missing. In standardised model, we are obsessed with productivity also when it comes to human beings. We want to train them, to "produce" this or that kind of people. In reality, we don’t train human beings. Human beings develop. They are their own agencies. We can support this development. So today’s education helps develop specific skills or fill people with specific information, but fails to develop a more balanced individual, with their own hopes, talents, fears, passions, and aspirations. Engaging people as individuals is at the heart of changing the way we think about education towards a more personalised approach.
Second reason is the neglect of the body inherent to the traditional educational system. Children are taught to look at bodies in a reductionist way that undermines them. They are taught to have opinions, win arguments, solve abstract puzzles, or make decisions to please others much more than to learn to listen to their intuition, be attentive to others in a sincere way, or find what’s true for them and express it. For this to happen the view of the body needs to change. The world of the body is one where physicality, emotions, spirit, intellect and connection to the environment are united. Embodied cognition science changes our basic assumptions about our own nature, about human intelligence. It shifts the view from the little “I” inside one’s head who rules the whole organism and gives it orders to a much more holistic perspective of a body being an interrelated system, where the brain, the heart, the kidney, all the inner players are important and intelligent. The entire human system is self-organising. What people contribute to the world around them has everything to do with how they engage with the world within them.
Ken Robinson writes in his book Creative Schools: “As human beings, we all live in two worlds. There is the world that exists whether or not you exist. It was there before you came into it, and it will be there when you have gone. This is the world of objects, events, and other people; it is the world around you. There is another world that exists only because you exist: the private world of your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, the world within you. This world came into being when you did, and it will cease when you do. We only know the world around us through the world within us, through the senses by which we perceive it and the ideas by which we make sense of it.” In fact, the two worlds that we have learned to separate (objectivity and subjectivity, facts and values, thinking and feeling) are in fact quite connected. “How we think about the world around us can be deeply affected by the feelings within us, and how we feel may be critically shaped by our knowledge, perceptions, and personal experiences. Our lives are formed by the constant interactions between these two worlds, each affecting how we see and act in the other,” - Ken Robinson continues. The conventional education pays very little attention to the inner world of the learners, as it is almost entirely focused on the world around. As Anais Nin once said “I do not see the world as it is, I see it as I am.” What we contribute to the world around also has much to do with how well we belong in the world within.
The third trouble with the current approach is a consequence of the previous two - it is a mindset of unsustainability as well as segregation and de-contextualized knowledge. As integrated bodymind organisms, we contain ecosystems within us and participate in the broader ecosystems of nature in an interconnected complex world. As humans so well equipped technologically but disconnected from our own inner worlds and the natural world of our planet as a whole, we are equally capable of making this planet unliveable, destroying much of natural beauty, making it only a suitable living place for cyborgs who do not need forests and rivers, and couldn’t care less of the healthy natural food, clean air and water. But only humans completely disconnected from instincts, governed by the mind ideas alone, would really be capable of creating such a place. So we need a kind of a mindset that acknowledges both our individuality and interconnectedness, and therefore also a practice that, on the one hand, shows interconnectedness, that is based on phenomena connected to real life where disciplines are interrelated and not separated into departments, and that, on the other hand, supports everyone in finding their own path, way of being and contributing in their own way to make life more meaningful and flourishing .
Change of values
Innovative endeavors often come after the melting down of the old forms, into which life has hardened itself. They might be chaotic, like all transformative processes are, but are still better than the dead order of a rigid doctrine. Ken Robinson in his book Creative Schools compares education that is a living process to agriculture. “Gardeners know that they don’t make plants grow.” He proposes to look at education from the four principles of organic farming. The first one is health: “organic education promotes the development and wellbeing of the whole student, intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially”. The second one is ecology: “organic education recognises the vital interdependence of all of these aspects of development, within each student and the community as a whole”. Third is fairness: “organic education cultivates the individual talents and potential of all students, whatever their circumstances, and respects the roles and responsibilities of those who work with them”. And the fourth one is care: “organic education creates optimum conditions for students’ development, based on compassion, experience, and practical wisdom”.
As individuals, we create our lives through the perspectives we develop, the choices we make, and the talents and passions we may discover and pursue. People are different. Everyone ticks differently. One of the features of human life is the variety of individual talents, interests and temperaments. Human intelligence is rich and diverse. In fact, intelligence is better understood as getting things done that have meaning to an individual, that matter personally, and that’s often is rooted in coordination of mind and body, action and reflection, feeling and cognition. Each person needs to have a chance to find out what is important for them as an individual.
Our understanding of values emerges from going back to the roots, to basic questions, like: “who am I”, “what do I care for”, “how am I present in my environment”, “with whom am I walking through life”, and “where am I going”. Ignoring these one risks entering into a lifetime crisis. We are like trees, whose roots when entangled don’t nourish leaves, nurture flowers nor bear fruit. Working with people in one-on-one mentorship sessions for the past nine years, I often saw a correlation between the states of stress, anxiety and depression that people suffer from and the mismatch between their natural inclinations and learned ideas, disconnected from their own reality of how to construct their lives. When our roots are entangled we become confused, we get out of touch with our personal common sense, the understanding of what we need and what we don’t, what is good for us and what isn’t. We then feel the urge to consult experts for every step. Losing touch with our inborn compass we become disempowered.
Much of this is due to our rather restricted notion of intelligence, that we usually identify with the logical, verbal and quantitative measures. Often we undervalue the many other ways of knowing, including intuition and the intelligence of the body. It is through the body that we find our inborn compass. Body has a sense of coherence and inner integrity. In the The Divine Within Aldous Huxley writes that “although for hundreds of years we have been talking about mens sana in corpore sano, we really have not paid any serious attention to the problem of training the mind-body, the instrument which has to do with the learning, which has to do with the living. ...We pour this verbal stuff into them <children> without in any way preparing the organism for life or for understanding its position in the world — who it is, where it stands, how it is related to the universe. Moreover, we do not even prepare the child to have any proper relation with its own mind-body.” Knowledge speaks to us in a variety of ways, so education’s role could be to embrace that, to teach to notice those ways and be able to integrate them.
The purpose of education could be to give a large “portfolio of capacities” to the learners, that would allow them to be better equipped to be tuned to themselves and the changing world around. Such education would include rationality, intuition, imagination, and somatic awareness, as components that can all contribute to informing our decisions and point us to new solutions and practices. In such an approach it is important that those who teach or guide the learners are also continuously learning and living these values themselves. Embodying this approach ourselves, becoming more and more emotionally and intellectually intelligent, present in our own bodies and environments, aware of our personal qualities and of those of others, being individuals for whom the logical mind and intuition become equal allies, by living these qualities ourselves we support the growth of people learning from us, who belong in their world, and therefore are able to act consciously and aware of consequences.
Educational philosophy and practice
There are plenty of wonderful examples of people changing their views and practices around what education can be about. To interview those people and collect best practices is a separate project of LaForesta. We also want to create the overview of different best practices of educational initiatives worldwide. It's coming, so stay tuned. For now I want to describe in more details the educational philosophy of embodied learning that we set off to practice at Foresta Kids.
Growing up in the post-Soviet Latvia my education was so far from lived life that from the beginning on I wanted to build a studio that would be rooted in lived experiences and complexities of everyday life. From personal experiences came a realisation that to deal well with life’s demands requires a full body presence. Often it’s not enough to be smart, and know many things. One needs to acknowledge and value different ways of knowing, as well as to find the balance between doing and reflection, activity and contemplation. This search for an approach to learning that is more integrated, attentive and tuned-in to our lived life is a lifetime endeavour, and we are just at the beginning. We started designing learning experiences for people, adults and children, four years ago, with a wish to combine creativity and somatic awareness in our projects. We called it embodied learning dedicated to creative expression. Not just for the sake of being creative, but as a possibility to develop a personal way of doing things, to live a life of one’s own, to continuously expand attention to the world around and find joy in all this.
It’s an ongoing adventure, through which we also recreate ourselves over and over. We see our role in creating and holding the space, the environment that is inspiring people to learn, grow and be alive. A kind of flexible structure that can support people in being present, being honestly themselves, and attentive to the world. Attention is at the core of our mores. Attention as both — respect towards life as it unfolds, not trying to impose from outside but rather being facilitators holding the space, as well as care — an ability to be involved, to give what is needed in different moments, to guide, to share our knowledge and experience when required. An example of such attention in action is education of the senses through experiences. For instance, instead of looking at a tree in a book, we find it much more interesting to go to the tree, feel it, touch it, smell it, climb it, and then we can come back and draw, sculpt, or talk to share our experiences. It is a sensitivity that goes both ways - to the world around as well as to oneself, and the processes of one's own body.
We see education as a way to explore varieties of perspectives and possibilities in life. Whether meant for adults or children, education needs to inspire mojo (the soul), inspire people to live and support them in finding a path towards life that is their own. Personalising education has deep roots: in the 17th century John Locke advocated the simultaneous education of the body, character and mind. Throughout history many different individuals engaged in creation of more personalised and holistic education that follows the natural grain of children’s development, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, John Dewey, Michael Duane, Kurt Hahn, Dorothy Heathcote, Jean Piaget, Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky, Rudolf Steiner, Vasyl Sukhomlynsky, A.S.Neill, Elena Makarova, and many others. Are you also carrying a torch of reinventing education, or researching the importance of these forms of education for more equitable and sustainable societies? We want to hear from you! >> Feel free to get in touch