Book Review: User's Guide to Forest Education-Not Just for Foresters

In International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume 3 Number 1(Summer 2002)
Peer-reviewed Article

Book Review "User's Guide to Forest Education-Not Just for Foresters" edited by the Bavarian Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Forests, German title: Waldpädagogischer Leitfaden. Nicht Nur Für Förster.
Publisher information: Munich: Bavarian Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Forests, Fifth Edition 2001 (in German) .
ISBN: 3-00-001292-3, 24 EUR.

Reviewer: Ryo Kohsaka, Researcher, Institute of Forestry Economics, University of Freiburg, Germany.

This work has clear goals, but no end to the project. It has participants, but no authors. This is a riddle that describes the User's Guide to Forest Education. It's a resource tool, published in Bavaria, Germany, for teachers, foresters, etc., to enrich the educational experience of visitors to the forest (especially children). It comes in a handy ring-binder format, so that new pages can be easily added, allowing for frequent updates; there have been five editions published over the last seven years. This is no end to the project-it's an ever-growing body of work. Although 19 project members from various backgrounds are introduced in the beginning, the work is highly interactive and includes feedback from readers, based on their own experiences. Suggestions are welcomed, and it is clearly stated: "Our user's guide lives for your benefit; it has been improved and further developed through your practical experience" (p. 4). Therefore, one must keep in mind that this review is merely a snapshot of this particular edition and that a totally different review may well occur in the future as the work continues to develop; it could be compared to an "open resource" on the Internet. As the subtitle suggests, the information on forest education is meant not only for foresters, but also for participating children, which is reflected by the major content-games-along with compact scientific explanations.

The book's format has the advantages of being flexible and interactive, but, simultaneously, there are disadvantages in that it is heavy to carry around in the forest and has a relatively high price of 24 euros (about U.S.$24). This is partly compensated for by the fact that the activities are usually detailed on a double-sided sheet of paper, enabling the reader to easily locate the separate pages for each activity. A brief explanation of each section is given before the games and experiments. The main content of each activity is clearly explained in boxes, outlined in bold, including a summary of its purpose, category, suggested number and age range of participants, materials and time needed, and the preparation and external conditions required. Below the boxes, the full process, variations, and detailed explanations are described.

The book consists of eight chapters. The first three and the last three are rather short, while the middle two constitute the main bulk of the book. The first three chapters include the goals, basic tips for forest excursions, and basic tips for different phases (introduction, motivation, closing). The part that deals the most with forestry is the "Demonstration of the Foresters' Tasks" (Chap. 1, p. 2). Given the gap between the widely held cliches and the actual work of foresters, it is interesting that a similar goal is currently often mentioned by foresters and researchers in various countries. The basic tips in Chapter 2 include advice on attitudes, how to behave, or how to motivate a group.

Chapter 3 gives advice for each phase of the excursion. There are several games suited for each of the three phases, related to the introduction, motivation, and closing portions of the activity. It is somewhat confusing, but the intention is for the user to use these in between the games in Chapters 4 and 5. Some groups may need five introduction games before beginning any of the scientific games in Chapter 4, while another group may need only two motivational games after these scientific activities. Most games in the early phase are icebreakers, promoting group unity and communication, while the next phase of the motivational exercises is intended for the group to experience loud, festive activities with lots of laughter and surprises. The closing phase provides the participants with some materials to take home, such as a "forest pipe" made out of pinecones.

Chapter 4, "Emphasizing Themes," includes different themes, consisting of topics related to each other. There are 13 games related to soil, 8 related to water, 17 to trees, 5 to sustainable use, 18 to the forest as ecological space, 12 to foresters, 10 to forests in danger, 11 to winter, and 7 to forest projects. The "Sustainable Use" section starts with identifying wood products in the classroom or feeling the differences between natural and artificial materials, such as plastic. It then focuses on production, such as sawing wood, and comparing the different types of wood from pine, oak, and spruce trees. In the "Foresters" section, the criteria for thinning and determining good trees are elucidated. This section introduces activities related to seed collection, sawing wood, or planting tree seedlings. The "Forests in Danger" section integrates more political components by conducting role-playing of various interest groups, in addition to the technical questions of when to fell the trees or how to identify diseases. The "Forest Projects" section includes experiments mostly related to science, and is the only section that entails long-term observations. The duration of activities can be two hours for photo documentation of the changing forest, or ten hours (two hours per session) for observing the influence of animal marks on trees, identifying seed-bearing trees, or caring for nursery stocks. The "Hunting" section is still in progress and includes no related games.

Chapter 5 gives extra tips for special cases, such as full-day excursions, large groups, family tours, groups with handicapped people, or different conditions, such as rain or night-time. It then explores further possibilities of additional content, such as creativity training (explaining how to carve columns, flutes, etc.), teaching, meditations, fairy tales, as well as lesson planning (comments on the curriculum), and forest kindergarten. The term forest kindergarten is defined as "a form of attending, by taking children between three to six years old to the forests every day, regardless of the weather" (Chap. 5, p. 2). This type of education started over 25 years ago in Denmark and came to Germany in 1991. Now, there are more than 30 forest kindergartens in Bavaria, alone. In the book, both legal and practical advice is given for forming this type of kindergarten. This section is of high interest as a new movement, but is still under development.

Chapter 6 consists of nine pages of information for further educational programs by local forestry offices and museums, from one-time to regular weekly events. Chapter 7 is a collection of detailed advice for evaluation (basic tips were already given in Chapter 2). First, it is suggested that the leaders reflect on how they performed, the plan, and the reality or success of the excursion. Then, the group is asked to give feedback. A couple of days after the excursion, the participants are asked about their impressions of the leaders by a third-party examiner by telephone. Chapter 8 includes a list of literature and materials, in addition to order-forms for more materials.

I would like to conclude by focusing on the concept of "environmental education as environmental politics," as described by M. S. Michel in another book, titled Animal Geographies: Place, Politics, and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands. Using the protection of eagles as an example, Michel points out that environmental education "blurs the boundary not only between nature and culture, but also between public and private political actions" (Michel 1998, 179). She emphasized that education is "a deliberate political attempt" and, for wildlife activists/educators, "the only place where we are going to make a change," as children talk to their parents about issues or write protest letters to the local newspaper (ibid., 180-181). Some hints of these issues were visible in Chapter 4, "Forests in Danger," and in the absence of games in the "Hunting" section. Nonetheless, the socio-political issues in forestry are not straightforward and can become overly emotional.

We should not underestimate children's ability to discuss sensitive topics, but political debates in forestry depend heavily on the regional culture, and the issue demands longer-term perspectives. Fairy tales that move children in Bavaria may not be appealing in other regions. Additionally, forest issues require longer time-frames for the results of educational and political actions to become evident. In many cases, they attract less attention from the mass media and politicians, compared to the protection of the animals, and require more tenacity. What was once regarded as self-evidently good, such as monoculture productive forests, are rather refrained from nowadays for being environmentally unsound. Consequently, sales pitches or pushing the values of foresters at this time would be destructive to children in the long run. The main focus of forest education should be limited to provoking the interest of children about forests, and taking advantage of children's natural curiosity and desire to have fun, so that they remain interested and captivated by the physical and social changes of the forest.

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Ryo Kohsaka