What do Appalachian Forest School (AFS) students do?
Play outside! Students learn about their interests through discovery and inquiry. AFS students develop habits and preferences for a healthy and conscientious life. Read more on our Philosophy page.
Where does AFS meet?
Drop off is at 9am and pick up is at 3pm. We have classes based out of Downtown Harrisonburg and Downtown Staunton.
Where does AFS go?
Public and private land around the Shenandoah Valley including George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah National Park, Harrisonburg City Parks, Staunton City Parks, and properties of the Friends of AFS. In the winter months, we utilize a local summer camp with access to a cabin/wood stove.
When does the program occur?
AFS takes place during the academic year from September through May. During summer break, AFS offers a program called the Little Explorers Club.
Do you ever close due to inclement weather?
We play outside every day rain or shine! However, if Rockingham County Public Schools is closed due to inclement weather, AFS will be closed as well.
What about cold winter days?
In the winter months, we utilize Camp May Flather, a local summer camp. On this property, we have access to forest, meadows, and trails as well as a cabin for shelter in case of inclement weather. All AFS students wear a winter uniform that ensures they are prepared for any type of weather.
Do you have a curriculum?
We use emergent curriculum, which means that teachers are responsive to the children’s curiosity and build meaningful learning experiences that relate to the interests of the kids. For example, if the class notices a caterpillar, we may read a book about the life cycle of a butterfly. If the class is fascinated by puddles, the teacher might introduce materials or ideas that pique the interest of the group (ex: experimenting with flotation: sticks, rocks, leaves, etc.) Play is unstructured and mostly led by the children. By experiencing unstructured immersion in nature, the children make deep connections with each other and with the landscape around them. We utilize inquiry based learning, meaning that the teachers are more likely to ask questions rather than supply answers. This helps the students learn to problem solve on their own.
What does a typical day look like?
Drop off at 9:00
Drive to the location for the day
Play & Exploration (exploring streams, building forts, hiking on trails, jumping in puddles, balancing on fallen logs, etc.)
Snack time (chat with each other, discuss things we are thankful for, listen to the birds)
Play & Exploration
Story Time (animals, trees, plants, camping, weather, etc.)
Students nap on the way back to town
AFS teachers are:
Experienced outdoors people
Passionate about developing the next generation
Positive in any weather or situation
Respectful toward students and the environment
Able to balance discovery and instruction
Able to ask open ended questions that spark curiosity and encourage conversation
Vigilant about safety
All instructors are required to clear three different national background checks prior to employment, as well as a driving record check. When hired, all instructors complete 18 hours of training with the VA Department of Education on general topics related to child day programs, then 16 hours of in house training on forest school specific policies and procedures. All teachers are First Aid/CPR certified as well as MAT certified. Our teachers come from a variety of different backgrounds, which you can read about on our staff page.
Is it dangerous?
The safety of the children in our care is our main concern. There are risks inherent to outdoor recreation; through planning, supervision, and preparedness, these risks can be mitigated and approached with care. The locations AFS visits are familiar to teachers and particular hazards have been noted. Further, careful assessment of and interaction with risk to arrive at safe outcomes is a skill set lost as our culture becomes more protective, sheltering, and risk-averse. We want your child to be safe. We also want your child to know that it is ok to fall down, that scraped knees heal, and that they are more capable than society recognizes. We believe small risks build skills for assessing larger ones. Kids at AFS take appropriate risks and learn to guide themselves safely, thoughtfully, and confidently.
Each AFS class carries a satellite messenger. This means that Emergency Medical Services or the AFS Director can be reached even if there is no cell service.
How many students are in each class?
Each class has two teachers and a maximum of 10 students. This is more conservative than the state regulations stipulate, but we want to be extra vigilant about the safety of our classes in the outdoor environment.
Does my child need to be potty trained to attend?
Yes. Because of the added complication of diapers in the outdoors, all AFS students must be potty trained.