A family that has shown kids the joy of learning in the environment, and shared the value with thousands of teachers, has made a list of the world's most innovative educators.
Long-time teachers Linda and Bruce Cheer and their daughter Sarah Aiono, run Longworth Education in rural Hawke's Bay.
It started as a three-day-a-week forest school on their 1.6ha Poraiti property four years ago, with pupils referred from nearby schools, but now hosts entire visiting classes.
Workshops on their teaching model, which include self-chosen activities by the children such as dam building, climbing trees and making habitats for insects as well as daily literacy and numeracy instruction, are also held around the country for schools wanting to incorporate forest school learning into their curriculum.
More than 2000 teachers attended in the past year, future workshops are booked solid until June next year and inquiries have come from Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.
This month Longworth Education was chosen by Finnish-based education experts HundrED as one of 100 inspiring educations to profile globally.
The HundrED project aims to help schools evolve by finding and sharing inspiring education innovations.
There were ways for mainstream schools to incorporate forest school-type learning, said Aiono, a teacher who previously worked with children with behavioural issues before starting a Massey University doctorate in play-based learning.
"Look at your playground. Does it look child-centred or is it adult made? How can you bring nature into the concrete jungle of an urban school?"
Kids learned problem solving, the use of technology and techniques of scientific investigation — especially around physics and using materials — while playing and working with found and other materials to build huts, dig and experiment with flowing water.
They also learned social and emotional skills, such as using imagination, how to work as part of a team and resiliency.
Linda Cheer said the demise of national standards created an opportunity for schools and educators to consider other types of teaching — particularly for kids lacking confidence or with challenging behaviour.
"We don't need a whole generation of kids who do things by the book, we need kids who can actually solve a problem from a different angle."
Cheer switched to forest-based learning after becoming disillusioned with the traditional classroom.
Skills learned were part of the curriculum, such as ecological sustainability, she said. Most schools covered this with worm farms and teaching recycling, but that did not connect pupils with the environment.