Closing the Gender Gap: How Forest School Can Benefit Young Girls
Year after year Growing Wild Forest School has noticed the enrollment ratio of young boys outweigh that of girls, even despite the fact that our educators are overwhelmingly female. Unfortunately this disproportion is typical for nature preschools around the world- not just ours.
Indeed, a report conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute confirmed that preschool girls are 16% less likely to be taken outside by their parents to play than boys their age.
Why is this? We can only assume it's the parent/caretakers decision - influenced by their unconscious bias of gender stereotypes.
Today we're here to dispel those societal norms and encourage families everywhere to set their daughters up for success. How? Simply by allowing them to be outdoors more!
The benefits of forest school for ALL children are well documented, but the evidence also shows that are additional benefits for young girls in particular.
Boost Problem Solving Skills
A 2012 study revealed that girls who regularly spend time outdoors are better at facing challenges in life and solving problems than their indoor-oriented peers. Hard-skill building (like starting a fire in the rain) encourages girls to become more focused, more resilient and to cooperate and communicate more effectively.
For each specialized skill a young girl acquires in the outdoors, they are able to take that into everyday indoor settings, applying the same critical thinking and confidence to address real world problems later in life.
Build like-minded communities
In one study young girls were asked to take photos to explore their individual and communities health experiences. There was a surprising finding to this: the emphasis they placed on themselves, friends and families in being outside in nature.
Although nature and the environment were not part of the intended research purpose, being outside emerged as important as many of the girls and young women shared photos of themselves outdoors or of simple natural elements, like flowers, trees and water. The study revealed how nature was something that young girls are curious about, desire to be a part of, and that they simply needed to feel supported and safe enough to experience it.
Lead researcher Kallen Tsikalas, Ph.D. says, “We were surprised by just how much... (the girls).. appreciated having opportunities to take on challenges and build skills in a socially supportive environment. Girls really want to feel like they are accomplishing something and growing as a person, and the outdoors is a perfect place for them to do this.”
Increase Confidence and Comfort
The evidence accumulated also strongly suggests that outdoor programming builds skills and confidence in girls, thereby making the outdoor environment less intimidating and more available to them for recreational or leisure pursuits. The results indicate that ideally outdoor programs should provide girls with an opportunity to learn, have fun, socialize and connect.
Healthier In Body & Mind
A study in The Lancet Global Health pooled global data from the past 15 years and showed persistent and worrying trends: Women continue to get insufficient physical activity, and the gap between activity levels of women and men is widening. Particularly for girls aged 12 to 17 there is an extremely low percentage who are meeting the recommended requirements for physical activity and sleep, and preliminary results from research at Dalhousie University suggest that access to nature may be key to achieving this.
Participation & pursuit of STEM-related fields
Familiarizing young girls with nature introduces them to core concepts of science- biology, ecology and more from a young age, which is when they are forming impressions of who they are and what they want to be. It has been widely proven that the under-representation of women in science and mathematics careers is not a result of intrinsic differences in aptitude, but instead related to harmful perceptions about feminine and masculine roles.
Working Towards A Better World
Unfortunately the evidence indicates that women and girls face social barriers to experiencing nature as they wish. Gendered expectations, fear for their safety and feelings of objectification and vulnerability mean girls and women have to negotiate these feelings in order to participate in outdoor recreation.
Gender equality and safety are some of the key markers of a healthy community. It is a challenge even reinforced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Girls and women have the power to unite and mobilize whole communities with nature and the environment to create a more peaceful and and sustainable world for the next generation.
“You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you."
Together these studies demonstrate the importance of extended time in nature for young girls. By increasing girls self confidence, problem solving skills, and physical resilience, every girl- regardless of her age- can prove that her worth is equal to that of her male counterparts.
Instilling these values in our children starts early. It is up to parents to create a safe and supported outdoor-centric lifestyle which allows girls to grow to their full potential, and the forest school model provides this essential physical, mental and emotional tools that girls need to succeed.
The Forest School Foundation was established in 2016 to support the administration, awareness and advocacy of the growing nature school movement across the southeastern US. In 2017 they founded their first preschool, the Growing Wild Forest School, to provide child-led learning, play-based discovery and nature connection for ages 3-6 in Asheville, NC.