There it was…that unmistakable shimmer…that piece of glittery polyester that catches the sunlight just so…the princess dress. Yep, princess dresses are here, even amongst the forest schoolers. Just because you wear rain boots full of mud and carry sticks in your free hands, doesn’t meant there isn’t room in your heart and your imagination for tiaras and sparkle and tutus.
When we first started forest school, all the kids were dressed so practically, so efficiently, that I started thinking to myself that we’ll somehow escape the princess phenomenon. I could bypass the layers of tulle that were purportedly teaching our young ladies to look for suitors instead of educations, the swags of satin that clouded our girls’ eyes with promises of fairy tales instead of self-reliance… No, I told myself, here there would be hard work! There would be resilience! And the layers wouldn’t be of tulle, they would be of wind-resistant, waterproof gore-tex!
But on Fridays, when “toy time” would roll around (when the kids are allowed to bring basically whatever they want from home to show and tell and play with), I saw sneaky, gauzy fabric peeking out from out of all that wind and water resistance… As it turns out, there is a place for princesses in the forest school, too.
And why wouldn’t there be? Snow White took up residence in the woods in a collective cottage arrangement…Ariel lived in the ocean, just like Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid. And when the Frozen phenomenon hit, well, that was practically Scandinavia in a nutshell. And for the record, the boys are no different with their own corresponding toys: sabres and swords (and plenty of other things that could poke out an eye), shields and dragons…Children naturally gravitate to certain outlets for their imagination.
I remember reading in Peter Gray’s Free to Learn that children often play out and act out things that they might otherwise be processing for themselves. For example, when children pretend to fight monsters, they don’t do it to be violent, but because they can try it in a safe space during daylight, amongst friends, so that when you find yourself alone, at night you’re not afraid. If children are gravitating towards these things, then there must be something that they’re trying to figure out.
So while my original instinct as a parent might have been to fear what the princess parade might mean, being part of the forest school has let us embrace it a bit. For every toy time that my daughter brings a tiara to, there’s a corresponding toy time where she’s chosen to bring a flashlight or her doctor’s kit or a puzzle. She doesn’t think being a princess is a career or a destination, she just thinks it’s a fun game.
And those layers of tulle and swags of satin? Those are well-earned by these girls. So are the tutus and the mornings I catch her digging around in my make-up drawer. And don’t forget the face paint either. These girls are princesses that climb trees and roll down hills and wade through mud bogs, proving to themselves over and over and over again that you can do just about anything in a skirt that you can in pants. It’s not about saying “play with this” or “don’t play with that”. It is about letting children adapt all of these things for their own learning and to make their own rules – it’s about letting them have an imagination. After all, you’re only a child once; why not let them enjoy everything that world entails?