LEAF Director Barry McGonigal attends 13th European Pedagogics Congress

The 13th European Forest Pedagogics Congress was held in Pudasjärvi, Finland from 2-5 October, and LEAF Director Barry McGonigal was among the 100 international forest pedagogues from 17 countries in attendance. The theme of the 2018 Congress, which was hosted by the Finnish Forest Association and the Finnish 4H Federation, was “Together - How to involve and participate children and youth in learning, decision making and planning.”

Based in Pikku-Syöte amidst the stunning Finnish landscape, I experienced the warmth of Finnish hospitality, including being welcomed to Pudasjärvi Log Campus where the world-famous quality of the Finnish educational system was on display in the incredible surroundings of the world’s largest log structure. -Barry McGonigal

Barry’s participation in the congress was an opportunity for him to collaborate with dedicated forest pedagogues from around the world and to apply what he learned to the development of the LEAF programme. According to Barry, he “gained valuable insights into how to engage students in active outdoor learning: whether exercising muscles or grey matter, the essential element was fostering a connection to the environment.”

In keeping with the theme of the 2018 event, this was the first year that youth were invited to participate. The Congress was held at the Pikku-Syöte Youth and Leisure Centre and the Pudasjärvi Log Campus, giving local youth the chance to join the pedagogues in various outdoor workshops. These activities highlighted the importance of enlisting youth in the formulation and implementation of forest pedagogy. As the world’s future decision-makers, young people must be taught to engage with nature and cultivate a sense of ownership over the environment.

One workshop that particularly resonated with Barry concerned the wide variety of forest products and how they can be used sustainably. He was introduced to new wood technologies including pine ice-cream, cloth spun from processed timber offcuts, a wood-based cast to set broken bones that has replaced traditional plaster in all of Finland’s hospitals, and plastic products made from nanocellulose to replace traditional plastic products.

In addition to the workshops and outdoor activities, the Congress also featured keynote addresses from four distinguished speakers. A common theme among the speeches was the need for greater youth participation in learning and how pedagogues can achieve this goal.

Barry would like to sincerely thank the Finnish 4H Federation along with Sirpa Kärkkäinen and the entire team at the Finnish Forest Association for hosting him at the Congress. The 14th European Pedagogics Congress will take place next year in Latvia.

All photos by Vilma Issakainen, Finnish Forest Association