30 Days Wild: Day 24-Forest School

It is getting towards the end of the year where schools ask for feedback on your child’s year. We were asked about Alice’s experiences in Nursery over the last year and I felt compelled to write beyond the parent’s Facebook group. Alice attended Forest School as part of her nursery provision. Her nursery has a small woodland area attached to the main nursery. She spent the mornings in Forest school and then in the afternoons she accessed the more mainstream nursery setting, giving her the best of both worlds.

I was keen for Alice to attend Forest School when we found out it was an option at the nursery. Having worked as a teacher in Early Years for a decade I know how little time the children will get outside as they move up through school. Which is a great pity as the benefits of outdoor play have been discussed again and again. Here in the UK, we start formal education very early, while many other countries hold off until 7 years old and achieve better results. In Finland, the children regularly top education league tables, yet they are one of the countries that spend less time in the classroom. Forest school offers this outdoor time for our children’s education.

For Alice, Forst School has given her the time outside that clearly matters to me. Amy was worried about how hardy she’d be, whether she’d cope with the seasons changing. But this is part of the setup. They build resilience and adaptability. Some days they can’t do what they want to do, but they will still do something enjoyable. Alice is very particular about doing things outside of school as a result. She is happy playing with mud and going out in bad weather so long as we have the right kit on.

As a society, we do not let our children play out in the same way as when I was young. We had large periods of unstructured outdoor play with minimal supervision. I climbed trees, I made dens, I made a mess. We learned how to manage our own risk. You realised your limits of how far you could climb a tree. Whereas many children now don’t develop this positive attitude of being able to give things a go as they don’t have the opportunity. Through Forest School, the children get the chance to engage in potentially dangerous activities, but they are supervised and they learn about the risks involved. Alice knows the correct way to move around the outside of a campfire. She has used tools. She’s had that chance to learn how to use these things safely managed by excellent staff. I’ve seen too many children who reach KS1 and have no tool ability. If you give them a pair of scissors they look ready to cry. Whereas Alice can use tools efficiently and safely.

The forest area makes for a wonderful environment to play in. As well as the obvious benefits of learning about the natural world it is a fantastic spot for the imagination. If you think of how many fairy tale adventures take place in the forest the forest school gives a background for fairies and witches and all sorts of adventures. Alice has developed a wonderful imagination over the last few years drawing on her experiences with friends in forest school and her knowledge of stories.

She’s had the chance to engage in lots of craft activities. She’s made tie-die from natural materials in the woodland. She’s painted, chalked and created things from wood. They’ve regularly cooked on the campfire encouraging her to eat new things. She’s a fussy eater but she’ll now eat sausages, which might not seem amazing to many parents but when you’ve spent 4 years fighting every tea time any food she’ll eat is a victory.

Many parents will currently be nervous about sending their children to nurseries while Corona Virus hangs over our heads, but the outdoor setting is potentially less dangerous for the spread. Many schools are looking into alternative outdoor provision as a result. We haven’t currently put Alice back in as we don’t need to, but if you are needing to put your child back in education or childcare I would encourage you to look at places providing Forest School or alternative outdoor education.

I know many parents worry that all this time outside will stifle their education, hold them back from developing the skills they need for the rest of school. So I’m going to give you an example of what Alice did today. Alice has been waking up during the night and wanting to come in with us. We’ve discussed why she keeps wanting to as we are knackered. She keeps blaming the owls outside waking her up. There are no owls outside her window, in the garden or doing any waking up. It’s an excuse, but one we’ve gone along with as we’re concerned about how lockdown has affected her. She decided that to sort this out she needed to make a sign. She got a sheet of paper and told me she needed to draw an owl with a cross through it so the owls know not to hoot. I asked if she wanted to look at how to draw an owl first. She confidently told me she knew how. She drew her picture explaining it needed wings and a beak and she then needed to draw a baby owl so they know not to hoot too.

She then asked if I could write “no owls” for her to copy. While she did copy she could name each of the letters as she went and has very good pencil control for a child who has just turned 4. Then she found tape to put it up in her window so the owls can see it at night.

So, for any parent worried their child won’t achieve through Forest School you can see Alice is capable of achieving just fine. She shows confidence and independence in creating the sign, fine-motor in the drawing, knowledge of the world and a good vocabulary talking about the owls and reading skills naming the letters. Plus on top of all of this a wonderful imagination in coming up with this plan to help her sleep. I’m sure the wonderful education she received through the nursery and forest school have all contributed to this.

If you are interested in learning more about Forest School Stuart Jackson did a great interview on the Skinny Jeans Gardener’s podcast a few weeks back. Or have a look at the Forset School Association for a more in-depth look. Alice had a wonderful time through Forest School and her nursery and we are thankful she had these chances.

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