I am a big believer in doing all I can to let my daughter guide me, as opposed to forcing her I to a preconceived mood of how she “should” behave. Somedays this theory works really well, somedays I curse unreliable contraception choices. But I do try to give her as much freedom as possible. I feel she has plenty of time to learn to sit still, be quiet, wait her turn. Maybe if I had a child who naturally showed an inclination towards the chilled side, I might have a different approach. But tbh I could attempt to instigate the most radical routine and disciplined routine, and this Tassie devil (technically NSW) would laugh before pooping all over it. It’s been a two year (sharp) learning curve, but I am gradually beginning to try and “sit under the child” as the Irish might say.
Before we started going to our local Forest School at the beginning of Autumn last year, I didn’t have a clue what one was. If you’d have said to me; it’s a bit like a playgroup in the woods, I might have said;
Why would you spend good money to sit in the Woods for two hours, surely you can do that for free?
I also may have expressed concerns that England is wet and cold rather a lot, keeping a small child (and myself) for a prolonged period outdoors wasn’t too appealing.
Oh and then theres the presence of fire, and metal tools around the danger seeking under fives.
What attracted me to Forest School, besides enjoying being outside together, and the opportunity to burn of some energy, was the freedom they give children. Children are given the opportunity to learn through exploring, and via discovery rather than lots of directive instruction. So many preschool classes we tried required skills which I believe where inappropriate for her developmental stage, sitting for long periods, lots of structure, only one way to do things. Which usually resulted in frustrated tantrums and leaving half way through.
Forest School has it’s origins in Scandinavia, who basically seem to be lightyears ahead of us when it comes to child education (parental leave, childcare, home interiors, most things really).
It turns out that Forest School, aka ‘Fire School’ in our household, is a lot more than just a playgroup in the Woods. Forest School Association describes it as an inspirational process, which offers all learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem. They achieve this via hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees. At Forest School all participants are said to be viewed as equal, unique and valuable individuals. They are seen as competent to explore & discover and to experience appropriate risk and challenge. Children are are entitled to choose, to initiate and drive their own learning and development. in doing this, the belief is they are enabled to develop positive relationships with themselves and other people, and a strong, positive relationship with their natural world.
Sounds great, but what does all this look like with a group of under fives?
- learning about nature and the world around them through experience
- mud kitchen
- learning about safety such as behaviour around a fire, avoiding poisonous berries and mushrooms, and not playing with sharp sticks
- entrusting the children with autonomy, and self directed play they can chose what they do
- supervised use of shovels, saws, hand drills, and they can toast their own marshmallows
- fun-so much fun, the children are always laughing, it’s lovely to be part of
So does the English climate make it too wet and miserable to enjoy? No actually, there is some cover, but it’s rarely needed, and with appropriate clothing choices it’s really fine. On returning from living in Australia, I was concerned that we would lose our outdoor lifestyle coming back to the land of a thousand raincloud. So I have embraced the motto has become ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing’. However, this did require purchasing some essentials for forest school:
- Warm boots-for both of you! Wellies just don’t cut it in the Winter. I wear these from Sorel, who also makes mini person sized ones too.
- Once the weather starts to warm up, Wellies are still essential as mud is the name of the game. I love Joules for pretty patterns.
- Jo Jo Maman Bebe does a greta range of waterproof and warm outdoor clothes for small people
- Waterproof all in one suits are also well worth investing in. I have one in our nappy bag which I can throw over any outfit, and it’s so light and takes u hardly any space.
I have also loved returning to the same spot week in week out as you really notice the seasons changing, the leaves falling, the birds singing, and the children do too. Yes there are some mornings (specifically in January) when layering up and heading to the woods on a monday morning doesn’t feel like my first choice, but my daughter loves ‘fire school’, she gets so much enjoyment from it, and there’s nothing more lovely than hearing her say “I did it mummy” with such pride. I’ve been really fortunate that our group is made up of really lovely parents, and the relaxed and free nature of Forest School means you actually do get to chat occasionally-which never happens in more structures classes.
You can check out the FSA website to find your local Forest School. It is suitable from walking right up to teens. Lots of mainstream schools now have Forest School element introduced too.