‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’– Alfred Wainwright
Originating from Scandinavia, the Forest School movement is increasingly popular, as more people recognise that the benefits of being outdoors and connecting with nature contribute greatly towards the health and happiness of the whole child. When we talk about the whole child, we mean all aspects of their development holistically – spiritual, physical, social, emotional and cognitive.
Children of today live in a fast moving, sedentary and increasingly technological world, with unprecedented amounts of screen time, all of which are contributing to a rise in child obesity. Studies have shown that being in nature benefits the whole child, and this has never been more vital than today for our children who have experienced lockdown.
Montessori Forest Schools
Montessori Forest Schools share many of the same values as Forest School, such as being child-led, enabling children to assess their own risk and use real tools.
Encouraging use of natural resources sparks children’s imagination; for example, if you give a child a stick it might become a wand, a sword, a drawing tool, an oar for a boat, part of a structure for a den. Endless possibilities!
Many of the Montessori materials have both direct and indirect aims in terms of development – again, these share similarities with the benefits of the Forest School approach. They aim to build both fine and gross motor skills, as well as build confidence, self esteem and resilience. Utilising nature’s senses and textures stimulates creativity.
Presenting children with a problem solving skill, such as building a bridge over a stream, requires strategic and creative thinking, team work and both physical and emotional energy. Survival programmes, such as Bear Grylls’ ‘The Island’, show us how quickly instinct can take us back to our primeval and tribal roots, just as when a child plays at Forest School. You will often observe a leader in a group, and what may seem to start out as perhaps confrontational interactions, move to harmony and team working as children settle into the natural rhythm of nature and begin to feel at peace .
Children love to create ‘homes’ – den building creates a warm, cosy, secure space. Offer children a few props such as a wooden spoon and pan and watch how this leads to building a fire and enjoying creative play, as the hunter-gatherer instinct kicks in.
Observation is a skill we are taught whilst training in Montessori, simply stand back and ‘watch’ with no intervention. You will learn so much about how your child learns
Creativity is an essential entrepreneurial tool, and most successful businesses are fuelled by passion. My early childhood experiences enormously contributed to my life-long love of nature, and led me to open my own nature-based Montessori Nursery .
As I child I spent much of my day playing in the woods, building camps, picking blackberries and making fairy gardens. Childhood was less risk-adverse in those days, I was part of the last generation who enjoyed this freedom to go out alone or with friends – sometimes for hours, with no mobile phones, our parents not really knowing where we were, yet trusting we would come home when we were hungry!
This freedom was the root of bringing the countryside to London when I opened Woodentots, my first Montessori nursery, in 1989, at just 21 years old. Creativity is always at its core and I always encourage the attitude ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather’. Woodentots was one of the first nursery schools to bring Forest School to London. I was lucky to carry out my Forest School training in Devon, deep in the countryside in an established outdoor educational centre. My trainer was truly inspirational and working alongside a Forest School teacher where I volunteered in my daughter’s school I gained invaluable knowledge and experience. Identifying flora and fauna, using tools to carve bowls and spoons, open fire cooking and sleeping in an outdoor shelter are all skills and knowledge I love passing on to my teachers at Woodentots .
There are Forest Schools you can join, but why not create your own, get together with a group of friends and make a regular day to meet in the woods. If you choose your location and go back to the same spot, the children will quickly establish a sense of ownership and security to ‘their’ space. And remember that each month Peas and Pod will share with you an activity your child can take outside to enjoy.
I’ve had this quote up for years in the Woodentots garden:
‘The best classroom and richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky’ – Margaret McMillan
IDEAL INITIAL KIT LIST
- First Aid kit and rucksack
You will need a First Aid kit and a ruck sack to carry everything. Forest School Leaders and teachers take regular training in First Aid – I think all parents should take a course, the 2 day course content is 1 day online and 1 day practical through organisations such as www.tigerlilytraining.co.uk or St. John’s Ambulance
- Tarpaulins – for both a ground sheet and one for the shelter
- Bungee clips
- Wooden camping mallet
- Tent pegs – to peg down the tarp and for pushing the centre out of elder wood to make beads
- Tools (keep in a tool box)
- Hand drill
- Mini bow saw
- Chalks – for mark making that leaves no mark
- String – for creating journey sticks, weaving looms and tying …
- Clay – for sculptures and pottery
- Cardboard – for making signs & creativity
- Stabilo Woody Pencils – 3 in 1 pencil watercolour crayon – we use these all the time at the nursery and always take them to Forest School
- Bug boxes
- Identification book – birds, insects, plants and trees
GOOD QUALITY OUTDOOR CLOTHING
Layering is key!
- A base layer – Merino wool works best next to thermals
- Middle layer – fleece top/trousers/wool socks
- Outer layer – waterproof coat and trousers
- Ski gloves/balaclava/snow boots
‘Play the Forest School way – inspirational book for crafts and games’ by Peter Houghton & Jane Worrell
For more information on Forest School and training www.forestschoolassociation.org