Category Archives: Learning Outside the Classroom

Forest School and Us

Ewan at five years old, in his element in the woods
Ewan in his element in the woods

First published in The Mother magazine issue 72, Winter 2016

My son at Forest School

Sitting quietly on a log, I observe my five-year-old son as he carefully places some leaves onto the roof of his fairy house. Ewan then scampers off to find additional roofing material to ensure the fairies are kept dry, totally immersed in play and at one in his environment. My son’s fairy house has taken six Forest School sessions to complete, complete with a washing line in the garden and fairy furniture made of out moss and leaves inside.

Set within a beautiful broadleaved, native woodland owned by the National Trust in the Peak District National Park, this Forest School site is truly magical. All around Ewan children are also engaged in free, exploratory play; a cluster are playing super heroes in one of the dens, another group are leaping in and out of a make believe pirate ship and a couple are fishing with stick rods with shiny leaves proudly attached as their catch. A lone child sits contemplatively on a log by the fire, companionably close to a Forest School assistant, whilst another child stirs a magic potion composed of natural materials collected from the forest floor. Finally, a group of children are peeling bark off hazel sticks with support from the Forest School practitioner, beginning the process of making swords for the upcoming knighting ceremony, which will commemorate the children who are leaving forest school this term.

My family at forest school
My family at forest school

The familiar sing-song voice of the Forest School practitioner gently breaks the children’s activities. They all happily ‘come and join in our small circle‘, sitting on logs at the fire circle to share food and drink together; hot chocolate warming and raisins and jam sandwiches energising. Nourished, the children return to spend the rest of the morning playing or joining in the supervised activity if they wish.

As the session draws to a close, the children gather around the fire circle to reflect on the session. Ewan says in a clear, confident voice ‘I enjoyed making the fairy house’. As the children return to preschool, a fifteen-minute walk through the woodland and across a sheep field, I observe Ewan squelching through mud, climbing over a gate, splashing in streams and hiding behind stone walls with the other children. His exuberance reassures me, confirming that after much deliberating I did choose the right pre-school environment for him.

Finding Forest School

My search for a suitable pre-school for my son appeared futile until I stumbled across an advert for a Forest School Open Day. From that day forward we did not look back. A few days later, on a crisp winter’s morning with temperatures as low as minus six, we headed out into the frozen woods. Captivated, from that day forward we did not look back. We were welcomed into a small, nurturing Pre-school with open arms, run by a committed team of staff who were passionate about re-connecting children with nature. We were delighted when Ewan secured a place at Playgroup the term after his third birthday, knowing it was well worth the thirty minute commute to enable Ewan to experience the many delights of Forest School. Continue reading Forest School and Us

My children, my teachers

Welcome to the August 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Life Learners

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have talked about how they continue learning throughout life and inspire their children to do the same.

Travelling in Scotland

Life learning is an interesting, relevant, large and worthy topic for parents to explore. Here’s my post about how I continue to be a learner now I’m a parent with two young children.

Background

I was fortunate to be to able to spend the majority of my twenties studying, training or travelling. My son was born just shy of my thirtieth birthday, my daughter followed almost three years later. I have spent the past half decade parenting, finding some time to also pursue my hobbies of writing, yoga and walking. More recently, I started volunteering at my children’s playgroup, which has led me down a new and exciting career path in Forest School.Our family in Quebec

Forest School training

IMG_1124
On the forest school training course

I am at the beginning of a year of training to be a Forest School Practitioner, having taken an initial training course and now consolidating my skills through further voluntary work, studying in order to complete my portfolio and the start of paid employment one session per week in the role of Leader at Woodland Adventurers, an outdoor session for 2 to 3 year olds at playgroup. If all goes to plan, I will be a qualified practitioner by the end of 2016. Studying is in addition to my main role as mother and home educator of my children, who are now 5 and 2 and a half years old.

Learning and parenting

Ewan and his Mummy
Baby Ewan and mummy

After my son was born, I spent many hours devouring every natural parenting book available, mainly when Ewan was nursing. I was in the very fortunate position of being able to dedicate most of my time and energy to my son, without a job to return to or other children to already care for. Becoming a mother sparked a period of new self-directed learning, with the ultimate aim of becoming a better, more informed mother. This more choice-based, learner-led research was a far-cry from the more formal, directed learning of my past. It also bore in me a period of creativity in writing, which is still developing. Continue reading My children, my teachers

A Fond Farewell to Forest School

Ewan at Forest School for the first time
Ewan at Forest School for the first time

Finding Forest School

On a wet, uninspiring late November day back in 2012, I sat sipping tea in the Outside Café in Hathersage with my husband and two and a half year old son Ewan, when my attention was suddenly taken by an advert for a Forest School Open Day in a couple of weeks time in Grindleford. I had an uncanny feeling that this might be the answer to our preschool search, which I had embarked on months before but was beginning to despair in.

Setting up Forest School, New Year 2013
Setting up Forest School, New Year 2013

We went along to the open morning, meeting staff and children at the Pavilion and walking into the National Trust owned Hay Wood, a short walk from the Pavilion. The friendly staff informed me that their Forest School

Ewan at two and a half
Ewan at two and a half

was opening in the new year and that I could apply for Ewan. The walk inspired me; I had stumbled across an alternative way of educating preschool children which really appealed to me. Learning more about the ethos of Forest School only confirmed that this was where I wanted my son to be. On a bright day in the new year we helped the staff and other parent volunteers create the forest school site and applied for Ewan to attend from September. Living at a distance from the playgroup I was unsure whether he would get in. To my immense relief he did. Continue reading A Fond Farewell to Forest School

Wild summer days

Welcome to the July 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Summer Fun

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about how to get out and enjoy the warmer season as a family.

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IMG_4671aA blog post about what we get up to in the summer months could be pages long, as we are a very active family regardless of the weather, but in the warmer summer months we are out and about even more than ever. To keep it concise I have broken up our activities into mini themes to help you navigate;

The Buzzards, a tiny campsite
The Buzzards, a tiny campsite

Camping; as a family we love going camping, using our trusty 3 person tunnel tent as our home from home, with a good size porch giving space to eat if the weather is bad and space for our Labrador to sleep. The Tiny Camp-sites book has really inspired us; all the

Our tent
Our tent

camp-sites are an acre or less, many rustic with rather basic facilities, which is just what we like. We prefer the feel of almost camping in someone’s back garden, as opposed to camping on a large camp-site with all mod-cons.

Tessa and Ewan by the camp-fire
Tessa and Ewan by the camp-fire

For instance, at the end of June this year, we returned to The Buzzards camp-site in Hereforshire, where we were again the only campers. This is a friendly, small camp-site with a compost-able toilet (and another toilet attached to the owner’s home with a shower too) and place to light a fire. Continue reading Wild summer days

Woodland Adventurers’ on the hottest day of the year

heat-waveWe’re going on a bear hunt!

HO9001 - Helen Oxenbury - Going on a Bear Hunt - Collectors Edition PrintA level 3 “heatwave action” heat-health alert was declared for all parts of England on 1st July, with temperatures rising to 36.7C at Heathrow  (source; BBC website). 

However, the Woodland Adventurers’ were not deterred! They managed to walk all the way up to the Forest School site on a bear hunt, even in such blistering heat, protected by the canopy of the trees and thereby shaded from the worse of the heat. Using the well-known, lyrical words from Michael Rosen’s much-loved story, Julia drew the children into an exciting hunt for a cute teddy bear.

We're going on a bear hunt; through the swishy grass
We’re going on a bear hunt; through the swishy grass

Before long, the children were swishing through long, wavy grass ‘swishy swashy’, walking through a deep cold river, ‘splash splosh’, through thick oozy mud ‘squelsh squerch‘ and into the big dark forest ‘stumble trip’, all the way up to Forest School where the teddy bear was hiding! Continue reading Woodland Adventurers’ on the hottest day of the year

Wild magic in the woods

Growing in mind and bodyIMG_4730

The Woodland Adventurers spent an enchanting, rather magical morning in the woods this week. Julia, the forest school practitioner, led the children to a cool, far-off Gruffalo Pool, nicely sheltered from the warm sun, deep and cosy in Froggatt Wood.

The children did fantastically well, walking further than they’ve ever walked before with ease, even on tricky ground with large stone boulders for little feet to negotiate along the path.

This is testament to their growing, more confident little bodies, both physically and emotionally. The clement weather also helped, enabling the children to stay outdoors with few clothes to encumber them, for longer than in cold or wet weather. Most of the children are progressing to Forest School in September. Again, this session indicates how ready they will be for this move and how smooth a transition it is likely to prove, after so many sessions in the woods in preparation.

The Gruffalo Pool Continue reading Wild magic in the woods