In this modern life we lead, children are more cooped up inside than they have ever been, with three quarters of children spending less time outdoors than prison inmates.
This is something I worry about a lot.
I am always at pains to try and get my daughter outside and connecting with nature as much as possible…but I have to admit that sometimes life and our modern world gets in the way.
While my daughter doesn’t attend a Forest School (although it’s something we have been seriously tempted by), I love the Forest School ethos – nature-based play and learning – which is exactly what’s needed in an era when childhood problems such as obesity and anxiety are worryingly on the rise; and it’s something I try and incorporate as much as possible in her out of school hours and weekends.
So today I’m having a chat with Jane Worroll – co-author along with Peter Houghton – of Play The Forest School Way which sold over 10,000 copies in its first year and now the latest addition – A Year of Forest School – which introduces a whole range of new games, crafts and activities to get kids developing skills and exploring the natural world all year round, come rain, shine or snow – about how playing the forest school way can supercharge our children.
For those who don’t know, can you explain a bit about the Forest School way and its origins?
Pete was working for an inner london children’s charity as a multimedia art mentor and as a key worker. The charity eventually wanted to bring in Forest School (FS) and nominated Pete (among a few others) to do the training. Due to my conservation background and my qualifications (Bsc Ecology and Msc Environmental Conservation) I was contracted in by the charity to carry out a conservation lecture and training in conservation management skills as part of the FS training program. This was our initial introduction to FS. Pete then went on to be a FS leader working with many children across varied age groups and would often say how fantastic it was. The charity then sadly closed about 3 and half years ago.
I had also previously been made redundant from my conservation ranger’s post (and had also had our son!) but was looking for my next career move during this time. As we both think FS is amazing, were now parents and knew our son and other children could benefit from the experience and the timing seemed right we decided to start our own forest school and The Forest School Way was formed….. we haven’t looked back since!
Why is nature nature-based play and learning so important for children?
We all rely on nature for our existence – it’s where we are from. Nature based play allows children to connect with this unique space where learning can unfold spontaneously and interests followed without any targets to meet or defined outcomes to aim for this is so important for children today with loss or shortening of playtime at schools and pressures to meet certain prescribed goals as well as many factors influencing parents to not allow or limit play outside.
Running across uneven terrain climbing trees catching a flowers scent on the wind triggers and strengthens many senses and skills. Risk in such play can also be assessed and worked out which is also vital for child development. Nature can also be very calming especially on a warm sunny day. Creating happy memories in nature may also help to make future environmental custodians. I could go on forever the list of benefits are many.
What role do you think it can help in tackling is exactly childhood problems such as obesity and anxiety?
Being able to run and climb and jump and walk freely outside without constraints such as traffic or time limits obviously allows energy to be used and muscles strengthened it’s as simple as that when it comes to tackling obesity. As I said before nature is a very calming space it’s not confined by walls that limit movement and force you in close proximity to others but it allows you to move and choose the space you feel comfortable in at the time.
It doesn’t have frenetic scenes flashing before your eyes like a computer game for example. It allows you to feel a sense of belonging breath in fresh oxygenated air be exposed to micro-organisms that boost a sense of well being all these and again many more factors help to relieve anxiety.
What are some of the skills children develop whilst exploring the natural world through games, crafts and activities?
Wow there’s so many, survival activities, if you like, such as building fires, cooking, putting up shelters or dens, using compasses tying knots all develop a sense of independence, they can also build risk management skills, teamwork, empathy and self esteem. It can also be cross curricula as they involve physics, maths and communication skills. Nature based games such as bat and moth and predator tracks prey allow the players to develop teamwork skills and learn something about other species and not by just being told but through a fun immersed experience which sticks in the memory! Transforming sticks for example into a picture frame or an elf develops fine motor skills, imagination and creativity the list goes on ….
Is this something only younger children can benefit from or….?
Absolutely not as it’s a learner led program activities and relevant new skills can always be matched to each participant. Pete has worked with many teenagers who have really enjoyed and benefited from FS. The FS program is also used to help adults overcoming addiction and social exclusion and for team and self awareness building.
What are your tips for parents who would like to cultivate some of the Forest School ethos at home?
Get out into the great outdoors whenever you can see what interests your child join in with them and build learning to match where they are at and most of all have fun together! Our books (play the forest school way and a year of forest school) are a great guide for this too!
Can you share five easy activities parents can do with their children to help them re-connect with nature?
Make art with natural objects easy ones may include wands, nature headdresses, play nature themed games like animal tag, or predator tracks prey, try out some mindfulness in a natural setting such as natures watch all easily achieved without the need for specialist kit.<
If there was only one thing you could say to parents about the Forest School revolution it would be….
To find out more about Jane and Pete’s Forest School see below:
Jane Worroll is a qualified Level 3 Forest School leader, running, with Peter Houghton, year-round Forest School sessions for children in London and elsewhere. She has worked outside for the majority of her adult life, in gardening, tree surgery and, for 12 years, as a Countryside Ranger, a role that included habitat management, monitoring protected species and leading volunteers. She has a degree in ecology as well as an MSc in environmental conservation.
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