This is a guest post from Julie Fyles of www.topmums.co.uk

Not everyone will know where their nearest Forest School is, indeed not everyone will have ever heard of Forest Schools. I hadn’t until we started looking for a pre school for my little boy.

Like most parents I imagine, I envisaged the start of Pre School to involve a brightly coloured room full of toys, tables with colouring and sticking activities, and a room full of noisy children.

That was, until I was told about a local Nursery/Pre school run entirely outdoors. ‘The School In The Woods’ was a complete surprise to me, and yet it made perfect sense both in it’s values and in the way it worked practically.

experience of Forest Schools

Forest schools such as The School In The Woods are run outside, children spend their days entirely in nature. Mornings at this particular nursery are spent exploring in the local woodland, while afternoons are spent in the extensive garden area. There are tents with sleeping bags inside for any child who needs a nap, or just for some quiet time; and a large workshop if the weather dictates the need for shelter.

Never before have I encountered a group of young children so happy, calm, and co-operative. Of course they all have their moments, I’m sure, and I honestly believe the people who run it have the patience of saints, but all in all these kids were remarkably content.

The reasons for this, I believe, lies both in the attitudes that are displayed towards the children and in the freedom they are allowed to enjoy.

The children are shown respect – their feelings are acknowledged, their ideas valued, and their wishes discussed. It’s clear that this respect is modelled by the children, both to their carers and to each other.

These are kids who are being taught that they matter.

The freedom the children experience at The School In The Woods is also key to their happiness. Rules are very few, as long as they are being safe and looking after the safety of others then they have freedom to explore and play as and when they choose.

And who needs a brightly coloured classroom when they have the endless entertainment that nature has to offer? Who needs a room full of toys when they have holes, sticks, and fallen trees? They learn shapes by making those shapes out of sticks on the floor, they learn numeracy by drawing on tree stumps with chalk, but more importantly they learn risk assessment and life skills in a way that just wouldn’t be possible in a standard nursery room. Outdoors is where the real learning takes place.

I’m not saying these kids are perfectly emotionally balanced and stable, but they are certainly learning how to be.

For me, the idea of Forest Schools can only be a positive. Shouldn’t we be doing whatever we can to encourage our children to spend time outdoors?

A lot of us will have those memories from childhood of paddling in the river, intently digging for and watching bugs in the soil, maybe just lying on the grass looking at the clouds. It is amazing how much we actually learned in these experiences, not only about the world around us but also about ourselves.

Unfortunately, statistics from the Children and Nature Network now show us that in a typical week, only 6 per cent of children age 9-13 play outside on their own. Those aged 8-18 spend a shocking 53 hours a week using entertainment media.

Maybe these statistics could be improved if children are encouraged from an early age to enjoy the outdoors and all it has to offer.

Richard Louv, author of ‘Last Child In The Woods’, points out the ‘disconnect’ that has occurred between children and nature. He discusses movements and programmes worldwide to re-join children with nature, pointing to the overwhelming benefits. He believes the most important development in recent years has been the growing number of individual parents and other family members who have decided to do what it takes to bring nature into their lives and keep it there.

If this is the case, then I would hope to see an increase in demand for nurseries such as The School In The Woods, which are currently the exception rather than the rule. If we manage to reconnect children with nature, maybe they will grow to be adults who cherish, value and protect our natural environment.

Image credit: Magical dark forest Shutterstock