Forest school operates on the basis that the best, and most holistic, learning environment for little ones is anywhere outdoors with access to as much exploration space as possible. Here at Muddy Boots, we place a great emphasis on spending as much time outdoors as possible in all weathers, because we know that kids love to find out about nature and their place in the world, and believe that the best way for them to learn that is to spend time in an outdoor environment.
The good news is that you don’t have to be at nursery to go to forest school. Over the past year, almost everyone has had to get used to at-home working and learning, and forest schooling is no exception. As long as you have somewhere to go, forest school can be brought to you – to your back garden if need be!
Exploring your garden and talking to your child about what they can see, hear, smell and touch is perfect; talk about the shapes of leaves from different trees, or their colours (this is brilliant for autumn when there’s a whole rainbow to choose from!), or about the birds singing. You could even go bird spotting or bug hunting using resources like the Wildlife Trust or RSPB information pages to help you.
If you visit woodland or open grassy spaces like Hob Moor or the Knavesmire, why not investigate how many different types of flowers or seeds you can find, and bring some home for activities like playdough, numeracy practice or roleplay? Setting up a mud kitchen in the back garden with a few old pots and pans can provide children with hours of entertainment cooking up ‘meals’ of mud, dandelions, acorns, leaves, whatever they can find – and also provides them with the tools and resources for creative development.
If your child (like mine!) enjoys Julia Donaldson’s books, you could go on a Gruffalo hunt, looking for different animal tracks and signs of wildlife like owls, foxes, snakes and mice; who knows, you might even see the Gruffalo himself hiding behind a tree!
If Room on the Broom is your favourite, you could collect ingredients like sticks, flowers, pinecones and feathers for witches’ potions, and make wands from sticks you pick up along the way.
The outdoors also offers a rich variety of opportunities for children’s physical development and safe risk-taking, such as (supervised) tree climbing, balancing on rocks, building towers and dens and much more. You could even make musical instruments out of sticks, stones and whatever else you unearth (homemade xylophone, anyone?).
Older children might like to help build a treehouse or stick den to have picnics in when the weather’s good, or to take refuge under when the inevitable British deluge strikes! You could even make campfires (as and where it is legal to do so) or bonfires and cook your dinner outside.
Whatever you decide to do, whether it’s simply collecting outdoors resources to use inside (and with recent weather, I couldn’t blame you!) or going the whole hog and camping out to spend the whole weekend outdoors exploring nature, the key is to take your time and explore, allowing your child to do the same.
And don’t forget to enjoy yourselves!
A few ideas to get you started:
RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch common British birds identifier: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/birds-to-look-out-for/ ; birdsong identifier: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-songs/what-bird-is-that/
Wildlife Trust animal tracks identifier: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/how-identify/identify-tracks
Woodland Trust insect identifier: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2017/11/common-uk-insect-identification/
Naturally dyed dandelion playdough recipe: https://parentingchaos.com/diy-dandelion-playdough/
DIY bird feeders: https://growingfamily.co.uk/craft/easy-diy-bird-feeder-for-kids/
Felix Wright – Muddy Boots Poppleton Investigators Practitioner