A Forest Kindergarten Session

25 February 2012 · 6 comments

in Early Years Outdoors, International, Nature Play & Learning

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been involved in a Forest Kindergarten Pilot training course during the past week. This involved a visit to St Paul’s Nursery in South Lanarkshire to see a Forest Kindergarten session in action.

It was quite a special visit in that it was the children’s first Forest Kindergarten session. Six children and three adults made their way to woods for an afternoon. And here they are when we first met them…

The children had undergone a lot of preparation beforehand. All of them had been on various walks into the wood so knew what to expect. As the nursery has been running Forest Kindergarten sessions for the past two years, the children heard a lot from other children and were able to see photos and big books of their activities. The book “The Gruffalo” had been used as a context to prepare them for their adventure. So various soft toy characters from the book accompanied the children.

The girl in the photo above used the sapling to let the snake slide down it. Nearby, other children had found a suitable den for a couple of the other characters.

With plenty of adults on hand, the children enjoyed the freedom of being able to explore at their own pace and in their own ways.

Aside from the soft toys, the number of other resources brought along was minimal. There were some magnifying glasses and binoculars which were popular.

This girl is using her magnifying glass and the tree trunk in a game of peekaboo with an adult.  As the game progressed she hid herself further into her clothing, eventually putting her hood right over her face.

A tarp was used, for impromptu den building rather than providing official shelter. This provided lots of laughter as children took turns to hide away inside it and experience the green, green light. It also gave opportunities for lots of cooperation, talking and interaction as the children had to snuggle in together and work out if there was enough space for everyone. The photo below was taken at a child’s eye level which gives an idea of how big the woodland site must have appeared.

Snack was well received. The fallen down tree trunk was used as the snack stop. Interestingly, all the children wanted to be involved in the collective snack and came over when they saw what was going on. There is something inherently social about eating together outside as well as in.

Each child carried their snack and drink in their backpacks. The colours had been chosen by the children themselves.

Because of the low usage of this site, there is no designated toilet area. When a child needed the toilet, one of the adults went with the child to a discrete place. In Sweden, the proverb “walk seven bushes” is surprisingly apt in these circumstances.

After snack, a game of hide ‘n’ seek tag developed spontaneously. This involved a lot of counting and chasing! Tug o’war was also popular with children experiencing the push-pull of a short rope. None of these activities were adult-initiated or led.

Before long, it was time to return back to nursery. The children helped gather the bits and pieces. As there were so little props, it took no time at all. This is well worth remembering!

Then the party set off on their journey home. I thought the children would be exhausted with all their running about. However, it was clear that they really were used to walking. A brisk pace ensued up the hill.

The walk in and out of the site was definitely key part of the whole experience. It’s so important to enjoy the opportunities that arise. A great example here was one big puddle at the top of the hill. On the way in, children had been testing the depth of the puddle with sticks.

So this child absolutely knew that he could walk straight through the puddle, without it going over the tops of his wellies!

I don’t know if you have noticed, but the children are not walking in pairs. Everyone walked along as they wished. I think this is a subtle indicator of the responsibility given to children to set their own walking pace. It also emphasises the autonomy and freedom afforded by a Forest Kindergarten approach.

The child in the photo above, had paused to examine something, he quickly caught up and joined the rest of the group as seen in the photo below. You can see the school and nursery in the photo which shows how closely it is situated to the woods. Interestingly the school is in Hamilton which is part of the Glasgow and Clyde Valley conurbation and the most densely populated part of Scotland. It’s hard to believe that such wild spaces can be found in such a built up area.

What this does suggest is that wherever you are, nature can be found. Look for it and give children the opportunity to experience a little wilderness in their lives. They need breathing spaces and time just to be as much as adults do.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Aunt Annie February 25, 2012 at 11:05

This is wonderful, Juliet. But I truly can’t imagine anyone letting us do this in Australia- too many dangerous snakes and spiders- though I myself was encouraged to engage with the great outdoors as a child and did so without fear. The children look so self-possessed and confident; it’s wonderful.

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Jennie February 25, 2012 at 12:13

This is a wonderful account of a Forest school. Sounds just like my class here in the US. I would love a training session to teach more teachers the how’s and why’s of outdoor learning environments.

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Kierna C February 25, 2012 at 15:24

Juliet, this looks like the perfect morning for all involved. I am so jealous that they are within walking distance of this site! Funny that you mention the collective snack, this is the only time we have it too – and your right the woodland setting seems to lend itself to this perfectly. i was delighted to be able to lend a local playgroup some outdoor gear last week so they could go & enjoy a session in the local woodland classroom. the staff all agreed the clothes made a big difference to the children’s enjoyment.

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@jeannezoo February 25, 2012 at 16:56

Juliet – wonderful post and wonderful photos! Thanks for sharing Scotland with the rest of us. Getting outside -truly outside, not a ‘play ground’ – is such a gift. The forest exploration is fabulous.

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Juliet Robertson February 25, 2012 at 18:07

Aunt Annie – The bush kinder movement is growing in Australia. I’m not sure which part of Australia you are from, but certainly there’s all sorts happening. Also if you live near an empty beach or other wildspace, I’m sure the children will benefit equally well.

Jennie – if you contact me via my website http://www.creativestarlearning.co.uk I can talk about what we covered. I don’t have intellectual copyright over the work I undertook – that belongs to the Forestry Commission Scotland but it could be that we could save you and other time from re-inventing the wheel.

You are correct – this IS a Forest School set up. Here in the UK there’s a fairly specific definition of a Forest School, not least being that the lead person is Forest School Level 3 trained by an accredited provider.

The course we were running was NOT Forest School. It was specifically designed for pre-school practitioners and is not as in-depth. It gives the practical basics around locating a wood, appraising its suitability, getting routines going, simple play activities and games, awareness of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – all underpinned by a sustainable and Rights based approach. Some participants may choose to continue on to a Forest School course but we were careful not to create overlap here. The participants will also receive follow up support from the FCS Education Officer and the Early Years Officer within their local authority to help get children into their local woods on a frequent and regular basis.

Kierna – my dining room is currently awash with clothing samples from various companies as I’m putting together “Try Before You Buy” boxes for pre-schools and schools to borrow for a month at a time. My Easter holiday project is to get this off the ground. I’ve even got posh fleece lined clothing AND a pair of 9-10yr old thermal dungarees that fit me!!!

Well said Jeannezoo! I wholeheartedly agree.

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Bern February 25, 2012 at 22:31

What a lovely post – it looks like bliss.

Aunt Annie – I am in Victoria and just went to a meeting where Ben from Westgarth kindergarten was talking about their Bush Kinder in the Darebin Parklands. The issues of snakes and spiders are not ignored at all, all staff are first aid trained and ready to apply this training where needed. It sounds like a fantastic place to be.

Thankfully, I feel as if we are shifting away from our cotton wool approach that has been in place and instead teaching children how to assess risk and danger for themselves.

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