These past three days I’ve had the privilege of working with Karen Boyd, Central Scotland Education Adviser for Forestry Commission Scotland. We’ve been running a course for Early Years practitioners about developing regular visits to woodland and other nearby greenspace.
One of the topics we’ve covered is what features to consider in a wood for play purposes. The participants were given a short appraisal form to help them assess the play potential of a woodland area. This originally began life in the Forest Kindergarten Feasibility Study in Appendices 4-6 where it was refined three times. And we’ve continued the process (think of Edison and the light bulb being a 10,000 step process – so we’ve done well here with just 5 attempts)!
Here’s the woodland site of St Paul’s Forest Kindergarten. You can see a lovely YouTube clip of this Forest Kindergarten which has been up and running for over 2 years.
It was this site we visited yesterday with the course participants so they could see a Forest Kindergarten session in action. Hopefully the photos below will give you a good sense of it’s play potential.
Below is the path down to the Forest Kindergarten site (one of five different locations within this one wood):
Firstly despite being surrounded by housing, the place has a feeling of wildness. You can’t hear traffic.
But you can hear the small river at the bottom of the ravine. It’s in spate today but in warmer weather visiting the stream is a valuable play activity.
Like many urban settings, dumping is common place. I’m sure this will change over time, with greater community use such as the nursery children visiting regularly. For example, at another nearby nursery the parents organised a community clean up of their wood.
The site has steep slopes which the children love to climb up and down. There’s a tree with wonderful roots systems that can help.
There are steep drops round parts of the site. This may be nerve-wracking for some practitioners.
However most children have an innate sensibility and do not wander over the edge. They know to stay well back. These boundaries are reinforced at the beginning of every visit. There’s also a high ratio of adults to children.
The path to the site is muddy. This is part of the attraction – squelching through the mud! The site seems to be withstanding regular use and the nursery does vary which site it visits to avoid too much wear and tear.
Children love features such as archways. logs to jump off and clamber over, trees to climb and places to make dens. I’ll blog more about this shortly! For me, this is all about the affordances of a natural site – lots of big open-ended features such as this arch below which a child can use in so many ways. This is in combination with many loose parts – sticks, leaves and stones which encourage creativity and imaginative play.
Below is the entrance to the woods. It’s an old bridge and you can see just how close the residential area is to the woods. It’s a truly urban site.
This post doesn’t do justice to all the features that make woodlands just perfect for play. I’d love to hear your ideas, suggestions and experiences. Let’s share the magic of these places!