This summer (allegedly, though there’s been little evidence of it…) we’ve finally got our garden shipshape, and I couldn’t be gladder. Pixie is nearly two now, and before she even arrived, my hubby and I were determined we’d be the kind of parents to get our child outside and enjoying nature. So having the option to simply open the door and be in our own little suntrap is idyllic.
If you listen to the hype in the media, encouraging our littlies to play out rather than in is getting more difficult – because children are becoming as accustomed to technology as we are. More so in many cases! And naturally this is a concern because of the many issues associated with too much screen time and too little exercise:
- Poor concentration;
Need I go on?
However, over the past year, I’ve had quite a lot of exposure to toddlers, and I’ve discovered something fascinating:
Children are primed to enjoy nature.
By default they are full of wonder and awe for the world around them, and we simply need to promote that interest instead of stifling it into oblivion.
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For Pixie and her peers, the offer of outdoor play is always welcome – come rain or shine. Sure, they have their much-loved TV shows and characters; but if mummy or daddy is prepared to take them outdoors and get their hands dirty, all the better.
Puddle splashing is one of our personal favourites; and, since I invested in the proper attire to enable us to do this, when the rains come (and they come often during summer 2016), we make a point of going out specifically for this purpose.
Equally, Pixie is mesmerised by the creatures she finds in the garden…as well as the damn ants she kept finding in the kitchen a few months ago! Admittedly, she takes greater pleasure in insects than mummy does, but I encourage it nonetheless and I’m proud of the fact that thus far I’ve resisted passing on my fear of arachnids.
With all this in mind, I was intrigued when I first became aware of the concept behind Forest School, and thrilled to be asked to review a book dedicated to the philosophy. If you’ve not heard of it yourself, these institutes are springing up all over the country, and The Forest School Association (the independent representative body for the UK) gives the following definition:
‘Forest School is an inspirational process that offers all learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.’
So often school has connotations of formal, rigid learning; certainly when I think back to my own education it seemed quite inflexible – and I adore the idea of Pixie having her creativity and imagination stretched whilst getting her hands dirty and discovering the world through touch and smell rather than through books and text. (Don’t get me wrong – I cherish my books, but even the best writer cannot capture the essence of a fragrance, colour, or texture. Literature is wonderful; second only to first-hand experience.)
Play the Forest School Way by Peter Houghton and Jane Worroll is the first book to share Forest School games, crafts, and skill-building activities. The book itself is a high quality paperback, and the cover is cleverly designed to reflect the natural theme of the ideas in the book. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the content, but I’ve not been disappointed.
The introduction says:
‘Nature offers us a sanctuary, a place where we can find peace and wonder. It is not limited by time or confined by walls, and even today we cannot control it completely. It is much larger and older than we are, and its rhythms resonate deep within us. Nature is where we are from and where we belong, and our survival is intricately linked to its existence. For children it is the greatest playground of all, with all its diverse structures, smells, textures, its creatures of all shapes and sizes, its abundant plants, some edible, others toxic. Nature offers a myriad of opportunities for risk taking, for a wealth of learning and amazement, and for freedom, separate from the adult world.’
There’s something almost spiritual about that description of the Forest School philosophy – and I like it. I’m agnostic, so a respect and reverence for nature is about as close as I will get to teaching my daughter about religion.
The book is basically a guide to the types of activities endorsed by Forest School. It’s jam-packed full of wonderfully creative ideas to encourage your child to explore their natural environment – because education through play is the optimum process for learning.
The book is intended for children aged 3 – 11 years, but I love that there are specific games aimed at different age groups. Having flicked through I’ve even seen one that’s suitable from two years of age – besides which I’m sure that with assistance older activities could be adapted for younger children.
Each chapter provides a game or activity, clearly illustrated and indicating required kit; ideal location; purpose of the task (what it’s designed to teach); safety aspects; and age it’s suited to.
Forest School is way of life, with the concept being to foster practical skills, but also character-building attributes – both of which are essential in raising well-rounded, healthy little people.
I can’t wait to get started exploring the book and the great outdoors with Pixie!
Head over to my hub round-up post for more breastfeeding, baby, and toddler reviews.