West Sussex County Times

Forest school – freedom and fantasy

- By Terri Meadus

What’s afoot? Plans to reconnect children and nature. We know that when children spend periods of time in nature it has a positive impact on their mental and physical health and is an indicator of future long-term success and happiness. The impact of lockdown has sharply highlighte­d the inequaliti­es with regard to access to green spaces.

Hugging a tree really can help you feel better! Being at one with nature may be a new concept to some children, particular­ly if they are not allowed to get ‘dirty’ at home.

In a true Forest School setting, children are given time and a safe space (supported by trained adults) to find and build on their own interests without direction or interrupti­on.

It is joyful learning through free play which builds a child’s self-reliance and self-esteem, in contrast to most traditiona­l education which takes place in a narrow, enclosed, directed environmen­t where they are given specific instructio­n.

Many children do not have a garden in which they can run off some of that boundless, youthful energy, observe the changes of the seasons, grow their own vegetables or spend hours up to their elbows in mud.

These are the children for whom a Nature Premium would be invaluable. The Sports Premium was successful­ly introduced into schools in 2012 to help get children more active. Now the Nature Premium Campaign is asking the government to fund regular nature experience­s for every child and enable children to learn out of doors.

Resilience and grit are key factors in adult success and wellbeing. Children who attend Forest School sessions benefit from growing their inner resources as they continue learning outside, whatever the weather.

Creativity and confidence abounds when children are let loose in a woodland setting. We see sticks; they see a magic wand, a sword, a witch’s broom or a fishing rod. We hear the wind; they hear wild dragons and eagles. Story telling is released from paper and becomes alive in our bodies… as it has been for millennia!

Something happens to children when they enter a forest. I’ve heard a child who is familiar with the forest enter and exclaim, “It’s so beautiful here”, as she looks up to the canopy. Even though she is only four, she appreciate­s the beauty around her. I feel her spirituali­ty soar. Every child should have access to that. What a privilege it is to do my job.

Terri is an Early Years Teacher and Forest School leader at Holy Trinity Playgroup, Rushams Road Horsham. https://forestscho­olassociat­ion.org/ https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_ lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_ passion_and_perseveran­ce?language=en #t-355765 https://www.natureprem­ium.org/

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