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The great outdoors

I have always felt a pull to nature and wanted my children to enjoy that space as well. But I have found it harder as they have got older to compete against the pull of constant stimulation from gadgets and computer games. Their friends talk about gaming and it seems to have a stronger pull the older they get.

So when I heard about the chance to help set up a site for a Forest School in the village I live in, I was very excited.

My boys were drawn into the fun of making pathways in the wild area and excited by the bugs they found, empty nests, interesting spiders and their webs. They asked about the different plants and trees that we encountered.

Bridging the gap

Through working with our Parish council and a local Forest school company we very soon had money for a bridge over the ditch in to the area, and with the call out to locals for some help, this was built and placed in one day!

I have been constantly amazed at how supportive the whole community have been. Offering their time, hard work and items for the site that they no longer need. The common feedback that I have had from people is that they want their children to be more involved in the outdoors. We all seem to have a common wish but face the same modern electronic battles.

Room to grow and develop

The site has now developed in to much more than a Forest School. We have now set it up as a small charity and offer it out to all as an outdoor learning centre.

A space for all to come and play, explore and build dens. We have such a lot of ideas for activities we would like to offer. Storytelling, outdoor music sessions, home education groups, nature and ecology education for all. Plus Pallet furniture making and evening sessions with a forest school leader for the youths in the area.

I have a really happy feel about what we have achieved and what it is offering the local children.

Risky play

Risk taking is a part of life and children will never learn to assess their own risks if they are not given the opportunity to do so.

Risky play is a great way to allow this learning to take place. Climbing trees, cooking on an open fire and playing out of a carers sight is all risky but in a setting like this the risks are managed and there are people around to help you if you get stuck.

My children have grown up experiencing fire and the joy of sitting out in the evening with family, talking and feeling the heat. Feeding the fire and toasting marshmallows. They come from a line of fire worshipers!

Mesmerized in the flickering light and crackling logs. They have occasionally touched the end of a hot stick. Momentarily feeling the burn and dropping it. Not hurting themselves but learning very quickly to remember which end of the stick you are poking the fire with.

They have learnt that marshmallows burn and fall in to the fire if left too long over the flames. That smoke in the face is not nice and that you need to sit upwind to enjoy a fire!

In an age of "Risk assessment" "Safeguarding" and "Blame", we have all become very quick to shelter our children from any danger.

This is of course not a bad thing. No one wants a child to get hurt. No one wants to put a child at risk. But some risks are worth taking! The risk of not taking them is far more harmful!

The general learning that can take place outside is plentiful. It certainly covers all areas of the EYFS.

The opportunity for language development is endless. In this photo you see one of my charges laying in the mud!

He is LOVING it!! We talked about the feel and smell of the mud. We used descriptive language such as "sticky, slippy, thick" mud.

Little "X" told me he was a hippo because he was bigger than a piggy.

I love this quote! The connections that he made to mud, animals that like mud and his size in relation to those animals was wonderful.

There is endless imaginative play happening on this site. Chasing each other around and acting out some story line that they have worked together to create and that changes and develops as the play progresses.

Most houses and gardens are not built with “Play” in mind now. They are not big enough to chase after each other and there does not seem to be the hidey holes that come with large gardens and old houses.

So a safe space for children to enjoy this freedom is important. Having a place to make dens and being allowed to use wood offcuts and mud to enhance their play is exciting and inspiring!

Maybe you know of a small waste area in your community that you could re-purpose? Approach your local council and share with them the importance of this type of play. Be passionate, be creative, take a risk - for the sake of our children.

About the author

Pippa Ashton is an Ofsted rated 'outstanding' childminder, PACEY member and PACEY Local online Facilitator. She has been looking after children since 1995 and has been a private nanny and a childminder. She is a mother of two children and loves spending time outside, enjoying nature, going for walks and playing in the park with her children. She contributes to the PACEY Local online forum with her wonderful creative ideas and blogs at Worms Eye View. 

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