Charlotte's experience - starting a forest school

I work as a teaching assistant and trained as a forest school leader alongside my colleague Heather. We immediately saw the huge benefits to children and decided to set up our own business running sessions as an after-school and holiday club.

There are children who don’t often get the opportunity to go out in nature and some who might think they’ll get in trouble for getting muddy, so it’s about showing them that it’s okay – they can have a change of clothes and get stuck in. We demonstrate activities to the children, but we allow them to guide themselves – to learn boundaries and work together as they learn about nature.

Forest school teaches children valuable life skills. For example, we teach the young children how to use peelers to peel sticks – so they’re gaining the skills needed to peel a carrot at home. The children also cook over the fire, so they’re learning about fire safety too. A 4-year-old came to our forest school recently and by the end of the second day, he was using flint and steel. It’s amazing to see their skills and confidence grow!

An outdoor learning environment can be especially helpful for children with autism. Someone who struggles in a classroom setting can thrive at forest school – their confidence levels can soar. This kind of nurturing environment can really cement friendships too – when a child suddenly takes the lead outdoors, the other children will want to join in. Being outside and close to nature can also help to reduce anxiety, and there’s a freedom for the children to talk to you and each other in a calming environment.

Because we’ve had to work in bubbles recently, it’s been interesting to see the dynamics change. The Year 6 children, who’ve been coming to forest school for a couple of years, have really taken the younger children under their wing. They’ve gained that confidence over time to be able to pass their knowledge down. Children who were a little unsure about forest school to begin with are now regulars and there’s a waiting list– especially because of the smaller bubbles that we now work in.

As a teaching assistant, I don’t get paid during the holidays, so forest school has allowed me to continue to earn money doing something I love. We work with children from Reception right through to Year 6. It’s never a problem as we can tailor each session to their needs. I tend to work with the younger children and Heather works with the older ones.

To run a forest school, you have to have a Level 3 qualification. It is an investment, but it’s well worth it. If childminders are interested, but aren’t able to invest in training just yet, I’d suggest taking provision outside as much as possible. Could they create a shelter in the garden or a mud kitchen? Get children to grow their own plants and vegetables? Any activity can be done outside, giving the children a calming sense of space and freedom.

To find out more about Charlotte and Heather’s forest school, visit:
www.wildwoodlanders.co.uk
www.facebook.com/wildwoodlandersuk