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Forest School & Early Years – the possibilities are endless

First & foremost, what is Forest School?

Contrary to popular belief it is not simply just a ‘school’ in a forest. Forest School is an ethos and it allows us as adults and children the opportunity to connect or reconnect with the natural world around us. It gives us space and freedom away from time pressures, technology (she says, whilst using her MacBook) and everyday life stresses to reflect on ourselves in our basic form.

Being outdoors enables exploration, discovery and understanding of the physical, natural world and its resources that are visible to us, and the opportunity to explore, understand and discover ourselves on an emotional and psychological level. It allows us to find our inner confidence and the connection between ourselves physically and emotionally. Forest School is a continuous long term programme that allows us to be reflective, make mistakes and connections, and have balance within our everyday lives. That’s my ‘technical’ talk over!

So, how does it relate to the Early Years Foundation Stage, I hear you ask…? Well, this is where it gets exciting…

I would argue that any forest school activity can relate to most, if not all, areas of the EYFS - a bold statement but I stand by it.

Let me give you an example: One of my favourite things to do with little ones is to read. Reading helps spark imagination, improve language, speech, communication, understanding and so much more. I will read the Gruffalo (thank you Julia D), for example, in the woods, perhaps on some fallen trees with sunlight beaming through the leaves to really light that imaginative spark as we go through the story.

Then we extend the story and I will ask the children if they would like to help build the homes for all the characters in the book (snake, fox and owl) using natural resources. Once the children are engaged in the activity (and it is OK if some don’t want to participate, spontaneous play is hugely beneficial) then it is a great opportunity to ‘act out’ the whole story from start to finish as a group, moving around, using different voices and having fun!

A simple yet effective activity like the Gruffalo supports all of the EYFS areas, including the specific, here’s how:

Mathematics: The children are building, making shapes, counting how many logs snake needs for his home.

Understanding of the world: The children are in the natural world to begin with, so they are taking in their surroundings, finding insects as they move logs, noticing the changes of the seasons and the plants growing or decaying.

Literacy: Reading the story from start to finish and immersing themselves in it by acting it out, living the story through movement and voice.

Expressive Arts & Design: Being imaginative, this activity ignites that for the children for they are imagining the story and will incidentally evolve the story and continue in play after the main activity has ended.

Obviously, this is just one activity example. Scavenger hunts, pond dipping, natural art pictures, bushcraft, mud sculptures, fairies and dinosaur adventures are just a few more.Sometimes as professionals we need to take a step in a child’s footsteps and again become innovative, creative and imaginative to fully embrace childhood and create incredible activity plans for our children. The natural world not only supports the children’s social, emotional and physical confidences, but it supports the teachers too. It is important to get fresh air and be outside, rather than stuck in a room all day playing with the same toys and resources - it energises and refreshes you, which we all need.

Now, get outside! Explore, discover and most of all have fun. The possibilities really are endless and the learning is vast and exciting. Besides, who doesn’t love mud sliding and jumping in puddles? Don’t be afraid to get wet and dirty – trust me, it’s great fun.

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