When the girls were in mainstream education, forest school was the highlight of their week. Eleanor in particular. They looked forward to Wednesdays each week, and always came home happier. I was able to join in with a forest school session with each of them last year and enjoyed it too. Even in the pouring rain!
The types of activities they’d do at school were planting, climbing trees, journey sticks and natural weaving. Come rain or shine (most weeks) they’d get their wellies on and head outside. About the only thing I’d give their former school any credit for is forest school. They had a dedicated teacher running the sessions who was massively enthusiastic about the benefits of forest school.
Forest School and Home Education?
Once we’d decided that home education was for us, the girls asked if they’d still do forest school. I spent a long time in the summer searching the internet for somewhere to take them. Of course, we aim to get outside with them as much as we can, but I thought a dedicated session would also be great for socialising.
We live in Sutton Coldfield and, on our doorstep, is Sutton Park. You’d think within that 2,400 acres of lovely outdoor space someone would be running forest school sessions. Of course not. Incidentally there is an outdoor preschool which I wish had been around years ago!
Eventually the only provider of Forest School sessions to home educated children that I could find was The World Outside, based at Bodenham Arboretum in Kidderminster. Now that’s an hours drive away from us, so initially I wasn’t keen! However, it’s something the girls absolutely love so I thought it might be a stop gap at least until we find a closer one. (Spoiler alert: it was so wonderful we’re going to keep on going!).
The World Outside
Sandra runs The World Outside and trained as a Forest School Leader in 2010. She really knows her stuff and is fantastic with all of the children. The ages of the children in the home education group ranges from toddlers to teenagers. I really like this as it’s far more reflective of the real world for the girls to engage with children of all ages.
The sessions have all followed a similar format so far. We meet up with Sandra and she asks the children to remind everyone of the rules. Just basics like not picking things and putting them in their mouths, keeping away from those using tools, no running, that kind of thing.
We gather together for a couple of minutes and Sandra runs through anything the children need to know, or maybe suggestions for activities such as some natural crafts. They’re only suggestions though and the children all race off to do their own thing.
There’s a mud kitchen, a swing, plenty of dens built from sticks, a covered area with tools like hammers, and saws, space to do other crafts and the camp fire. The camp fire is where the grown ups hang out and the children soon appear when it’s hot enough to toast bread and crumpets!
Of course, everyone is responsible for their own children but one of things about Forest School is letting the children get on with it. Letting them have a go; even at sawing wood (Phoebe loves this and is good at it!), or whittling with a knife. So often children are kept away from all sorts of danger (and with good reason) but it means that they don’t learn to take risks. Here they do.
I’ll admit, the first week that we went the concept of just leaving the girls to choose their own adventures was alien to me. I’m used to hovering somewhere nearby, and swooping in if danger is lurking. I stopped myself though. I didn’t point out to Eleanor that if she fell off the swing she’d fall down a hill; nor did I tell Phoebe not to use the saw. I just let them have fun, get messy, take risks and just enjoy the two hours we were there.
Forest School is on the first and third Thursday of the month, so we’ve been a few times so far. Their confidence in their abilities has really grown in that time and they are taking risks. They’re learning to calculate risks too, which is invaluable. At only £10 for both of them for two hours, it’s worth it, and the drive there too!
What Do We Need For Forest School?
You don’t need to take anything, but make sure that you’re dressed appropriately for the weather. For us right now, that means wrapping up warm, layers and waterproof coats! We also take a warm drink of hot chocolate with us; being vegan we wouldn’t expect there to be something like that provided for us.
Here are some of the products we’ve found useful…