Author Katie Riley
There is growing coverage in the media these days about the benefits of exposure to nature for our health and that of our children. We know that time spent outdoors reduces stress and improves physical health and wellbeing.
At the Sussex Wildlife Trust, we have been encouraging people of all ages into the great outdoors for many years. Our programmes of day visits and family events are still thriving after several decades, and the new kid on the block, the Forest School Programme is continuing to grow in strength since we first began delivering it in 2005.
What’s different about Forest School?
Children attend a Forest School on a regular basis, usually once a week, for anything up to a whole year at a site in a woodland setting. Behind the scenes, the fully trained Forest School Leader has carefully assessed the site for safety, and has a range of ideas and resources for the children to use. That done, the children arrive, and enjoy their time in the woods. Leaders get to know the group as individuals, encouraging the children’s own interests, which in time will guide the direction of the programme.
Sounds like a bit of a free-for-all in the woods!
Play and free choice are certainly an important part of Forest School. We understand that the spontaneous experiences of nature received here can have a considerably deeper effect than directed learning. Children become immersed in the natural environment, and through interaction over time, begin to develop an understanding of natural systems, and connections between living things, rather than just taking on board facts which may or may not interest them.
So why does nature need kids?
Although there is increased awareness of environmental issues, these are often portrayed as problems largely out of our control as individuals. Forest School aims to give children a positive outlook on being outdoors so it becomes their natural choice of where to be, rather than just another activity to do. What’s more they go home and encourage their families to get out there too. It’s this deep and abiding affinity for the outdoors that breeds tomorrow’s naturalists and environmental scientists.
In the words of Sir David Attenborough;
‘No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced’