It is clear that the take over of technology has affected how much time children are spending outside exploring, and through the Coronavirus pandemic they spent even less time outdoors (no fault of their own).
The People and Nature Survey for England surveyed 1,501 children, aged between 8-15 to find out how the lockdowns have affected them. The survey found that 60% of these children have spent less time in the great outdoors. With up to 83% of the children agreeing that "being in nature made them very happy".
This is why it is important to ensure the time children do have outdoors is used to the full potential so they are receiving all of nature's benefits.
What Is The Forest School Concept?
Forest School aims to aid in the development of self-confidence and self esteem in young children by creating hands-on experiences all in a natural setting. Forest School ideas can consist of a range of different outdoor learning experiences from physical enduring activities, to health and safety learning.
The Forest School Association also suggests that "the process helps and facilitates more than knowledge-gathering, it helps learners develop socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically and intellectually". Which indicates that children learn and grow a significant amount from Forest School activities.
However, Forest School activities and programmes may not always be easily available or accessible. But, the concept of Forest School can go beyond just one particular programme or challenge, and there are ways to create play based learning for your kids at home!
How To Create A DIY Forest School
Forest School ideas and concepts can take place at any time of the year, even when it's super chilly or muddy. The whole experience is about exploring nature with children and getting your kids out of their comfort zones and learning how to create a den, make things out of nature, survival skills or build a fire etc.
But, that doesn't mean this amazing experience can't be created at home in your garden, or in an outdoor space nearby! And it doesn't have to be as hard as it sounds.
Build A Den
What do young kids want more than to build a den that they can play in? It's all about using natural materials with a Forest School experience, so collect up lots of excess thick sticks and let their imaginations run wild. You can even give them an old sheet to use to shelter the den!
This activity will develop their creativity, along with problem solving as the kids will need to work out how they can build the den so that it is stable.
This is the perfect way to explore and connect with nature.
We have all had dreams of the perfect evening around a campfire roasting marshmallows, and who knew it could be the perfect learning opportunity for your little ones?
Just because an activity needs to be highly supervised by an adult, doesn't mean the little ones can't get stuck in and help out too.
Encourage the little ones to search for dry pieces of wood in the garden, and help them arrange a fire pit. This is a great opportunity to introduce risks, to teach them how they should behave around fire. You could start by creating a ring around the fire using just sticks, and letting the little ones know that they should never cross the line or set foot into a firepit whether it's lit or not!
A great way of keeping warm, whilst still connecting with nature.
Depending on the time of year and if there are lots of leaves hanging around, you could take a walk around a woodland with your children to collect a variety of different shapes and colour leaves.
Takes these home to your garden where you can set up a crafts area where the little ones can design leaf decorations such as:
- Natural garlands to hang indoors or outside too.
- Animal faces with different shaped leaves using flowers, pine cones, felt tip pens or stones to make facial features.
- Leaf painting, using children's paint and paper to make colourful decorations or cards for parents/teachers/family.
A flower press kit could also be used to preserve any of your findings!
Make Your Own Paint
A great way to get creative and encourage outdoor learning on all the different resource's that nature can provide.
Using safe berries from the environment, separating into each colour and squeeze through a sieve or mix in a blender and add a little water to make a pigment.
Leaves and colourful flowers can be mashed and grinded down into a powder-like substance and mixed with small amounts of water to produce a natural paint. Just be careful, as too much water will make the paint too runny to use!
And of course mud is an easy and abundant resource that can be used to paint with!
Depending on whether your children are squeamish around bugs, a great way of encouraging insects and other critters to live in your garden is by building a bug hotel!
You can do this by using old pieces of wood with large rocks or bricks in between each layer to allow gaps for your little ones to fill with leaves, mud, sticks or other natural garden items to make the bugs feel welcome!
Don't forget to check back in a couple of days to see what critters have made it a home!
Outdoor Play and Learning Benefits
Spending time outdoors undeniably has a huge factor on a child's development, with outdoor learning experiences and learning through play having incredible benefits, such as the Forest School activities.
Regular outdoor play will create a respect for the natural environment, force them to adapt and deal with change, offer multi-sensory experience and help them to gain a sense of mastery.
The top benefits of outdoor play consists of the following:
- Building confidence: Outdoor play and learning encourages more teamwork and imagination in young children, relationships with their peers and the people surrounding them will develop stronger as they face new challenges!
- Learning independence: Though children often love to have a lot of attention, they will also greatly appreciate and benefit from regular independent play, as they start to venture on their own and take more risks (safely) they will become more independent.
- Health: Physical exercise is great for keeping kids fit and healthy, but being out in the beautiful world with sun and fresh air will also help to boost their immune system and improve their day-to-day mood.
- Promoting Creativity: One of the great benefits of the Forest School ideas, is that when children have the opportunity to either get involved with other kids, or play by themselves the creativity within them expands greatly. The natural surroundings in outside play will teach children to use their curiosity, thinking, and discovery skills to explore and make their own fun from the elements around them.
Forest School Learning Activities & Books
Looking for extra support to help encourage your kids to get out in the cold and wet? We have some amazing products that will help your little ones to love outdoor learning!
Our extensive line of Den Kit Co products are great for creating a temporary outdoor retreat that is wonderful to all ages. No screens, no batteries, no complicated instructions - this is inclusive, simple, unadulterated fun. Dens are also a wonderful teaching tool. Children are free to explore their own creative talents for problem solving, critical thinking and ingenuity.
Nature Trail binoculars are perfect for spotting birds, looking for creatures from a distance, spying on the enemy or keeping an eye out for friends coming to play! These will make a great addition to any outdoor learning experience. Check out our Wonder Kid Nature Explorer Pack (backpack or drawstring bag), which includes all your child needs to explore their surroundings and enjoy the great outdoors.
Books are also a great way of learning about nature and finding out all of the amazing things that you can spot when out and exploring! We recommend the amazing range of 'to spot' books from Usborne Publishing, which are filled with charming illustrations of different things to spot. Perfect to pop in a backpack when out on an adventure, or simply to read under a tree. Short descriptions provide extra information, and children can keep track using the stickers to fill in the spotters chart inside.
In summary, there are no strict rules to how and what you should do to create a Forest School adventure for your child. The experience should be a fun way to start using natural materials and resources to learn how to problem solve.
The Forest School concept will get kids used to being out in the cold, letting them play in the dirt and get muddy faces, and exploring different types of animals.