Forest School for Health & Wellbeing
When thinking about the value that forest school brings to our children in early years, my mind races with all the various benefits – physical fitness, increased learning opportunities, independence and healthy risk-taking. But most importantly, confidence-building and improved mental health.
Nurturing the whole being through forest school
Since starting forest school at Enya’s Childcare, we have witnessed that when the children are in the forest, the whole being is being nurtured. That’s the body, the mind and the spirit. With no forward planning or rigid structure, it has allowed our children the time and space to just be. Self-confidence, imagination and creativity has blossomed under the canopy of the trees as the children find a sense of freedom and adventure. Most of all, the forest has opened up new realms of play. Play is one of the most important fabrics of life, it enables us to explore and to find out for ourselves. Play is a pure good. It’s like love. It’s like art. If we trust in play then we trust in a child’s innate ability to learn.
Emotional and mental well-being
The most obvious differences between playing indoors and playing outdoors is the boundaries. Whilst in the preschool setting, children have to use their ‘slow feet’ to navigate the furniture or they have to use their ‘inside voices’ so that they can hear one another. Outdoors the children can run as fast as they like. They can shout, they can climb, they can imagine, they can take risks and build confidence in their own abilities.
One thing we have noticed in the forest is that in the vast open space bound by only the sky. The children feel as though they are in a world of their own. They lose the feeling of being shadowed. This feeling of freedom generates a much deeper level of play and curiosity. Without so many limitations and without feeling overlooked, children can be themselves in the outdoors. Maintaining this relationship with nature can be very helpful in supporting children’s emotional and mental well-being.
The magic of forest school
Our forest school sessions are a window for us to show our children that, although the universe is immense and mystical, we can find awe and wonder in the tiny things too. An ant carrying a leaf, an acorn falling from a tree, the smell of damp soil and the breeze on their face.
There have been many times that I have watched the children forage for snail shells hoping to find one that is occupied. I have seen them run their tiny growing hands along the bark of an old tree. I have heard their feet pound into the earth as they run through our woodland with voices that are strong and clear. I have seen first hand that children who are quieter indoors are finding their voice. Children who are hyperactive indoors are slowing down and paying attention to details. Children who are aggravated more easily are calmer and have reduced stress levels. Children who are less active are developing fantastic gross motor skills. The positive differences I have seen within our children fills me with immense gratitude that we can share the gift of the forest together.
A connection to nature
Each of our forest school sessions start with a circle around the fire pit. This is where we say our affirmations and breath in the forest air. We say hello to the trees and the animals. Each session we build on the children’s inherent connection to nature. Educators can too often ‘teach’ children about nature as though we are separate from it – as though it is something we coexist with. A connection to nature is not something we have to teach our children. They are born connected to it and it is our role to help them understand this. Our children in the forest are as natural as the octopus in the ocean, the roots in the soil and the stars in the sky.
A sense of belonging at our forest school
With the increasing rate of technology, children’s time in the outdoors is being critically interrupted. The more technology evolves the more we need nature to help our children find their balance, their center. It isn’t enough for us as educators to just talk about nature. It’s about embracing a lifestyle that returns to nature. We find that by coming to the same place in our forest again and again, a feeling of ‘belonging’ comes over us all. This is true for both the children and the educators. This is our forest home, we take care of it, we play in it, and we find a sense of self within it.
Thank you to Enya Mooney for writing this blog. Enya is the Owner and Founder of Enya’s Childcare, an ‘Outstanding’ Reggio-inspired and eco-centric setting in South Lincolnshire.
Discover inspiring resources to support your forest school practice, children’s belonging with nature and their well-being: