Forest School at Eureka! Nursery

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Kelly Fong
By Kelly Fong, Early Years Teacher & Forest School Lead

“Forest School is an inspirational process that offers children regular opportunities to achieve, and to develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a local woodland environment.”
– Forest School, England Network

Children learn best from first-hand experiences by exploring, playing and investigating, and this style of learning, using a range of activities (either planned by nursery staff or instigated by the children themselves), is what Forest Schools are all about.

Forest schools aim to support children to build their independence, encourage higher self-esteem and develop their teamwork, with health and safety considerations always at the fore. The sessions are run regularly, set in a natural wooded environment and take place over a longer period of time to gradually build children’s understanding and development over time.

When I joined Eureka! Nursery last year, we embarked upon setting up our very own Forest School, which has been an interesting process including facing (and overcoming!) some challenges.

People have asked “where is Forest School?” and “how do you get there?”

Forest School at Eureka! NurseryForest School is a concept founded in Scandinavia, based on research that explored how best to engage children who rebelled against the traditional school setting. This research found that children who introduced to the Forest School approach developed their personal and emotional skills, as well as knowledge and understanding of the environment. This led to the approach being adopted here in the UK, with a real desire to engage children in natural surroundings.

Forest School practitioners ensure that children attending sessions understand their responsibilities, both for their own health and safety (they must listen to instructions and look after their friends), but also to be respectful of the natural environment.

Eureka! Nursery Forest School LogoHere at Eureka! we start each session by setting up our fire circle and talking about the activities we’ll be doing, for example one week we looked at the footprints made by different animals. The children were really interested in dinosaurs, so we tried to make footprints using a toy dinosaur in our play area. The dinosaur didn’t co-operate unfortunately, so we improvised and used my hands to make dino-footprints. The children were really enthusiastic, and as one child shouted “it points that way” we set off to follow the footprints, tracking the dinosaur to a nearby tree. The group then discussed what we could do to get the dinosaur out of the tree.

One child suggested that I try to reach it (I couldn’t stretch high enough), whilst another tried to climb the tree (difficult with no hand or foot holds on the trunk), and another child went exploring the space to look for tools to help. He returned with a milkcrate and we worked together to see if we could reach him, eventually constructing a milk crate tower and retrieving the dinosaur.

Forest School at Eureka! NurseryThe children really co-operated and worked as a team to achieve a goal, as well as problem-solving and thinking critically about how we could save our dinosaur. All valuable lessons for children to learn and practice, and we had a great time whilst doing it!

The children had chances to explore the environment and hunt for mini-beasts, and on this occasion we found a family of woodlice and a few worms. The children were able to use their fine motor skills in picking up the worms gently and sharing with their friends. After the session we gather round the fire circle and talked about what we had been doing, what we enjoyed most and what we would like to do next time. This encourages the children to reflect on their learning and sets them on a path to becoming life-long learners.

Play, exploration, learning…

Forest-School-3Through these sessions of play and exploration, children learn about the natural environment and the importance of sustainability, how to identify and handle risks and, most importantly, to use their own initiative to solve problems and co-operate with others.

We currently run our sessions in the Eureka! Nursery outdoor play area, but are in the process of creating our very own Forest School site in the grounds of Eureka! so watch this space for updates…

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