Forest School - Connecting Kids With Nature

I've wanted to bring Levi to an outdoor play group or Forest School for such a long time.  I've had quite a few friends be part of one with their kids and it has always made me pine for something similar here where we live.  Levi is a true outdoors kid (aren't they all given the chance?), thriving on the freedom to run around, get dirty and find treasure in nature (Him:  "ooooh look at that cool purple thing in the grass, mummy"  Me:  "er, that's an empty Fruit Shoot bottle, love"). I had been researching and reading up on Forest Schools or Nature Play Groups for a while, totally drawn to the idea that there is nothing more good for our souls than braving any elements and exploring our natural environment.  It connects us, it keeps our perspective grounded to something other than the mass media and consumer conveyor belt.  One thing that I particularly loved about Levi's nursery school last year was how much emphasis was put on outdoor play - regardless of the weather (nursery staff are heroes, amiright?).

Early in the summer I started to recognise how easily I was slipping into screen-time parenting as a default when I needed to get some things done.  School holidays will do that to you - the rhythm changes and it can be a bit jarring.  Now, I absolutely have no issue with Levi watching TV or playing on the iPad during the day *, but I was beginning to feel like we were disconnecting, having more moments of tension (probably boredom) and I know that our family connects best when we're outside.

Around the same time, I read an article in Freckle about Forest Schools NI (who currently only operate in an area quite a way from us) AND I saw on facebook that my friend Sarah had recently completed her training as a Forest School leader so that gave me some motivation to try and make things a reality.  I had been jesting with Sarah for a while about starting a Forest School group in our area (jesting with intent!), and we finally arranged to meet up had a proper chat about it.  I offered to get a group together and she agreed to run a trial session to see if there was interest! There was interest.  Boy, was there interest!  I put the word out on a couple of facebook groups and amongst friends and sadly had to turn down over 30 families that wanted to be involved.  It was a bit overwhelming, bittersweet, but encouraging to see that there were so many other families in the local area wanting to be a part of something like this.

And so we gathered on a warm morning at the beginning of August - strangers and friends, all in pursuit of connecting to nature with our kids.  It was magical.  Sarah (with help from her gorgeous family) got up early and found a great spot for us in the forest and set up.

Forest School Craigavon Forest School CraigavonWe found dragons breath on tree branches as we made our way to our spot and Sarah made everything so magical for the kiddos.  It's amazing to watch someone in their element in their job, isn't it?  

Forest School Craigavon We ended up being there for 2 hours, searching for different colours in the woodland, making nature collages, sipping hot chocolate, making mud pies and getting to know each other better.  It was so relaxed and easy to engage all age and ability ranges with just the right amount of planned activities together and free time to wander and explore.

Forest School Craigavon Forest School Craigavon Forest School Craigavon What struck me was how quickly time passed, how content the children were and how none of us really wanted to leave!  The unlimited hot chocolate, marshmallows and chocolate biscuits also helped.

DSC_4523 DSC_4525 DSC_4527 Forest School Craigavon At the end, everybody pitched in to help clear up, we trekked back to our cars and hoped to see each other again.

DSC_4531 DSC_4534 DSC_4537 Forest School Craigavon Sarah and I are talking about how to move things forward this year, and I'm having visions of campfires and seeing our breath in the air as we warm our hands on cups of hot chocolate.  Did I mention that the hot chocolate was excellent?

Do you have a nature play group or a forest school in your area?  I'd love to hear if you do, or if not - is it something you've ever thought about getting involved in?  How do you connect to the world outside with your family?

*Levi watched 3 episodes of Bubble Guppies in a row while I wrote this post.

Mel