What is a forest school?
A forest school is a learner-led learning environment in an outdoor, natural woodland setting, led by a qualified practitioner
What is the aim of a forest school?
The philosophy of a forest school is “to encourage and inspire individuals of any age to through positive outdoor experiences.” (Forestschools.com)
Using learner-led, nature based exploration, forest school aims to develop personal, social and emotional skills.
Attending a forest school can therefore greatly help your child to develop their emotional intelligence; build resilience and learn how to take risks in a supportive environment, through activities such as bug hunting, making mud pies, playing with sticks and even lighting fires!
Forest school also teaches children the value of protecting the environment around them.
Increasingly, many children don’t have access to the open countryside on a regular basis. Which means they miss out on exploring natural surroundings, in all weathers – including working out the best way to climb a log and then jump off it with friends!
At Castle Lane Forest School, we are therefore passionate about every child being able to access this for themselves.
What is the Castle Lane Forest School?
We have run a full nursery setting at Castle Lane Day Nursery for children in the East Midland’s town of Market Harborough since 1994.
We currently run a Breakfast Club for children before school as well as an After School Club. And of course, during the school holidays, we offer a very popular Holiday Club.
So the idea of setting up the Castle Lane Forest School in September 2018 was a natural extension to our current offering, giving children the opportunity to build a longer term relationship with the outdoors, experiencing nature in all weathers, in a safe and supervised setting.
Why has Castle Lane set up its own forest school?
Our experience shows us that children want to be outside.
And the forest school learning is a fantastic fit with the Castle Lane ethos.
We believe in unstructured play (as opposed to a type of play), where for example, children might choose to engage in open-ended play with no specific learning outcome.
Perhaps most importantly, unstructured play is not instructor-led, so our children are free to explore without direction, unless of course they ask for our input!
It’s also about not necessarily using something for which it might be intended. For instance, how many times have you seen your child improvise with an item from your home for one of their dolls to fly on? Or build a space ship in the garden from cardboard boxes and old blankets?
At Castle Lane Forest School, we want to help enhance your child’s imagination.
Recently, one of our newest young visitors to the forest school walked up to our storage shed on site, took a peek inside and exclaimed “Oh – there’s no toys in there!”
“So what are you going to do?” we asked.
He spent the rest of the day playing in the mud kitchen with his friends.
What’s the set up at the Castle Lane Forest School?
The forest school formally opened in September 2018 and can be found on a private estate near Marston Trussell. Visits to the site can be arranged for parents by the office.
Morning sessions are run from 8am until 1pm during the week.
The forest school itself comprises a clearing, with a tent and camping toilets plus handwashing facilities.
We have a fire circle and we work with the children long before they even see this so that they clearly understand rules around it very early on – such as one entrance in and one exit out of the fire circle and absolutely no children allowed in the central area without an adult.
There’s a fallen tree as part of our ‘physical area’ for them to climb on if they wish. This area is deliberately dynamic in that it can change in appearance over time. For example, there was a swing up for a while. And then a bridge. It develops as the children want it to.
There is also an area with a shed which just contains tools such as hammers and screwdrivers, which we can use on the timber.
Our mud kitchen is endlessly popular! As is our den building area – complete with a slack line between the trees for balancing on which encourages gross motor development.
Then of course, there’s the surrounding area: 4 or 5 acres in total, which we might explore to look for traces of animals e.g. badger footprints.
And that’s it! The rest we leave up to your child’s imagination.
What will my child do at Castle Lane Forest School?
Have fun! It’s one of our biggest aims.
As well as things like a daily cooking activity, where the children learn how to safely put food on the campfire and take an active involvement in making their own snack.
We also take walks to explore the local area, hunting for bugs and other species to identify, such as fungus or flowers.
Naturally, a lot of the exploration is physical (great for burning off excess energy!) so they might be climbing a fallen log one minute or sitting quietly, engaging in some crafts the next.
The opportunities are endless.
What will my child learn at Castle Lane Forest School?
As well as a greater appreciation of the outdoors and how to protect it better, which we believe is so important for today’s children, your child will also develop their:
- gross and fine motor skills
- core strength
- social skills
- team work
- problem solving
- emotional intelligence
- a love of the outdoors, come rain or shine
Which staff are involved in the Castle Lane Forest School?
Castle Lane Day Nursery owner, Harriet Gray along with Terri Revell have completed their Level 3 Forest School training, which is a leadership qualification.
It is an insurance requirement that at least one member of staff on site has this level of training.
Staff are trained to use the campfire and all tools safely as well as encouraging the children to reflect on their learning and how they might use their skills going forward.
Charmaine Whitelock has also just joined the forest school, having recently completed her Level 2 Forest School.
What happens if it rains?
They say that there is no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothing!
If it’s pouring down, naturally, it is important that the children’s basic needs are met before any higher learning can take place.
This means that the children need to be kept warm and cosy, by wearing clothing appropriate for the weather conditions.
It also means that they need to be kept fed with healthy snacks and hydrated with water at all times.
They also need to feel safe.
So rain won’t stop play. Or sunshine. But should the wind pick up, we naturally put safety first and vacate the site just in case of falling branches etc.
Is it safe to send my child to the forest school?
Yes! We offer the same high levels of care that you have come to expect at the nursery, with many of the same staff members.
Forest school is just a different environment, which actively encourages a healthier lifestyle and great resilience.
We closely look at all risks, weighing up benefit alongside them. For example, if it’s slippery because it’s been raining, we won’t necessarily stop the children from climbing – but we might get them to hold hands when they do and focus on improving their team work.
All work involving the fire and any tools is done on a one to one basis, with an adult and one child. That way, we find they are able to get best out of the experience.
Can my child attend The Castle Lane Forest School?
Any child over the age of 3 is eligible – and welcome – to attend the Castle Lane Forest School. They don’t have to attend our Pre-school Room to attend the forest school.
Can my child attending the Castle Lane Holiday Club also attend the Forest School?
Yes! For limited weeks in the Easter holidays and Summer holidays, we are planning to open up the forest school to any children on holiday from school.
Sessions will run as a full day (8am-6pm) and operate separately to our Holiday Club.
The cost is £30 per day and pre-booking is essential.
How to book onto the Castle Lane Forest School
To find out more about the Castle Lane Forest School and how you can book a place for your child, please call us on 01858 468006.