After running the Beautiful Beginnings Natural Parenting Group for over five years and building a supportive and nurturing community for our children to grow up within, we decided that it was time to bring some changes to the group to meet the changing needs of our growing children. This led to the decision to cease meeting weekly in Maryport, and in it’s place I would develop a small Family Forest School.

Training to be a Forest School Leader in Grizedale Forest with the inspirational Lily Horseman from Kindling Play and Training has been a hugely informative, exciting and transformative experience, where I have been immersed in the Forest School process and gained a wide range of new skills and experiences. The course also resonated with my previous training as a Youth & Community Worker, and also mirrors much of what I’ve written about over the years in parenting artices exploring gentle ways of connecting with our children, validating their emotions and holding space for their learning and development.

Forest School has a unique ethos and is based very much around child-led play and children learning through play and exploration of the natural environment. It resonates very much with our approach to both parenting and home ed… it’s about being with the children, getting to know them and recognise their needs, to meet these needs and to hold the space for their learning. We as adults very much walk alongside them, rather than direct their experiences.

As leaders we are not ‘teachers’ in the general sense of the word. Rather we hold the space for the children’s learning to unfold. Instead of having a set lesson plan of what the children will learn, rather I offer a number of activities, provide lots of space for free, explorative play, ask the children what they are interested in and respond to this, and respond to their cues for play and learning.

And learning does take place. Children’s curiosity and wonder is awakened as we walk around the woods gently stroking the unfolding leaf buds, noticing how they have changed each week. Through the seasons we learn about the changes of the trees by experiencing them. We notice what has changed, what has grown on the forest floor, what is different from our previous sessions. We talk about this, explore the woodland structure through games, and talk about how and why things are happening. Children learn as they are inspired, excited and engaged in being immersed in nature. And we as parents can learn as much ourselves from being amongst the trees and observing our children’s natural unfolding.

I am currently in the process of setting up a small Family Forest School in some wild and untouched woodland at Wellington Farm, Cockermouth. I am running a small Forest School for the home educating community and also now offering weekend Family Forest School sessions.

I offer taster sessions and craft sessions but prefer to offer courses, for a key element of the Forest School ethos is that it is a long term process. Through returning to the same area and getting to know other families and the woodland week after week, we become so much more immersed and connected to the trees and the woodland. We start to notice the changes that take place, and begin to understand why. We learn the best places to build dens, how the water level of the stream changes with the weather, and we can play our favourite games week after week, as well as exploring new ones.

You can keep up to date with the Forest School adventures over on our Beautiful Beginnings Forest School Facebook page

Forest School is a unique and inspirational learning experience whereby children are supported to learn through play, creativity, skills building and exploration in an outdoor environment. You can find out more about this inspirational way of learning from the Forest School Association.