Guest Blog By Jamie Victoria, The Childcare Guru, Images by Annie Armitage
I write this on a rather cold and very windy February morning from the comfort of my office. I could easily stay inside all day but I know that I will feel so much better and focus so much more if I just go for a walk…
(I will be back to finish the blog shortly…)
Do you ever get those days when you stay inside with children, whether it’s at home or at nursery and come 3pm (often a lot earlier!) they resemble a coiled up spring ready to explode at any given moment? – Well there is a reason and we have all faced this predicament at one stage or another!
At times we undervalue the outdoors. Not only it’s opportunities for play and learning but also for our emotional and mental health. Spending time in woods and forests, or even just around trees, has been proven to boost our health and wellbeing! I know after my walk earlier, I was able to sit and write this blog with ease! Society has conditioned us to believe that learning and productivity happens inside or in a classroom. When in fact this is just not true.
I have worked with a lot of young children in my career and I have seen first hand just how important learning and play outside is. Children are happier and they glow in a way I have not seen before. Being outside relaxes us and takes away pressure and feelings of anxiety – it heals.
I have always been interested in outdoor education, so in 2015 I trained as a Forest School Leader. Now, contrary to popular belief Forest School is not simply just a ‘school’ in a forest. Forest School is an ethos and it allows us as adults and children the opportunity to connect or reconnect with the natural world around us. It gives us space and freedom away from time pressures, technology (she says, whilst using her MacBook) and everyday life stresses to reflect on ourselves in our basic form.
There is no right or wrong way to learn outside! So I have put together a book with my top 50 ideas for outdoor learning with children. This book is for both parents and educators – in fact anyone can use it. The aim of the book is to get children outside and give parents and educators ideas that they can develop and expand on, from making magical woodland potions to learning about animal habitats.
But one of my most favourite activities outside is making woodland fairy homes (or pixie and miniature troll homes… whatever your little ones are into!) The natural world has so much to give and when you look you will see that it is rich in resources, ready to be used in a creative manner. So step out of your comfort zone and capture children’s imagination because then anything is possible…
I often create small letters from fairies, pixies or other made-up mythical characters and I hide them in the woodlands, parks or nursery gardens for the children I am teaching to find. The joy and anticipation upon finding one of these letters is wonderful to watch, and the children become engaged, animated and excited to find out what the letter says…
“Dear Children, my name is Lily the Woodland Fairy. My friend Sneeze, who is a very friendly Dragon, has had a terrible cold which has made him sneeze even more than normal! Yesterday he accidently sneezed and blew away our Fairy village! Do you think you could work together and help to rebuild it? From Lily the Woodland Fairy”
This simple letter can be the start of a fantastic activity, full of exploration and learning. As parents/teachers, I encourage you to get involved and build part of the fairy village with the children. It will support them with their ideas and confidence in how to use the natural resources around them; using sticks to create structures, moss/leaves to make carpets, stones for borders…the possibilities are endless. Here is my video tutorial of how to make fairy homes.
Most importantly, allow the children to make their own creations. It helps to build their self-confidence and personal skills. I am never too worried about a activity going exactly as I had planned because children are fluid and I want them to lead their own paths. Usually the fairy villages end up far better than I could have ever imagined! No mind works the same, so it is crucial to be flexible and give the children the opportunity to express their ideas and designs – I would have never thought about the necessity for a village washing line!
These types of activities supports children’s creativity and critical thinking skills. They allow them to create their own outcomes and not feel they have to do it in a specific way. It also creates those memorable moments together – whenever I ask adults about their favourite childhood memories, they are nearly always outside! So go and create those memories your children or the children you teach and enjoy it yourselves too.
Next time you feel like staying inside – go outside and note how it makes you and your children feel afterwards. The results will surprise you! Remember – there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!
’50 Fantastic Ideas for Forest School’ is published on 5.03.2020 and available to pre-order now from all good book stores, including Amazon, Waterstones and Bloosmbury’s website.
Jamie Victoria Barnes is an experienced Early Years Specialist, independent trainer, consultant and author. She is the creator of ‘The Childcare Guru’ and has over a decade of experience within the field of Early Years.
Instagram: @thechildcareguru_ Facebook: @thechildcareguru Website: www.thechildcareguru.co.uk