As you may, as well as being the Queen of Easy Green, I am also part of The Wildlife Trusts’ communications team. In this position, I have the great job of working with Trusts’ delivering outdoor learning projects for children as part of our Every Child Wild campaign. Funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Trusts across the UK are giving children, some of who wouldn’t normally have access to green space, the chance to connect with nature on a regular basis.
The first ever project I attended in this role was in Leicester, here’s my first hand account of what I learned on that visit.
‘Quickly Miss, come quickly,’ was the squeal of delight, ‘look what I’ve found, it’s a baby tree!’ Gently clearing away the dead leaves and twigs, which were covering the birch sapling, for 10 year old Ali, this was a momentuous event.
Growing up within inner city Leicester and with very limited opportunities to enjoy outdoor play, Ali, along with his school friends, are amongst 200 school children whose lives are being transformed through Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust’s (LRWT) Forest School activities, funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Focussing on schools with a lack of green space and children with special educational needs or with English as an additional language, LRWT Forest School sessions are giving children aged 2 – 11 years old the space and freedom to explore, learn and discover nature, for many of them, this will be the first experience in their lives.
Taking place in a small clearing surrounded by ash, silver birch and rowan trees in the peaceful setting of Brocks Hill Country Park, Oadby in Leicestershire, the pace of the sessions were understandably gentle. Under the calm guidance of Kate, the Forest School leader, children in mixed aged groups were encouraged to roam around the wooded area to collect natural ‘treasures’ to be fixed onto their ‘journey sticks’.
Clutching colourful bowls, the children immediately forgot their earlier apprehension and headed off to see what riches they could unearth.
Wild cherry leaves, door snail shells (Clausiliidae) wood pigeon feathers and bundles of electrified cat’s tail moss (Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus) were soon accumulated and excitedly tied onto their sticks, to remind them of what they had seen.
Two young boys who industriously, yet quietly, worked together on the project were Sam and Sanjay. Softly spoken, they asked for my help with tying knots and together we soon formed a happy team. Talking with them about their journey sticks, they both agreed the door snail shells were their favourite finds and with pride, ensured these took prominence on their sticks.
if they have the confidence to speak to teachers and their peers after just one session, imagine what regular classes like this could do for their self-esteem
Nothing unusual with this, you would have thought, but upon learning from their teacher afterwards that she had never heard either child speak at school, this was a significant moment for us all.
Taken aback with disbelief, she remarked, ‘if they have the confidence to speak to teachers and their peers after just one session, imagine what regular classes like this could do for their self-esteem’.
That is what is remarkable about Forest Schools. Simply by reconnecting our children back to nature, allowing them the freedom to learn at their own pace outdoors, we are giving them the gift of empowerment.
As countless studies concur, children who take part in regular Forest School sessions show evidence of a greater emotional maturity. Children who are risk averse gain confidence through the development and understanding of their own physical skills. Children also learn to take responsibility for their own actions and enjoy a new found independence. Stronger bonds are also formed between children, adults and their natural surroundings.
So what of Ali’s tree sapling?
Like his own Forest School story, with space to grow and move, abundant natural light and fresh air to breathe, it will quickly form strong roots and sturdy branches to weather life’s storms, and if continually nurtured in this way, will bear fruit to begin the cycle again.
“Next time I come here, with my family, Ali exclaimed, I will show them my tree and they will love it, like I do.”
To find out more about The Wildlife Trusts’ player supported outdoor learning projects across the UK, head over here People’s Postcode Lottery|The Wildlife Trusts
(children’s names have been changed)