Enabling Environments: Outdoors - Out of the wood

Sue Ball, of Setting Sail Day Nursery, Harrogate, describes the development of her Forest School and the benefits for the children.

Since starting our Forest School two years ago, we have gradually become more adventurous in the type of activity we offer our children and have now made charcoal on a few occasions. The children think the process is fantastic but even more appealing to them is using the charcoal to draw on the trees.

The children sometimes take the charcoal back to the nursery for their drawings and also use what was left from the previous week's fire for face-painting, though this kind of charcoal is more crumbly and doesn't last long.

Our Forest School developed out of our strong commitment to outdoor play. Despite our large outdoor area, we felt, because of our semi-rural location, that we could still do more to offer our children greater access to the outdoors. At the time we were also caring for quite a few boisterous boys who we felt would benefit from spending more time outside.

My manager and I attended a presentation by a practitioner who had visited outdoor provision in Denmark and, convinced of its potential, we then undertook our Forest School leader training.

We were lucky in finding a site for our school as our cook lives on a farm and her husband has given us exclusive use of a patch of woodland once a week. Twelve of our children aged three and over visit at a time. The arrangement also means we have been able to build a permanent den.

We were uncertain how the children would respond to being in woodland for the first time, but we were surprised by their confidence levels and within 20 minutes of arriving, they were happy to go off exploring.



On our earlier visits, we offered low-level activities as we weren't absolutely sure of the risks involved, and it is only eight months ago that we started to build fires, adding a fourth rule to our list:

  • - Don't run (for fear of rabbit holes)
  • Don't go beyond the trees
  • Don't put anything in your mouth
  • Don't go within the fire circle (around the pit) without an adult.

We have an outer circle of logs around the fire circle and introduced children to the rules of making a fire over several weeks before actually lighting one. This formed part of our Forest School training as did making charcoal using a golden syrup tin.

To make the charcoal, we

  • make a hole in the tin lid
  • place sticks about the thickness of a pencil into the tin and replace the lid
  • place the tin on the fire and wait for steam to emerge from the hole - this is the moisture being 'burnt' off the twigs
  • plug the hole in the tin with another stick once the steam dies down - to stop air getting into it
  • leave the tin to cool before opening the lid.

Forest School has brought major benefits to the children, principally enabling them to become more independent and take risks in a controlled environment. We have seen increased levels of co-operation and care for others and have been able to support their development in all areas.

We have plans to hold a parents session during the summer, to explain further the benefits of Forest School, and we have invited a local playgroup and the local primary school to join in sessions with us. Last summer we held a production of The Gruffalo in the wood and we hope to put on a different production in the future. Forest School has become an integral part of our provision for the children.

Sue Ball is the owner of Setting Sail Day Nursery, Killinghall, Harrogate. She spoke to Ruth Thomson


Fascination of Fire - Charcoal by Claire Warden, founder of training and resources company Mindstretchers, explores how to make and use charcoal and sets out the learning that can flow from such experiences.

The book - the first in a series focusing on the Elements - is designed to empower practitioners to provide threeto 11-year-olds with authentic experiences across a broad curriculum, while celebrating the role of the child in directing their own learning. Included are details of how to make charcoal, case studies with Possible Lines of Development (PLODs), curricular links and a benefit risk assessment.

The book, priced £9.00, has a foreword by Tim Gill, author of No Fear - growing up in a risk adverse society, and is endorsed by Richard Louv, who coined the phrase, Nature Deficit Disorder. To order a copy, visit: www.mindstretchers.co.uk

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