The team at Holmsdale Manor Nursery in Ibstock, Leicestershire believe in the saying ‘what one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever’, and so to introduce children to the joys of nature, they have developed Forest School provision that is well-researched, promotes rich child-led learning and respects the natural environment. Also motivating the setting to develop its provision were children's poor physical skills, lack of stamina and little awareness of the natural world on entering nursery.
Holmsdale Manor began to offer Forest School in 2007, at first on site and later away from the nursery when it acquired a piece of woodland a short walk away. Today, the woodland area has barefoot trails, fire pits and seating circles, sound walls and climbing and swinging equipment, as well as toilet and storage facilities. Central also to provision is ‘a wealth of loose parts and natural open-ended materials’.
While features such as the fire pits are static, the rest of the learning environment remains fluid, depending on children's interests. Tree climbing, mud pies, hide-and-seek and digging are among children's favourite activities, while some of the children like to find time to chat, observe and create imaginary worlds.
Development is ongoing. The team member who was instrumental in developing the trails has now cleared a route to a pond, installed a rustic, hand-made gate and plans to develop a pond-dipping platform to enable the children to explore a different natural space.
Younger children's Forest School experiences begin and gradually increase at the nursery site, which features a Baby Log Cabin. When older they move to the off-site location, and by the time they leave to start school, a significant proportion of their day is spent outdoors.
Judges were impressed by the amount of research that the nursery had undertaken in developing the provision as well as its ‘very informed’ understanding of its impact on the children and the environment.
The nursery explains, ‘We have thought carefully about developments, to protect and increase the diversity of the ecosystem, and ensure the environment offers the best opportunities to effectively facilitate learning.’
The provision and child-led approach have, reports the nursery, promoted deep-level learning and high levels of involvement and independence, while the children's physical and communication skills and creative development have all flourished.
To educate parents in Forest School practice and its many benefits, the nursery organises an annual party in the woods. One parent said, ‘Our daughter loved Holmsdale from the moment she started. Having been to the party in the woods, we can see why she always talks about it. We all had a great time joining in the den-building, obstacle course and all the crafts.’
“‘Research-based and principled’
HIGHLY COMMENDED South Acton Nursery School & Children's Centre, London
A bright idea and a $500 donation later, South Acton Nursery School took delivery of its very own Vauxhall Agila. Called Freddie, the car is the perfect way to tap into children's ongoing interest in transport and find a purposeful way to use an underdeveloped section of their outdoor area.
Since arriving free of charge – thanks to a team member's partner working for a car website, and the American donor – Freddie has been ‘child proofed’ and ‘a garage’ created, partly with donated resources. The team has collated a bank of ideas on how Freddie can be used to promote all aspects of learning and he features in all the nursery's planning and enhancements of provision.
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Open to early years settings who have developed elements of their provision to create stimulating, child-centred learning environments in line with the principles of the EYFS. This could be any aspect or area of the setting, including outdoor area, Forest School, under-threes provision, movement play area, free flow, children's access to self-chosen activities, etc.