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ball pit at Godstone Farm

Maximising a family day out

By Education, environment, Family Farms, Green, Mental health, Nature
by Nicola Henderson
Godstone Farm

Getting the best value for your money

In today’s world, with the rising cost-of-living and financial pressures on families, planning a day out that offers the best value for money is essential. Fortunately, with careful planning and consideration, families can still enjoy memorable experiences without breaking the bank. In particular, farm parks present an excellent option, combining a diverse range of activities with reasonable pricing, ensuring a fun-filled day out for all ages.

Here are some helpful tips from an insider!

1. Plan ahead and look for offers and discounts
The key to a budget-friendly family day out starts with thorough planning. Research local farm parks or attractions that offer a wide range of activities suitable for all family members. Before visiting, check their website or social media for special offers, discounts, or family packages. Many attractions provide reduced prices for early bookings or for buying tickets online in advance. Utilise membership cards, loyalty schemes, or annual passes that can grant access to multiple visits at a discounted rate.

2. Make the most of farm park offerings
Farm parks often combine various activities, making them an excellent value for money option. With a mix of animal encounters, indoor play areas, and outdoor spaces, there really is something for everyone. The diversity of activities caters to children of all ages, keeping them occupied and entertained throughout the day. Moreover, farm parks are generally more affordable than city centre attractions or tourist hotspots, making them a budget-friendly choice for families.

3. Utilise meal deals and picnic facilities
Food expenses during family days out can add up quickly. Consider looking for attractions that offer meal deals or have affordable food options on-site. Alternatively, pack a picnic lunch and take advantage of dedicated picnic areas and covered barns available at many farm parks. Enjoying a homemade lunch amidst the beautiful surroundings not only saves money but also allows for a relaxing and enjoyable break.

4. Smart shopping at gift shops
Children often desire a souvenir to remember their day out. Instead of splurging on expensive items, look for attractions with a well-stocked gift shop that offers pocket-friendly options. A section with low-cost items such as postcards, pencils, or small toys will delight young ones without straining the budget. Encourage children to make thoughtful purchases within a pre-determined budget, helping to teach them the value of money.

5. Consider memberships and multi-visit passes
For families living nearby or who plan to visit regularly, memberships or multi-visit passes can be a cost-effective option. Such offerings often come with perks like discounted admission for friends or reduced prices on additional activities within the park. It’s worth calculating how many visits are required to make the pass worthwhile and consider the added benefits it provides.

6. Time your visit wisely
To maximize the experience at farm parks, consider arriving early in the day to avoid crowds and make the most of the attractions. Alternatively, some parks may offer reduced rates for late afternoon visits, which can be beneficial if you have older children who can stay engaged until closing time. Many attractions run off-peak pricing too so if you don’t need to visit in the middle of a school holiday perhaps defer your trip to a weekend during term-time and opt for the local play park when the children are off school.

Creating lasting memories during a family day out does not have to come at a high cost. By planning ahead, taking advantage of offers and discounts and making smart choices during the visit, families can enjoy a fantastic day filled with fun and excitement without breaking the bank. Farm parks offer a great balance of activities at a reasonable price, making them an ideal choice for families looking for the best value for their hard-earned money. So, gather your loved ones, pack a picnic and head to the farm park for a day of endless enjoyment!

Godstone Farm in Surrey offers a wider range of animal experiences allowing children (and adults) the chance to go behind the scenes and experience the many benefits of animal contact.

forest girl

Benefits of outdoor, nature based play for children with autism

By Education, environment, Green, Mental health, Playing, Relationships, special educational needs, Special support needs
by Melanie Parr
Managing Director, Lymley Wood CIC

“My child has made a friend for the first time when he came to your Forest School, we are now planning a play date.”

Being a parent to a neurodiverse child can be a challenge and a struggle but also full of such joy. All parents want their children to make friends, have fun, learn and be able to explore new environments safely while knowing they will be respected and their individual needs will be accommodated and embraced.

Autism is not ‘one size fits all’ and every child with ASC (Autistic Spectrum Condition) has different presentations to others, but one thing we have found at Lymley Wood CIC is that being outside in a natural space provides children with ASC the chance to enjoy experiences just like other children do.

There isn’t currently a great deal of research into autism and nature activities but there is a growing body of evidence to prove a link between increased wellbeing, higher achievement and access to nature. There are many individual stories illustrating the positive influence which Forest School has had on autistic participants.

“This is the first holiday club my child has attended where I haven’t been called to take him home due to his behaviour.” One of our parents with a child aged eight with ASC.

Finding a provision that has a person-centred approach is essential for autistic children and with an autism-aware practitioner, ASD children have an opportunity to thrive. As well as physical activity benefits, outdoor sessions can help with motor skills, speech and language and aid emotional regulation.

So what can time spent in a natural space such as a Forest School offer:
1. A person-centred approach doesn’t only take into account any differences or difficulties someone may have, it looks at all children as unique individuals. Sit spots and favourite places for children to go to if they feel overwhelmed are easy in the woods.
2. Curiosity led play – special interests are welcome in the woods and are a great way to engage children.
3. Space to be safely sensorily stimulated – stimming, rocking, feeling the senses of nature all around is all OK in a natural space. Jumping in play nets or lying wrapped up in a blanket looking up through the trees allows for senses to be explored.
4. Encouraging an interest in nature – maybe our next Chris Packham, who openly talks about his own challenges with ASC and how nature has benefited him.
5. A chance to make new friends and connections with children and adults.
6. Physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, leading to calmer children and a chance to overcome some triggers and decreasing sensitivities like windy weather.

“I loved everything but the mud was the best” boy aged 10.

Forest Schools are popping up all over Sussex as are holiday cubs in woodland spaces such as Lymley Wood near Crowborough ( They all offer a great place to trial a session for children with ASC or other SEND needs.

East Sussex Council also supports access to holiday clubs with funded places for SEND children as part of the HAF scheme, for further details see

Mel Parr runs Lymley Wood CIC based near Five Ashes, that has been challenging Nature Deficit Disorder in Children since 2019.
For upcoming events please visit

free running in nature

Nurtured by nature

By Education, environment, Forest School, Green
by Caroline Fairs
A Little Dose of Nature

Growing up in the ‘90s and early 2000s, I have many happy memories of spending long afternoons playing outside with the other young children on my street. Day after day after day of the long summer holidays was spent playing endless games of hide-and-seek, going on ‘wild’ adventures through the overgrown scrub and meandering alleyways at the back of our houses, foraging for leaves, twigs and tiny creatures with which we could concoct potions or make mini imaginary worlds. Hours would melt away. Time itself ceased to exist until we were brought back to sharp reality by the nag from our mums to “please come in, tea’s on the table” to which we would plead “just five more minutes”, so desperate we were to stay in our nature-filled, make-believe world. Days like these were pure magic.

I’ll always be grateful that I grew up just before the advent of smartphones and social media. Life seemed simpler back then. In just a couple of decades, our lives and especially those of our children have drastically changed – everything seems busier, more stressful and with more pressure than ever to be doing, achieving, progressing – whatever happened to slowing down, finding joy in simplicity and noticing things? Despite the fact we have more ways of distracting and entertaining ourselves than ever before, our children seem unhappier than ever. The results of the most recent surveys show that 1 in 7 five to ten year olds suffer with a mental health problem, an increase from 1 in 10 in 2017.

There seems to be an epidemic of poor mental health affecting our children and while there are many factors that are contributing to this, our increasingly sedentary, indoor lifestyles are clearly playing a role, with some going as far as saying that we are raising a generation of children suffering from ‘nature-deficit disorder’.

The American biologist, Edward Wilson set out his popular biophilia theory in 1984 in which he argued that as humans we are intrinsically drawn towards our natural surroundings with a desire to interact with other life forms. In other words, we are meant to be outside in nature – that’s where we thrive. As a mum of a young daughter, I’ve witnessed the seemingly magnetic pull of nature first-hand – she loves nothing more than playing outside, bounding from one muddy puddle to the next on our walks, giggling as she rolls down hills and collecting nature’s ‘artefacts’ with a look of such curiosity on her face, it makes my heart soar. This is where she’s happiest. And these are all simple things – no complicated toys or gadgets, just things that you can find right outside your door for free: nature’s gifts. Granted, my daughter is young enough still to be persuaded to turn off the TV but even older children, forever on their smartphones, still have it within them to find joy in nature – that innate pull to the natural world is still there, we just need to set it free.

So why is nature so good for our children? We can already see for ourselves that being outside in nature has an overwhelmingly positive effect but in her book, ‘A Little Dose of Nature’, psychologist Dr Alison Greenwood explains the benefits of nature’s five active ingredients: fractals (naturally occurring, repeating patterns), nature sounds, phytoncides (natural chemicals released by trees and plants), soil bacteria and sunlight. These intrinsic parts of nature not only help children feel happier and calmer, they can also improve focus, attention and sleep and boost their immune systems and even brain power! Engaging with the natural world can also improve confidence and inspire creativity and imagination as they explore new environments and find new ways of interacting with the world around them. Many studies have also shown that spending time outside can also help reduce ADHD symptoms. This is because being in natural green spaces engages children in such a way that requires little mental effort – many natural environments are highly fascinating to children and whet their inherent curiosity without them needing to think too hard. It is this fascination which has a restorative and calming effect.

There are many activities which you and your children can enjoy together in nature. Get them to use all five of their senses on a walk – can they spot any fractal patterns – clouds or leaf veins? Can they hear any nature sounds such as birds singing? Are their any flowers or plants they can smell? What can they touch – the rough bark on a tree or soft grass? Taste is a little trickier but maybe if you’re lucky you might come across some blackberries or even some wild garlic!

How about planning a forage or scavenger hunt and getting your child to make a collage or pretty mandala (a circular figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism) using the natural objects they find? But you don’t even need to do this, simply encouraging your children to look more closely at the world around them is a great start. Children have an incredible ability to find joy in the small, simple things – they can often be found in awe of something like a tiny insect going about its business or by an unusual pattern on a leaf. Encouraging more of these “wow” moments as Dr Greenwood refers to them, will not only help your children to be happier and calmer, it might just help you too!

‘A Little Dose of Nature’ written by Dr Greenwood and published by Ivy Kids, is available now from all good book shops priced at £9.99

forest school fun

Learning beyond the classroom walls – why Forest School is essential in education

By Education, environment, Forest School, fun for children, Green
by Stuart Lee
Copthorne Prep School Forest School Leader and Outdoor Activities Instructor

As the world becomes increasingly digital and technology-driven, it’s more important than ever to ensure our children are getting enough time outside in nature. Forest Schools have been gaining popularity around the globe as a way of providing an experience that is both educational and fun for young minds.

In this article, we’ll explore why Forest School is essential in education and how it opens up new avenues for learning beyond traditional classroom walls. So put on your wellies, grab a raincoat, and let’s delve into the wonderful world of Forest Schools!

Introduction to Forest School
When most people think of school, they envision a building with classrooms, a playground, and maybe a field for sports. But what if there was another way to learn? What if students could explore and discover in a natural setting? This is where Forest School comes in.

Forest School is an approach to learning that takes place in nature. It emphasises hands-on, experiential learning in a safe and supportive environment. Forest School can be used with students of all ages, but it is especially beneficial for young children.

The benefits of Forest School are numerous. Studies have shown that time spent in nature can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Being in nature can also improve concentration and focus. And because Forest School encourages hands-on learning, it can help promote problem-solving skills and creativity.

Outdoor learning enables us to instil a sense of responsibility in children for their environment and sustainability, discussing how we look after the natural world around us and discussing aspects like recycling, use of plastics, saving energy, collecting water and so on. The children will explore nature, learning about trees, follow the seasons, understand plant growth, explore minibeasts and find the biggest puddle to jump in (weather dependent of course)!

The six Forest School principles are:
• Sessions are delivered on a long-term basis: Forest School needs to be regular.
• Sessions are risk-aware, not risk-averse: Meaningful activities which nurture the instinctive human ability to learn through overcoming a risk, challenge or problem. Teaching the children how to safely use tools like knives and axes for whittling or chopping wood, and how to light and safely be around campfires.
• Forest School is invested in the holistic development (emotional, spiritual, intellectual, social, physical, communication and language) of the participants.
• Forest School should take place in a natural wooded environment.
• Forest School should be run by a qualified Forest School practitioner.
• Forest School is learner-centred with learner-based outcomes.

Benefits of Forest School for primary school students
Children who spend time in nature have shown to have increased levels of physical activity, social and emotional wellbeing and brain development. Forest Schools provide an immersive environment for children to learn about and connect with the natural world. It offers a unique opportunity for children to learn in an outdoor setting and develop a lifelong love of learning.

Other positive outcomes include:
Improved concentration and focus
Studies have shown that being in nature can help improve focus and concentration. This is especially beneficial for students who struggle with attention deficit disorders or who have difficulty paying attention in a traditional classroom setting.

Lower stress levels
Nature has a way of calming people and helping to lower stress levels. This is important for students who are dealing with anxiety or who find the traditional school setting to be overwhelming. Being in nature can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Increased physical activity
Getting outdoors and being active is important for everyone, but it’s especially crucial for growing children and teens. Physical activity has been shown to improve brain function, mood, and overall health. Being outdoors gives students an opportunity to be active in a way that is fun and engaging.

Improved social skills
Outdoor learning provides opportunities for students to work together in small groups or teams. This can help them develop important social skills such as communication, co-operation, and teamwork. It can also help shy or introverted students feel more comfortable interacting with others.

Therefore, it is evident that by incorporating Forest School into primary education, children could not only improve academically but also holistically – and this is fundamental to education. It is more than classroom learning, it is a rounded enriched learning journey to develop children for modern life. With its unique curriculum based on free play and exploration, it is no surprise that Forest School has been gaining in popularity. As parents and educators become more aware of its benefits, it is likely that even more children will have access to this enriching educational experience.

Forest School is an integral part of a child’s education at Copthorne Prep – it helps them develop their social and emotional skills, increases outdoor awareness and encourages the development of knowledge that goes beyond the classroom walls.


pre prep

10 tips to get your child outside this winter

By Education, environment, Forest School, fun for children, Gardening, Green, Mental health, Playing, Winter

by Heather Cavanagh
Head of Pre-Prep & Prep Burgess Hill Girls

I think most parents would agree that outdoor play is a good idea for young children. The NCT, for example cites the following benefits of outdoor play; better sleep, a fun way to learn, development of motor skills, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, environmental awareness, making new friends and positive effects on parents too.

However, as the days get shorter and the weather colder and wetter, we are all probably guilty of opting to stay inside in the warm when deep down we know we would feel a lot better if we spent more time outside.

Here are some of our tips to help you and the family benefit from getting outside in the fresh air all year round:

1. There is no such thing as bad weather
As Alfred Wainwright, the famous walker and writer, once said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”. If you can kit your children out with the correct warm clothes, waterproofs and wellies they will be able to play outside happily for hours. You might be able to cut down on some washing too!

2. Pack a thermos
During winter walks with my children and now my grandchildren, I always like to pack a thermos with a hot drink. The Owen family from Our Yorkshire Farm enjoy tea in theirs but you could opt for hot chocolate or even some hot blackcurrant or orange squash, and if you are feeling really generous, maybe a few biscuits or a bit of chocolate. I find it to be a useful little incentive to add a bit of excitement to a winter walk. It often provides a special family moment where we can all have a chat together.

3. Leaves, leaves, glorious leaves
Autumnal walks have to be some of my favourite. All the trees are a beautiful array of colours and there is so much you can do with leaves; see if you can catch them as they fall, build big piles and dive into them or take them home for some crafting. Or why not incentivise your children to clear up all the leaves in your garden or drive for some pocket money.

4. Get sporty
Encourage your children to take part in a sport that can be played in the winter. Most can, and I genuinely believe there is something for everyone. Team sports are a great way for children to make friends and a great incentive for children to want to go out and play or practise in the winter months.

5. Seafront walks
Being in Burgess Hill, we are fortunate that Sussex’s beaches are close by. Children love a seafront walk when the waves are crashing over the seawall and there’s a chance to get wet. If you do not have beaches nearby, get your appropriate waterproofs on and seek out some muddy puddles, if it is good enough for Peppa Pig, it has to be fun!

6. Pop to the shops
If your children are old enough and you feel it is safe to do so why not encourage them to run an errand to the local shop for you, maybe with a few pence for some sweets in it for them. Or perhaps you can all venture out together. Visiting the shop and buying some items is also a good opportunity for some impromptu maths too!

7. Borrow a dog
You may already have a dog, but if not I am sure you know someone who has one and most dog owners I know would be glad of your offer to take their pet for a walk. If your child is anything like our pupils who adore our school dog Jasper, they will jump at the opportunity to take a dog for a walk with you.

8. Night time adventures
For young children, being outside at night has something magical about it, especially if you can combine your adventure with a clear starry night, or a full moon, or just simply to go and check out your neighbourhood’s Christmas lights in December!

9. Painted rock trails
You might have heard of geocaching but did you know there are now painted rock trails popping up all over the country. Search out your local area’s web or social media pages and you will probably find details. Even better, paint your own, outside of course, and hide them for people to find on the trail.

10. Walk to school
Some families are lucky enough to be able to walk the whole journey to their school but everyone can walk at least some of the way. Just park a few streets away or further if you are feeling energetic. This will enable your child to notice the environment around them.
It will also teach them about road safety and allow you all to take part in a healthy activity together.

To find out more about Burgess Hill Girls, visit

eco guilt

How to deal with eco-guilt

By environment, family, Green

In a world where we see climate change problems every day, it can be easy to develop some eco-guilt for your lifestyle. With 75% of adults in Great Britain worrying about climate change, we can wonder what we can do to change our habits and contribute to a better environment both for us and our children.

Eco-guilt comes from our ability to do something good for the environment, but the conscious decision not to. Whether this is due to convenience, such as purchasing new plastic bags, or necessity sometimes. However, there are ways that your eco-guilt can be reduced.

Guilt is a natural feeling and one that we all experience at some point or other. However, you don’t have to feel this way. Here, we will explore some ways you can cope with your eco-guilt.

Understand your carbon
One way to start feeling better about your eco-guilt is to understand your carbon better. Calculating your carbon footprint can help highlight how much you are producing, or saving from being produced, through your daily life.

This might show you a higher figure than you anticipated, giving you a push in the right direction to reducing your carbon and where to target – such as your commuting distance, if possible. Or it might show you a lower unit than expected and can help ease some of the eco-guilt you have been harbouring. If you don’t know how to figure out your carbon usage, then you can calculate it with the WWF Footprint Calculator.

Build a sustainable routine
Another way to reduce eco-guilt is to establish a sustainable routine. This way, you are continually having a positive effect on the environment, as opposed to if you did not make any changes. Rather than being disheartened by your eco-friendly ways, make sure to maintain a routine with them. Lifestyle changes, such as using a reusable travel coffee cup rather than plastic ones, can mean you are positively impacting the environment and your community without causing extra problems for yourself.

This will also teach your children to be more eco-friendly in their lives – grab those children’s wellies and start harvesting your own allotment – promoting sustainability and resourcefulness in your children while keeping your eco-guilt at bay. By making this a routine, rather than a concerted one-off effort, you will regularly impact your carbon footprint as well as find that, over time, the practice of being sustainable will become an unconscious, long-term habit.

Don’t compare
As with any part of life, you shouldn’t compare your journey to others. While it can be difficult to ignore the sustainability measures of many, and there is a lot of pressure to be sustainable, you should do so at your own pace. Don’t allow the eco-guilt to diminish the work you have done so far. As with all lifestyle changes, little movements can create big changes – especially if you have children. The small efforts you are making towards being more sustainable can mean they are learning life-changing habits for their futures.

Ongoing and anticipated climate change problems have been known to cause eco-paralysis, but it is important that rather than judging your achievements against others, you focus on what good you do. Avoiding eco-paralysis can involve maintaining a routine and avoiding comparing the efforts of others to yourself. Rather than it appearing as a competition, making positive changes towards the climate should be seen as a collaboration. As such, you should focus on progression rather than perfection.

Some 63% of people surveyed said they have negative feelings towards the future as a result of climate change. It isn’t easy maintaining a sustainable lifestyle, and with pressure from climate change activists, social media, and even your community, you can find yourself struggling to stay motivated. However, eco-guilt shouldn’t be the end of your climate change journey. Focus on you and your family, the small changes you can make, and believe that they are contributing.

For further information please visit

forest school education

Childhood development and the benefits of Forest Schools

By Education, environment, family, Family Farms, Forest School, fun for children, Gardening, Green

Forest Schools are an exciting opportunity for children to learn with their hands. The sessions, which are non-academic and led by a qualified instructor, encourage outdoor education in a controlled setting. This can come in a range of forms, from group treasure hunts to woodland building exercises.

These schools encourage children to ditch the computer screen and spend more time outdoors – and considering children aged five to seven years old spend an average of four hours behind a screen every day, the need for outdoor education has never been clearer.

In fact, Forest Schools are actually becoming an increasingly popular choice for parents across the UK. According to a survey of 200 establishments by the Forest School Association (FSA), two-thirds have seen a rise in requests for places since March 2020.

Here, we will explore four skills that children develop when attending Forest Schools. If you’re a parent searching for ways to stimulate your child’s development, these schools may be the solution for you and your family.

Social and communication skills
Forest Schools are a great way for children to socialise with their peers. Whether they’re jumping in muddy puddles or foraging for wild berries, children are able to work within a team and complete their tasks. In fact, research from Plymouth University found that 93% of Forest Schools believed children developed their social skills whilst enrolled.

Moreover, Forest Schools are an opportunity to meet new children. The average number of pupils in Reception and KS1 classrooms is 26.6, according to GOV UK. Forest Schools introduce a new selection of children who may be from different backgrounds or be of different ages. This better prepares children for meeting more diverse groups of people in later life.

Confidence and independence
If your child exhibits any signs of social anxiety, it may be harder for them to take part. However, participating in Forest Schools can actually boost confidence. This is a slow process that will progress over time, and it is different for each child.

A sense of independence is particularly important for children. As well as building the social skills to work well within a team, Forest Schools offer children the chance to complete tasks by themselves. This includes a range of activities, such as charting the species of plants or flowers they find in a specific outdoor area.

Motor and cognitive abilities
More often than not, traditional schools focus on academic education. There are physical education (or PE) lessons, but these do not make up the bulk of the day. Instead, children practise their literacy and numeracy skills within the confines of a classroom.

In comparison, Forest Schools allow children to stay active. Not only is this regular exercise important for bone and muscle strength, but it is also instrumental in developing childhood motor skills. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining or rain clouds are looming, children are able to boot up in wellies and let the outdoor learning commence.

Physical activity could also improve cognitive function in children. These include the ability to recall information and flexible thinking. This is beneficial for many areas of life, including excelling in traditional schools.

A sustainable mindset
Sustainability is at the forefront of society. As the nation strives to achieve net-zero, teaching children about the environment has never been more important. After all, they are the future minds of tomorrow, and we should continue to educate them as best as we can.

Forest Schools may be the answer. During these lessons, children develop a sustainable mindset. This is a lot more likely than a child who spends most of their time inside, whether this is at home or in a classroom.

These are four skills children can attain after attending Forest Schools. In addition to the many benefits, this is a time for children to have fun. If they learn something along the way – from the importance of ecology, to the ability to work well in a team – that is a welcomed bonus. When will you enrol your child in Forest Schools?

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family farm

The benefits of bonding with animals for children’s emotional development

By Education, environment, Family Farms, fun for children, Gardening, Green, Mental health

by Nicola Henderson
Godstone Farm

For many of us, our first friends in life might be a sibling or cousins, but more often than not, it is a furry friend in the form of a family pet. A dog, cat or even a pet fish can teach children so much about caring for others, helping young children learn to express empathy for another soul and understanding the responsibilities required to look after an animal. This is the core principle behind the ethos of many family farm attractions across the UK and accounts for the demand from parents for their children to attend farm-based nurseries and preschools too.

Typically, farm parks and farm-based nurseries are an ideal way for children to learn about how to care for a huge variety of animals – quite literally ‘all creatures great and small’ in a safe way. Many childcare experts have extolled the benefits of sensory play, but in many respects, learning to interact with animals is the original sensory play. For young children who are interested in, and emotionally invested in animals, it can also be a highly effective learning ‘tool’. Utilising things that drive learning and follow a child’s interests can really fast-track a child’s learning and can be much more effective than a prescribed curriculum.

Today, a number of family farm attractions now offer one-to-one hands-on animal experiences from goat herding to meerkat feeding, to help small children learn about the needs of animals, whilst farm based nurseries make daily visits to the animals’ pens, ponds, sties or hutches. Animal encounters are a fantastic way to provoke all-important curiosity, and illicit conversations about a variety of scenarios and new vocabulary to small children. When it comes to emotional development especially, the role of animals
positively correlates with feelings of importance, social competence, and self-esteem. When children learn to care for animals they also learn that treating them nicely and patiently is an invaluable experience in learning to treat people the same way. Animals teach kids about patience and self-control, animals don’t always behave the way we want them to be. Animals can get over excited, scared and bite or peck but learning how to deal with these behaviours teaches children to be patient and have self-control. Children learn to have soft but firm voices and how to be gentle and careful. Animals have proved to be incredibly therapeutic for the children and can reduce stress and anxiety. It’s also recognised that animals give children an understanding of our natural world and how we can look after it. Looking after wildlife’s habitats such as building hedgehog houses or bug hotels, supports complementary discussion about recycling and being resourceful.

Animals also provide children with lessons about life (reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement). Children have the opportunity to see lambs being born and eggs hatching. Animals provide knowledge in biology. When children spend time around the different animals they begin to understand basic biology and how that translates between animal species. Activities like grooming animals and feeding them, understanding what they eat and how food is digested, develops children’s knowledge and of course, children love discussing poo!

Indeed, ask any farmer and they will tell you that they are always busy! Animals create a constant stream of jobs; day in day out, there is something to be done. Rain or shine, from season to season, dawn until dusk, there are animal caring tasks which children can get involved in. With the support of experienced enthusiastic practitioners, children are often excited and look forward to new and alternative experiences that come from time spent with farm animals.

Obviously, a key part of any animal experience is to ensure children feel secure and confident. A cheeky piglet or an inquisitive pony can create opportunities for children to challenge themselves and experience careful risk taking in a positive way. A landmark study by Williams-Siegfredsen (2011) believed that, if children were not exposed to risk, they were denied the opportunity to learn to address everyday challenges and problems. Moreover, the Health and Safety Executive argued that ‘the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits. No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool!’ (HSE, 2012, p.1).

Risky play is seen as an important element in animal experiences and naturally, animals can sometimes be unpredictable. In this instance, young children learn about keeping safe when handling and feeding and are taught about infection control measures, how to use equipment safely such as closing gates, how to brush a horse or move around animals safely. As evidenced from a number of Early Years studies, children need personal contact with real animate people and creatures before play can become rich and satisfying (White, 2011).

Godstone Farm in Surrey offers a wider range of animal experiences allowing children (and adults) the chance to go behind the scenes and experience the many benefits of animal contact.

forest skills

Using outdoor learning to enrich a child’s education

By Education, environment, Family Farms, Forest School, Green, Mental health

by Barnaby Sandow
Head of School, ACS International School Cobham

The great outdoors is an invaluable and immediate educational resource, uniquely placed to build children’s awareness of the world, while being highly beneficial to both their personal and academic development.

Outdoor learning can take many forms – from taking a maths lesson outside, to giving children the opportunity to explore the fauna and flora of their surroundings. As a result, it has a wide range of benefits.

Research has shown improved health and wellbeing as one of the many outcomes of outdoor learning. Learning in the great outdoors not only allows children to be more active during the school day and lead a healthier lifestyle, but also provides an opportunity for them to relax and subsequently feel more refreshed and ready to learn. Taking the classroom outside can also increase student engagement; outdoor settings have the ability to fully energise an inquiring mind in a completely different way to indoor classroom environments.

Helping schools to enhance their outdoor learning offering and ensure children can enjoy meaningful and effective lessons, the Forest School Association offers a national accreditation that schools can apply for to deliver both structured and unstructured outdoor sessions. At our school, we have a long-established Forest School programme, led by our own Forest School accredited teachers and trainers, who are able to deliver valuable outdoor sessions for children from the age of two upwards.

The beauty of Forest School and general outdoor learning is that it offers children great variety in their learning. In one session, children could be asked to create natural inventions, such as flower crowns or pressed leaf drawings, and share stories with one another; this encourages creativity while enabling them to reflect on their experiences. In another session, children could be taught how to build a campfire and learn about fire safety, giving them the opportunity to physically test their skills in the real world and build the confidence to take risks in a supported and safe environment.

Forest School learning can see children journeying together through the woods or engaging in simple rough and tumble, which engage all of a child’s senses and are crucial for helping them to make sense of the world around them, while strengthening their communication and teamwork skills.

In outdoor sessions, children are also given free time to fully explore and interact with nature, being able to discover a variety of trees, plants and their surroundings in greater detail and learn about the world around them – in the most hands-on way possible.

From our experience, we have found that outdoor learning is particularly beneficial for younger children. They are given the space to be active and enjoy being noisy and messy, while engaging in play-based learning and exploration. With activities based on small, achievable steps, spending time outside helps to increase self-confidence and independence in the early years. Additional benefits of outdoor learning for younger children include improving their focus and attention, while physically helping to improve their balance, co-ordination and fine motor skills.

Beyond school, there are many ways that parents can facilitate outdoor learning in the evenings and the holidays to continue their child’s development at home. By encouraging simple and fun learning activities, such as den-building, painting a mural in the garden, or taking garden and wildlife photography, parents can help to spark the imagination of their child and increase their motivation to learn in all areas of their life – not just in the classroom!

For more information on ACS Cobham’s provision and to book an open day, please visit:

Forest school benefits

Exploring the world of Forest School

By Education, environment, Gardening, Green, Mental health
by Rachel Martini
Nursery Manager, Little Lancing Day Nursery & Forest School

There’s been a real buzz about Forest School in recent years – but what’s it all about and why is it becoming increasingly popular?

Forest School in the UK is based upon the Scandinavian concept of ‘friluftsliv’ – free air life – an open-air culture which has long been very much a way of life in those countries. It first made its way to the UK as long ago as 1993 and has grown in leaps and bounds since then, both here and around the world.

The UK Forest School Community, way back in 2011, came together to define the ethos of Forest School in this country. Broadly it is a child-centred learning process that inspires children through play, exploration and supported risk-taking. It inspires children to undertake hands-on learning experiences in a natural setting and builds confidence and self-esteem through regular play sessions.

The provision for Forest School covers a wide range. From Early Years settings that operate completely out of doors, to those nurseries and schools with bespoke outdoor learning spaces, to sessions for children that take place outdoors in their nursery garden or school grounds.

Whatever the format offered, Forest School is firmly aimed at sparking children’s curiosity with the world around them, building an awareness and connection with the natural world and using their outdoor environment to develop important life skills. It also gives children a chance to make connections and to experience fun and challenging activities, away from the lure of the electronic world they are growing up in. Yes they are becoming digital natives but they are first and foremost natives of the ‘real world’ too!

In summary, the six basic principles of Forest School are that it:
• Offers a long-term programme of frequent and regular sessions, with careful planning, adaptation, observations and then review.
• Takes place in a woodland or natural wooded environment, wherever possible, to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world, although good Forest School practice can of course be well supported in other sites with only a few trees.
• Fosters resilient, confident, independent and creative learners, with experiences linked to home and nursery/school where appropriate.
• Provides learners with the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves, using tools and fires where appropriate and within the framework of a baseline risk assessment.
• Is run by qualified practitioners with a minimum of an accredited Level 3 Forest School qualification, who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice. It has a high ratio of practitioner to learners. Practitioners hold up-to-date first aid qualifications, including paediatric elements.
• Uses a learner-centred pedagogical approach that is responsive to the needs and interests of learners, with play and choice an integral part of learning and development.

The benefits to young children of learning through play within the natural environment are clear to see. Forest School helps children to develop holistically, at their own pace, into resilient, confident, independent and creative learners. They learn teamwork skills building ‘nests’ or shelters and are encouraged to develop risk awareness through activities such as bushcraft. They instinctively use natural resources for inspiration, following the flow of the seasons to explore for example bluebells in spring, birds nesting and leaves changing colour in the autumn. They take learning outdoors and make connections with the natural world around them. At a time when climate and environmental issues are becoming critically important, Forest School is a great – and, we believe, essential – grounding for our future citizens.

Rachel Martini is the Nursery Manager at Little Lancing Day Nursery & Forest School. For further details please call 01273 465900 or visit