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sad child

It’s OK to cry – letting our children know they can feel sad

By family, Mental health, Relationships, Special support needs

We’ve all been there: your toddler’s sobbing because their strawberries are being served in a bowl rather than on a plate, or you’re playing in the park and they start crying over a tiny scratch. It’s natural to respond by saying, “Don’t cry, you’re OK.”

It’s a fact of life – babies and toddlers cry. The reasons they cry change as they get older, and so do our reactions. We tend to be more forgiving of infants (although a colicky baby can put anyone’s patience to the test), as we know that crying is one of their only ways to communicate.

Once children start to walk, talk, listen and follow simple directions, adults can become less accepting of crying. Parents naturally want to prepare their children for the world beyond home, and sometimes we react as though expressing negative emotions is a sign of weakness.

Crying can be a way of processing any strong emotion. Toddlers, of course, cry when they’re sad, but they might also cry when they encounter something new, confusing, unexpected, or difficult.

Here are some ways to help your toddler work through big feelings without telling them to stop crying:

Validate and empathise
A simple step is to just say “I can tell you’re upset” or “That looks really frustrating for you and I can see why.” It may help and it shows you care. At this age, your toddler is crying for a reason, even if it doesn’t make much sense to you.

Notice how you are feeling when your toddler starts crying. We may tell our toddlers to stop because we’re frustrated or out of time and patience. Watching our own reactions can be an instructive way to tap into our own empathy.

Finding the patience to listen to your toddler struggle to communicate with you in a difficult moment can be hard, but even with a limited vocabulary, they want to tell you about their feelings. Some of it may come in the form of words, some from body language and other cues.

Circle back
Your toddler is starting to remember more and more. A day after a tough episode, revisit it when your toddler’s in a calmer state by saying something like “Remember when you were so sad yesterday?”

For further information on child development issues please visit

defiant toddler

Teaching your child boundaries

By Childcare and Nannying, children's health, Education, family, Mental health, Relationships, Special support needs
by Michelle Elman
Author, How to Say No

You will remember a time in your child’s life when “no” was their favourite word but as a child hits three to four years old, saying “no”, getting their needs met and communicating how they feel, gets a little bit more complicated. They start to develop Theory of Mind which means they start to get an awareness of the fact that not only can they think, but other people think too. Over time, this realisation turns into the knowledge that if someone can think, then they can think about you and they can also think badly about you.

As adults, you will understand that your own boundaries are usually in conflict with caring what people think, and children also suffer with the same issue, especially when popularity, fitting in and being liked by their peer group is such a high priority. This is where it is important to emphasis the need to keep boundaries in their vocabulary, starting with the simplest and first boundary we all learn – the word ‘no’.

As we all know, children don’t do as you say, they do as you do and therefore practising boundaries yourself is the best place to start to be an example to your children. Learning boundaries isn’t just something you should do for your children though, it can positively impact your life in many ways – from self-esteem, to protecting yourself from burnout, to reprioritising your need for rest and looking after your body. As much as children might struggle to do what you say, if you create an environment where everyone feels listened to, they often start to listen to you more too, if they feel heard themselves.

The word “no” is crucial to understanding how you feel, what you want and it also means that your “yes” has more power. If “yes” is the only word you can use, then that’s the default and your life becomes filled with meeting everyone else’s needs and demands. As much as a child using the word “no” may make your life more difficult as a parent, it’s important to understand that it’s a crucial skill as they grow up and become adults.

We want to foster a sense of independence and knowing how to communicate well, even if they still need to comply with the rules of the household or school. When they set a boundary that is simply not feasible, for example, staying at home alone because they don’t want to attend a family friend’s party, then you are still able to congratulate them on communicating their needs, expressing their boundaries and making them feel heard, listened to and respected.

If you lead with empathy, you are treating them with the respect you would with any adult who has their full autonomy and freedom to make their own decisions. I’m sure you’ve had evenings where you’ve not wanted to attend an event that you previously were looking forward to or there are times as an adult, you just want to be left at home alone to enjoy your solitude. For your child though, that might be unsafe and therefore communicating that to them, not only gives them respect but understanding as to the decision making process.

Saying something like “I know you don’t want to come tonight. I know you are tired and I wouldn’t want to come too if I had as long a week as you have. I can’t find anyone to stay with you last minute though and I do not feel comfortable leaving you at home alone so for your safety, you will have to come with us”. When you come from a empathetic standpoint, you can understand why a child wouldn’t want to go to a grown-up party where they have little in common with the people there, and it is easier to come up with a compromise, for example, “If you would like some alone time though, why don’t you bring a book and we can find a room where you can be by yourself while all the adults are talking?”

Teaching boundaries is also about teaching your children to respect other people’s boundaries so when you set rules about behaviour, make sure you echo the reverse. For example, if they don’t want their siblings barging into their room, then they also have to lHow to say noisten when their siblings say no to them entering their room. Emphasising that we also want to respect other people’s boundaries and giving them the language around boundaries is also really helpful. A boundary might not always sound like the word “no”, it can be “That doesn’t work for me”, or “I don’t like the sound of that,” and when you understand that this is someone conveying their boundaries, not only do they have phrases to listen out for but they have the same phrases they can use themselves.

‘How To Say No’ released by Puffin, is available now.

foster family

Fostering as a family

By Childcare and Nannying, Fostering and adoption, fun for children, Mental health, Special support needs

The sons and daughters of foster carers play a vital role in fostering; they contribute hugely towards the success of fostering placements and make a valuable difference to fostered siblings as they settle into their new home. Fostering is a life changing decision and should be considered and thought about as a family.

Sometimes, the perceived impact of fostering on birth children prevents families from finding out more as they feel they need to wait until their children are older. However, for many of the families who foster for Brighton & Hove City Council, the experience has been positive and rewarding.

We asked foster carer Felicia to tell us about the role her children play in their fostering family. “Becoming a fostering family was a big step for the whole family, but becoming foster siblings was particularly special for our birth children.

At the start of our journey, I knew I wanted to foster children, but it was something that we had never approached as a family. It was important for us to ensure that we involved our birth children from the very start, to ensure they were happy with the changes and the roles they would take on. Our children were keen from the start. We love a busy house and the joy that many children bring to it. The more the merrier! We ensured that the children were also aware of the difficulties that they may face such as sharing their parents with more children and the sense of loss that they may feel when foster children moved on to their forever homes. It was important for them to have a transparent view of fostering, as well as to understand the joy and the challenges that may lie ahead. The children were involved throughout the assessment process, speaking with assessing social workers and meeting other birth children. They continued to express that they were keen to start fostering.

Five years on as a fostering family and I am truly proud of the difference that our birth children make to the foster children who come into our care. They welcome the children when they first come to our home and help to find toys to play with and make the children feel part of our family. Our children have demonstrated kindness, calmness and understanding towards children who have needed our support. As a fostering family of babies and toddlers, our birth children have been involved in helping our foster children meet many milestones.They have helped children learn to crawl, to walk, to talk and encouraged them with love and praise when they learn new things.The immediate instinct they show to comfort children when they are upset or unsettled is wonderful to see, as well as extending this kindness to other people around them.

We take regular opportunities to check that our children are happy to continue our fostering journey and every time we get a resounding yes!

Our birth children love to keep in touch with the children we foster when they move into their forever homes, where this is appropriate. It’s an honour and a privilege to continue in these children’s lives and see the bond between the children as they grow.”

We also asked foster carer Stella about the impact fostering has had on her children. “Our children have turned out to be very empathetic and sympathetic young people because they know that not all children and young people have a happy upbringing. This includes basic needs like having a clean, well-equipped house and a happy family home where they feel safe and wanted.

They have both grown up to be young people who are kind, just to be kind, not because they think they will get something in return.

They continue to constantly and consistently show the children we care for unconditional love and go out of their way to make the children feel that they belong in our family.

They have never complained about having to share their home, their holidays, their parents, their possessions, and their experiences with other children. People around us always tell us how kind, polite, empathetic, gentle and loving our children are, and we feel that as well as their happy upbringing, fostering has enhanced these qualities.

They have a great appreciation of having been part of a close, happy, secure, positive and encouraging family and we feel that this will continue when they themselves become parents.

We feel that they have learned skills and become people who will go on to become lovely parents themselves.”

Every day the children of foster carers welcome other children into their homes and their lives. They strive to make young people in care feel safe, happy and loved, and ensure that they can thrive. Fostering involves the whole family and the contribution of sons and daughters is vital.

If you have room in your heart and home to foster, the Brighton & Hove Fostering Team are keen to hear from you. They need foster carers from all walks of life, those with children of their own, and those without.

Visit for more information or e-mail to find out about upcoming online information sessions.

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

mindfulness, primary to secondary school change

Navigating the transition

By Education, numeracy skills, reading, Relationships, Special support needs
by Mrs Sarah Bakhtiari
Principal of Shoreham College

As a headteacher I have witnessed countless children embark on the exciting journey from primary to secondary education. This pivotal moment can be both exhilarating and daunting, not only for the children but also for their parents. In this article, I aim to shed light on this significant transition, emphasising the importance of collaboration between parents and schools, and offering guidance on how to navigate this new chapter with the aim of making it the best it can be for the young person.

Parents: The experts in their child
Parents, you are the experts when it comes to understanding your child. You have nurtured them, watched them grow and know their strengths and areas for development better than anyone else. As your child embarks on this new adventure, remember that your insights and observations are invaluable. Share your knowledge with their new school, as it will help create a holistic understanding of your child’s abilities and needs.

Schools: The experts in education
Schools, on the other hand, are the experts in education. We have dedicated our lives to understanding how children learn, grow and thrive academically and socially. Trust that we will provide the necessary support and guidance to ensure a smooth transition for your child. By working together, we can create an environment that nurtures their potential and fosters their personal growth.

Listening to each other
It is essential to recognise that children can present differently at home and at school. They may exhibit behaviours or emotions that are unfamiliar to you, as they navigate this new environment. It is crucial for both parents and schools to listen to each other, sharing observations and insights to gain a comprehensive understanding of the child’s experiences. By doing so, we can collaborate effectively and provide the best possible support for your child’s development.

The emotional roller coaster
It is natural to feel a mix of emotions as your child moves to secondary school. However, it is important not to let these emotions overwhelm you or your child. Getting on an emotional roller coaster with your child can hinder their ability to adapt and thrive in their new environment. Instead, focus on maintaining a positive outlook, offering reassurance, and celebrating their achievements along the way. Your calm and uplifting presence will provide the stability and confidence your child needs during this transition.

Embracing the journey
Moving from primary to secondary school is a significant milestone in your child’s life. It is a time of growth, self-discovery and new opportunities. Encourage your child to embrace this journey with an open mind and a positive attitude. Remind them that they are capable, resilient and ready to take on new challenges. Encourage them to make new friends, explore new interests and seek support when needed. By doing so, they will develop the skills and confidence necessary to thrive in their secondary school years.

The transition from primary to secondary school is an exciting and transformative period for both children and parents. By recognising that parents are the experts in their child and schools are the experts in education, we can create a true partnership that supports the child’s holistic development. Remember to listen to each other, celebrate achievements and maintain an open and honest dialogue. As a partnership, we are best placed to ensure that this transition is a warm, friendly and uplifting experience for all involved.

Please call 01273 592681 to find out more about what Shoreham College can offer you, or to arrange a personal visit at any time of the school year.


Love thy neighbour

By Finance, Food & Eating, Mental health, Special support needs
by Sally-Ann Potter
Blossom and Bloom Day Nursery

The word ‘struggle’ is by definiton to ‘make forceful efforts to get free of restraint or constriction’. So really, using the word ‘struggle’ to describe the financial difficulties so many are facing isn’t too dramatic when you think about it. The rising cost of living has seen children being stripped of ‘luxuries’ that were previously a standard part of their childhood. Swimming lessons, language lessons, playdates, day trips – all the things you enjoy doing with your children that were potentially taken for granted before our energy prices rose, and paying £400 per month for your electricity meant you perhaps could no longer afford these extra curricular activities.

Working so closely with a wide variety of families, some who know financial struggle and live hand-to-mouth and some who don’t, it has become apparent that there isn’t anyone who isn’t negatively affected by the cost of living crisis.

I’ve spoken to families who are broken; who are coming into nursery and saying they’re on their last nappy and won’t be paid for another few days, who have run out of baby milk for their newborn or because their electric meter has been cut off and it’s freezing cold.

Some days it feels as though we are living in a really depressing feature film. The damage the pandemic did to people’s mental health seems minimal compared to the pressure to keep a roof over your head and provide for your family.

So, what can we do to help each other out? Where are we able to be a bit more selfless and make a difference? Little ripples of kindess could turn into big waves and be the change we need. Maybe something as small as putting a tin of beans in the food bank at the supermarket is the most you can manage. Have you ever opened a packet of nappies, used one and realised they’re the wrong size and you can’t return them? Perhaps you could pass them onto a friend or your nursery? If you’re not able to offer any financial support, maybe you have some clothes you can donate to a clothing bank? It might seem like it isn’t significant but it is. Sometimes we don’t see the benefit of our kindness and that’s OK. It’s OK to do something to help someone without knowing if it ever did help. It probably did and that’s enough.

I live in a community that regularly sees overwhelming acts of kindness. For example, there is a house down the road which has put a shed up in their front garden that offers food that struggling families can go and help themsleves to. People maybe don’t take advantage of it, but it’s respected and appreciated and lots of people donate in order to help each other out.

We have recently opened a baby bank at our nursery. Parents can discreetly go and help themselves to anything in there that they might need. They have a code to help themselves at any time. We reached out to our local community for donations and had an amazing response. We have donations of formula, nappies, baby wipes, baby clothes and toys.

As a setting, we have taken the decision to freeze our prices, offer two meals a day for free and introduce a policy that we only charge paying parents for the hours they are using, meaning they no longer have to pay childcare fees when their child is poorly and they have to take an unpaid day from work to care for them.

What if every single person did something small to help a stranger? What would the world look like then?

For more information please contact Sally-Ann at or call 07939 620934


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

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?

Article supplied by

Sources: – – – –


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 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