‘The word Forest conjures up a different image, suggesting a wilder, risker, scarier space, less confined and cultivated than the garden.’ (Tovey, p82).
At Wee Gems, we hold a great importance to children learning and developing in the natural world around them. Every day we ensure that children have the opportunities to explore the outdoors and all the wonders that it can bring in all weathers. However, as much as the children love our outdoor gardens it’s time to take the adventure further and into the wonders of our local forests.
Frederick Froebel, an approach we follow at Wee Gems, believed in the ‘unity and connectedness between all living things, and it was therefore important for children to be close to nature in the outdoor environment’. (Tovey, p40). It is here where children are able to discover natural props for their play enabling them to increase their imaginative and cognitive skills. Children are able to transform items such as twigs, leaves, pine cones, logs and mud can become any item they want. ‘As the play material becomes less tangible so there is a greater advance in creative expression’ (Froebel in Lilley 1967:18)I once observed a child collecting pine cones. After they had collected some, they stood behind a fallen tree and had announced their ice cream shop was open!! At that moment, children flooded towards her and bought ice cream cones that varied in exciting flavours such as ‘bogey and vanilla’.
The word Forest allows a child to think of a different image of the outdoors. As a child, who was lucky enough to grow up next to a large open forest area, I was always allowed to explore the forest with my big sister (who was responsible for me). By my parents allowing me to do this, I was able to climb trees and use the natural resources around me. I once remember challenging my sister to see who could climb the highest in a tree. Loser had to the dishes that night, unfortunately I lost. However, that experience taught me so much. I was able to risk assess for myself and push my boundaries to what I felt was safe without having an adult present to tell me I was too high or it was not safe. Being allowed to take those risks when I was younger allowed me to build on my resilience, which is a life skill I have been able to take forward into my adult life. After all ‘No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool’. (Health and Safety Executive UK 2012).
Studies have shown that children who have more opportunities to play in the forest have increased confidence, better ability to work collaboratively, increased awareness of consequences of their actions, improved motivation and concentration, improved physical ability and an increased understanding and respect of the environment. With this in mind, I am keen for us at the Corstorphine branch to start visiting the local park to ensure our children are regularly accessing these types of play opportunities to help them grow and develop holistically, and at Wee Gems that is what we aim for.
Lynn McClory BA