FREE 30-day trial and added value package, supporting your transition to digital

Click here

Exploring local nature play with The Forest Kindergarten Approach

date August 12, 2021Marina Robb

Playing, especially in natural spaces, undoubtedly provides massive opportunities for learning, development and wellbeing in the early years. It is remarkable that the training of teachers still pays little attention to outdoor play and learning, when there is ample evidence to show the undisputed benefits for young people, and even the staff.

Pedagogy and nature pedagogy

Pedagogy is not always understood even amongst teachers! According to Stewart and Pugh, pedagogy is defined as ‘the understanding of how children learn and develop, and the practices through which we can enhance that process’ (2007:9). In turn, the UK National College of School Leadership described nine claims of ‘great’ pedagogy, which included:

  • building on pupils prior learning and experiences
  • using a range of techniques
  • giving serious consideration to pupil voice.

Robb and Cree defined ‘nature pedagogy’ as ‘the practice of teaching alongside nature and the learner’. The Forest Kindergarten Approach places nature as intrinsic to the learning process and goes even further to make it as instrumental as the practitioner. The children learn through their interaction and ongoing ‘conversations’ with natural elements. This could be the moment a drip of water falls on their face and they feel the coolness of the water, as well as the beauty of the raindrops. The seasons, the weather, the mud, the sensations – all provide ‘cues’ to the learner, who responds and participates fully in this relationship. Above all, by having access to nature, moving our bodies, lying on the ground or feet in the sand, we feel well and grounded – a moment of no-time or stress. We are co-regulated by the soft breeze and the clouds moving.

child observing a dandelion

A ‘local nature’ approach

The Forest Kindergarten: Local Nature Play Approach in England has been co-developed over the last few years, borrowed from the Scottish Forest Kindergarten model. Whilst it shares many of the values and approaches from the European full-immersive experience, this approach enables early years practitioners to make the most of accessing local green spaces in urban or more rural settings.

Top tips for implementing a Forest Kindergarten approach

  1. Find a suitable green space that you can use on a regular and frequent basis.
  2. Figure out how you going to get to the green space.
  3. Do a risk benefit assessment of the area you are going to visit.
  4. Check you have appropriate insurance in place.
  5. You do not need to anticipate everything – experience can provide the springboard to learning and creates meaning and often rituals arise that further develop children’s connection to the place.
  6. Gather the evidence of research that points towards children and adults needing to spend time in nature not just to survive but also to thrive.
  7. Build routines (e.g. games and activities) to prepare children for being off-site, which can be practiced in advance.
  8. Children need to feel safe and secure during their forest kindergarten sessions. This mostly happens through repeated visits which enable the children to acclimatize to being in their greenspace.

child holding a piece of wood in a forest

To offer a Forest Kindergarten approach, you need to be able to site check, meet the needs of your group, follow the interests of your group, and have in place clear routines that provide physical and emotional safety. This in turn allows children to explore, be curious and take appropriate risks.  After every session, review and connect what has occurred to ongoing nursery work, then backlink it to your early years curriculum and update any risk benefit assessments. Don’t forget to dry the equipment and thank any volunteers!

To find out more, you’ll be able to join our Forest Kindergarten Approach and Local Nature Play free webinar in September – stay tuned!

About the author
marina robb headshot forest approach

Marina Robb has more than 30 years experience in outdoor learning and nature connection. She is a leading Forest School endorsed trainer and practitioner and the Founder/Managing Director of The Outdoor Teacher and Circle of Life Rediscoveryboth leading organisations that aim to transform education and health through nature. She is the co-author of ‘Learning with Nature’ and ‘The Essential Guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy’.