Children build a den at The Hedgehog Club, Oxfordshire
Children building a den at The Hedgehog Club, Oxfordshire Credit: Mandy Warwick/The Hedgehog Club

三级成人视频Five-year-old Alfie* hadn't spoken a word at school all year until he started forest school. Being in nature, he finally opened up about the reason for his silence: he was grieving the death of his mother.

“His mummy had died suddenly, at home in the summer holiday. He did not speak a word, for weeks. Then we started to go to forest school,” Sarah Lawfull, a former teacher and now a director at the Forest School Association, told The Telegraph.三级成人视频 “One day, while he was stirring a pool of mud and leaves in an old tree trunk he responded to my question: ‘What are you cooking?’ with ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise’." 

“When I sat down on the forest floor nearby he started to talk, to tell me that his mummy had died and did I want to know what had happened," says Lawfull. "As the story unfolded, others in the group realised he was speaking and joined us around the tree trunk. We sat, children and adults together, some of us with tears rolling down our cheeks.” 

Forest schools are child-led learning sessions held outdoors, away from technology and test-driven lessons. Lawfull shared the event with Alfie’s granddad, who began to volunteer at the after-school sessions. At the end of the year, he said the sessions had been his haven, helping him grieve for his daughter through playing in the woods with his grandson.

Lighting fires, roasting marshmallows and getting dirty – extracurricular forest schools have been booming since the early 2000's. They were introduced in the UK 25 years ago following our Scandinavian neighbour’s praise of them. In 2012, there were 10,000 teachers registered across the Kingdom.

三级成人视频They’ve been applauded for helping with children’s mental wellbeing and physical health, and now a campaign, , is calling on the Government to fund such sessions in nature, and embed it in the curriculum for all children. 

三级成人视频It comes after lockdown highlighted inequalities in accessing outdoor spaces, with 20 per cent of UK households living in flats – 130,000 families have only one bedroom. At the same time, polling by Public Health England found that over half of parents said the mental wellbeing of their children topped the list of their biggest worries following the nationwide lockdown.

三级成人视频The Nature Premium campaigners say introducing outdoor learning into the curriculum can help, along with tackling lockdown-induced obesity, and promoting respect for the environment.

三级成人视频Lawfull, who is working with a small group of volunteers on the campaign, said: “During lockdown families were berated for spending more time in the park, but if you didn’t have a garden you had nowhere to go. The children’s areas were closed, and often parks were too full so children had to leave.”

三级成人视频Forest school sessions teach children about caring for woodlands, habitat management, and identifying trees and flowers and bugs and beasts. Children learn practical skills, too, like lighting fires and using tools safely. Campaigners say the funding would be for schools and could be spent at the headteacher's discretion. This means it could fund forest school sessions, but also activities like visiting conservation charities or going to a city farm.

三级成人视频Mandy Warwick, who runs The Hedgehog Club in Witney, Oxfordshire, stressed that the sessions are important for mental wellbeing, teaching independence and managing risk. 

“Forest schools are very child-led. I put an activity in front of the child, but if they want to go and dig in the mud or play with a leaf for two hours, they can,” Ms Warwick said. “You can’t do that in the classroom where you have targets and exams, especially now with catching up with what was missed in lockdown.”

三级成人视频The New Economics Foundation, a think tank, found that forest schools also build confidence, help develop social skills, and improve communication. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called on the Government to consider the campaign too, saying it would be a “valuable development”. He continued: “Outdoor play, exercise and access to nature are vital to healthy learning. Helping schools ensure outside activities continue will aid mental as well as physical health.”

Robin Brown, who has a two-year-old called Maggy, said The Hedgehog Club sessions are the “highlight of her daughter’s week”. 

三级成人视频“Throughout lockdown Maggy kept saying she wanted to go back, it was fantastic when she was able to return. It’s beneficial in many ways, being in the fresh air, learning about nature and the environment. We’re outside too, we’re safe – I hope it can continue in any future lockdowns.”

三级成人视频Stephanie Plunkett, whose 18-month-old daughter Annie has been going to The Hedgehog Club since the first lockdown ended, said: “I was worried Annie would be more clingy, she was so little when lockdown started, but she absolutely loves it! She potters around listening to the teacher’s lovely stories, she’s really content.”

三级成人视频Dr Sara Collins, a director of the Forest School Association, added that time in nature encourages children into conservation and environmental work, too. “If you don’t love the area you live in, you’re not going to appreciate any world issues. Children going into the natural environment are much more likely to do a GCSE in natural history or a qualification in science,” she said.

Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing Credit: Mandy Warwick/The Hedgehog Club

The Government has already committed to a 25-year Environment Plan to get children into nature. The Department for Education said it recognises the mental and physical health benefits of being outdoors and that teachers have the discretion to take lessons outside if they so choose.

三级成人视频The Nature Premium campaigners said that, while they support the plan, it has been interrupted by Covid-19 and so currently helps only 1.8 per cent of English primary schools. They added that post-lockdown the mental and physical wellbeing of children is even more urgent and said such programmes need to become an “integral part of our education system now”. 

三级成人视频They continued: “The Nature Premium will support all children, the investment in their future will save money in terms of additional mental health interventions and long term obesity related illnesses.“

Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has tabled a  motion in parliament in support of the campaign, and Prof Sir John Lawton, the RSPB Vice President, is also backing it. He told The Telegraph: "As a child growing up in Lancashire in the 1950's I had nature on my doorstep and spent hours, mostly on my own, exploring the local fields, ponds and woods, looking for birds and bugs. It was, with hindsight, a happy, healthy childhood, but one that is largely denied to many of our children today. 

“The Nature Premium campaign seeks to change that, first and foremost to improve children's mental and physical health, and to nurture the innate love of nature that all young people have within them. I think it's a marvelous initiative, with the potential to both transform children's lives and to lay the foundations for a society that will care for our environment in the future.”

* Some names have been changed

Will you be encouraging your children to participate in outdoor learning? Let us know in the comments section below.