NAME OF SETTING: First Steps Day Nursery, Slough.
First Steps Day Nursery is a workplace Nursery in the grounds of Wexham Park Hospital. It has 58 places for children aged between 3 months and 5 years and most places are used by the children of staff working at the Hospital. To accommodate staff shift patterns the day nursery is open all year round from 6.50am to 5.30pm. The Nursery is enjoying the Forest School experience as part of an initiative by Slough Local Authority to offer six weeks of Forest School to children and practitioners. First Steps Day Nursery is now on their second block of six sessions and on the day I visited the 13 children and three members of staff had already experienced three previous visits. The sessions take place in Black Park Country Park -a public woodland owned and managed by Buckinghamshire County Council. Children and staff arrive and leave by minibus and they walk with staff to the area of the Forest that has been prepared for the session. The session is led by two members of the the Local Authority Early Years team, one of whom is a qualified Forest School leader.
EFFECTIVE OUTDOOR PRACTICE:
The Forest School session was well prepared and efficiently organised by the Local Authority staff. Risk assessments were undertaken to identify any potential hazards and the area to be used was cordoned off with blue rope in readiness for children’s arrival. Both practitioners and children arrived in protective clothing and after the initial arrival routines the session got quickly under way. Children displayed high levels of engagement and were able to access resources and tools to support their ideas, and laminated information sheets to help them identify wildlife. Codes of behaviour were understood and followed and staff demonstrated good awareness of those children that needed an extra eye on them -either because they were less confident, or because they had not fully grasped the significance of the boundary rope. Children are familiar with traditional Forest School games, such as 1-2-3 where are you? They enjoy the weekly repetition and choose to hide deeper into the undergrowth as they grow in confidence. Hot chocolate provides a welcome refreshment halfway through the session and children’s occasional requests for the toilet are met with discretion and a supply of disposable cardboard bedpans readily available from the Hospital. Practitioners work enthusiastically alongside children and are learning to differentiate the support they provide -at times standing back and on occasions actively helping. Children are confident and comfortable in the Forest environment despite it being a public space and should there be a dog passing by everyone knows to stand still until it has moved away.
BENEFITS AND POSITIVE IMPACT
It is clear that the Forest School experience is having a very positive impact on all those involved. During my morning in the Forest I observed children persevering to develop new skills with ropes, and problem solving as they work out how many children can fit onto the tree stump. Children have time and space to move freely and engage in solitary pursuits or work alongside others. Practitioners know children well and praise their efforts as children try and haul themselves up trees or swing from low branches. Practitioners comment that children are more collaborative and have more conversations in the Forest and that this is making a difference to children’s relationships in the nursery. They also report that skills and competencies that children are developing in the Forest, such as the use of ropes, are being transferred to their play in the setting. The Forest School leader has also noticed changes in children’s social behaviours and their confidence to challenge themselves and learn new skills. Parents value the opportunities that their children are being offered and report a boost to children’s physical skill and confidence at home. The impact on staff has led to greater awareness of the value and benefits of the outdoor environment and two members of the staff team are now undertaking Forest School leader training with a view to being able to run sessions without additional support in the future.
Congratulations to the Local Authority team, the practitioners and the children for showing that Forest School is a valuable experience that can be offered easily and safely in a public space -and thank you for inviting me to visit and see you in action! .