Members of the Forest Childcare Association make a commitment to take children on weekly outdoor outings all year round. This is a big commitment, and no small undertaking, no matter where you live. But let’s face it: if you live in a beautiful part of the countryside, with footpaths and scenery on your doorstep, it is easier and more natural for you to make this commitment than for childcare providers living and working in urban and built-up areas. Offering Forest Childcare to any child is fantastic. But if you are in a position to offer Forest Childcare experiences to children in urban areas, especially those who may not otherwise have access to the outdoors, then this puts you in a place to make an enormous and very positive influence on their lives.
The children who most need Forest Childcare experiences, are the least likely to get them
Children who live in the countryside with countryside parents are already likely to spend lots of time outdoors, so Forest Childcare days provided for them may simply be a nice extension of how they already spend their weekends and time with their parents. But for children who live in urban or built-up-concreted-parts of the country, access to wild places and even parks is much more limited. Forest Childcare Days for many urban kids, may be all the ‘wild time’ they get.
Urban Forest Childcare is about doing the best you can with what you have
Forest Childcare in cities and towns is about actively seeking out the wild spaces that you can find near you and doing the best you can with what you have. Regular weekly visits are important because they allow children to build familiarity with the places you visit. You may need to seek out the parks in your city and it may take some planning in order to work out how you will be able to visit them on a regular basis.
Urban Forest Childcare provider Tes Carlow writes, “We have explored parts of the local park we don’t normally see, ie away from the play area. We have a prom by the Thames and use that for ‘seaside’ school! Lots of opportunities if you look for them. Children can easily see things from a different perspective, take them on a different route or through a different gate and they learn all over again. It’s fun and living in a town has enhanced my learning with respect to being completely flexible with Forest Childcare ideas and crafts.”
Anything you can do outdoors is better than doing nothing
Forest Childcare is about making the most of outdoor ‘wild’ spaces with small children where you live. Not everyone has forests, beaches and sheep on their doorstep. Forest Childcare is about trying to explore the wild spaces that exist at the edges of the playgrounds. It’s about stopping to see the trees and finding patches and parts of nature where you live. It’s about actively seeking out nature and giving the children access to it. I don’t want people to feel that in order to offer ‘Forest Childcare’ to children that you have to live in or near to countryside. Anything you can do, and especially the harder it is to find, the more important the experience for the child who would otherwise miss out.
Ignore anybody who tells you ‘it isn’t proper Forest School’
The aim of the Forest Childcare Association is to encourage childminders and other small childcare providers to take children on weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces. It is not to offer ‘a watered down version of the ‘Forest School’ experience’ as is sometimes said. It is totally different. If all children had access to those nurseries where you spend all day outdoors, cook snacks on a bonfire and sleep in a tent, then that would be amazing, but that is not the world we live in. And I don’t want people to think: I can’t offer that, or even close to that, so I won’t try at all.
In my opinion, the chief goal of the Forest Childcare Association (which is to get all children outdoors weekly year round) is actually a much better experience for them than the intense and fun, but often short (only 8 week) experiences often offered in schools and nurseries as ‘Forest School Experiences’. I am trying to encourage childminders to get outside and go for it, without the need for specialised training that is frankly more than is required to simply take the children on an outing to the woods.
With that in mind, and in reference again to my point above but is SO important, I’m going to shout it out here again: ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING when it comes to wild time with children. Whether you live in the Yorkshire Dales, or inner city London, you can, and should feel free to join the Forest Childcare Association and offer Forest Childcare to children at the level that you are able to provide in YOUR circumstances and in the place where YOU live. Don’t let anybody tell you that what you are able to provide in terms of time outdoors isn’t “good enough outdoors to count”. It does. So there. Rant done. Be creative. And let’s get the kids outside!
If you don’t have a car, take a bus or go by train
If you don’t have a car, then you will need to plan carefully around public transport how you can make your visits happen. But I would challenge you to be brave and try it, because especially if it is hard to find the wild spaces where you live, then this makes it all the more worthwhile to the children to take them there.
Could you consider taking the train? Taking the train is great fun for children and the journey is part of the adventure. Taking a bus ride is complicated with a push chair, I do understand, but if you can do it, to get children to those wild spaces once a week, you are making a fabulous commitment to them and their future.
Urban Forest Childminder Silvia Bouakkaz takes the children treasure hunting on the Thames foreshore
I love Silvia’s positive attitude to Forest Childcare. She writes, “We live in central London but we just love the outdoors and try to make the most of what we have. We do not have the seaside but we have the river Thames so……..off we went. It was a fantastic day out, as you can see on the pictures we went on a treasure hunting on the Thames foreshore just behind Tate Modern. We managed to find a few items on our list, it just felt like we were in the seaside. FANTASTIC !!!!”
Urban green spaces are vanishing, and Forest Childcare can help to teach the next generation to appreciate them
Less and less children have access to wild spaces to play in so more children than ever grow up with limited chance to spend time in nature. Even if children have places near to their house like parks and small green spaces, they cannot visit them today without an adult accompanying them. So children rely on adults to provide Forest Childcare experiences. And when you do, you are helping to raise a generation of children who will value and appreciate these wild spaces so that they will turn into adults who want to preserve these places for the future.
You are teaching children to love these places.
You are teaching them to respect these places.
If children learn to love and respect these places, they will strive to preserve them for the next generation.
This photograph is a “lie”
This is one of my favourite ‘Forest Childcare’ photos. I use it a lot because it is one of my best childminding memories, the little boy I looked after, chasing after my own daughter through the misty September morning park. It looks like we live out in the countryside somewhere, and created for the parents who saw this photograph up on the wall in my playroom an ideal dream of what childcare with me must be all about.
I don’t think anybody realised that the tree in this photo is only a few meters away from a busy main road which doesn’t show in the picture from the angle I took the photograph. The children are running because they can see the swings and are excited to get there! Behind me was an ugly fence blocking the park from the local failing secondary school. But it was right after the school run and at that moment, the park in the morning mist had fallen silent and was utterly beautiful. As the children ran for the swings they suddenly stopped and discovered conkers beneath the tree at the age when conkers are still magical. I felt enormously privileged to be there in that moment outdoors with the children.
So the photo isn’t a lie at all really. It was looking for the beauty that was near me, sharing it with the children and making the most in that moment of what we had.
Childminders are ideally placed to offer “Forest Childcare Days” to children who would not normally get access to outdoor ‘wild’ places
Urban children, especially less well-off children whose parents don’t or can’t take the children to outdoor places themselves – these are the children who can most benefit from having a childminder who takes them on a weekly basis to wild, natural places. If you are a childminder, living and working in a built up environment, then you may be the ONLY person in a child’s life to give them these outdoor experiences. It is something to offer that child that nobody else can.
Join the Forest Childcare Association for only £15 for a lifetime membership
When you join the Forest Childcare Association for only £15 I will send you a pack of information including risk assessments and safety considerations associated with outdoor ‘wild’ outings, all the permission forms you need, business materials to help you to promote yourself as a Forest Childcare Provider to parents (including the right to use the logo) and a book of 50 crafts and activities with outdoor themes including treasure hunts for the very young.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.