Anyone who knows Neiva, knows just how much more relaxed she is when she is outside. She has such an affinity with nature and all its beautiful elements. It’s almost like she can breathe when she’s outside, you can physically see it. Like a release from a prison of air and noise pollution and into a pitch where sights and sounds are soothing and a comfort to her.
More and more research is showing the health benefits of playing in nature. Of course it makes perfect sense when you sit down and think about it. For children with sensory issues modern day living is like you or I going around with an artificial strip light attached to our eyes all day. Contrast that with the serene tranquility of stepping into beautiful woodland. No honking horns, no petrol fumes, no wifi crackling above our heads, just open quiet space. Where all the colours of the forest are restful to the eyes, the sound of rustling trees and beautiful bird song are a delight to the ears and the woody scent of tree bark sail past the nose encouraging an involuntary deep breathe in. Complete relaxation.
Nature’s Footprints Forest Play and Education are a Yorkshire based enterprise doing great work in the local community. We had the pleasure of meeting the very wonderful Jo who runs Natures Footprints. Her dedication passion and enthusiasm just shines though and her love of nature and the children she teaches is just infectious. A former teacher, she trained as a Forest School practitioner in 2007. Her belief in the values and significance of play, in “having the choice to follow your own ideas, be instrumental in assessing and managing your own risks and in understanding the importance of physical, mental and emotional well-being have taken her on a journey she could never have envisioned”. Today’s forest play session took place in the beautiful surroundings of Beaumont Park in Huddersfield.
Firstly, we formed a circle and had a little introduction icebreaker. The children were then allowed to roam and explore their surroundings almost immediately.
I took a walk into the woods and came out taller than the trees – Henry David Thoreau
The children then all ran off in different directions, running, jumping and even rolling down the hill, safely cushioned by a leaf carpet. Some older children started to make a den. Neiva did her usual thing and explored the perimeter. What I found lovely about the whole lesson was if the children wanted to take part in group activities they could, if the children wanted to explore on their own, that was encouraged too. No rigid rules, no “I talk, you listen”mentality. Complete freedom to roam and discover.
We did all get called together for snack time. The children all sat around a camping stove on fallen logs. Neiva watched excitedly as the popcorn popped on the stove. It was lovely to all get together and hear what the children had foraged so far on their adventure. After snack time, our teacher for today, Lisa explained what we could expect from the next part of the session. Again, these activities were completely voluntary, if the children wanted to take part they could. The activities for this session included:
- making various bird feeders
- making a bird hide and observing
- setting up hammocks between the trees
- den building
Time really does fly when your having fun because the morning went so quickly and we were sad for it to end. Neiva was too. All the way back to the car we had the song “were going on a bear hunt….a deep dark forest….thick oozy mud…” on repeat and through tears, she was very upset to leave.
We will be back. We will be counting down the days until the next monthly family forest play. Jo believes every child from every background should be able to attend. The cost of Family Forest sessions is just £5 per child plus adult donations. Healthy snacks and drinks and all tools and materials are provided at no extra charge. Jo and her team really do this solely out of complete love of what they do and the children they teach.
What To Bring
- Waterproof coat and boots
- A change of clothes
- A small lunchtime snack (although snacks and drinks are provided)
If you are interested in taking part in Family Forest Play or any of the other of the outdoor learning events and live in the Yorkshire area, please contact Jo or follow on facebook to keep up to date with the various upcoming events.