I recently read a great quote which has inspired me to write my first blog!
Little Forest Folk has had an incredible 18 months. We started in January 2015 with a hope, a wing and a prayer as we opened London's first full time forest nursery. We've now been rated as Ofsted Outstanding, we've opened our second setting, we've been mentioned in national press, we have an enormous waiting list and our parents and our children love their time with us.
As a result, we now receive very frequent requests to visit our site, from parents, from fellow educators, from people wishing to be inspired. It's always very interesting to conduct site visits. I begin with the strange juxtaposition of feeling sheepish and proud. Proud because our children are incredible, our practitioners are phenomenal, our setting is beautiful and we are fulfilling my dream of giving children the childhood they deserve.
Many people arrive excited to see the site and ready to hear the secret to our success. It often feels as though visitors think we have a magical secret, some scientific theory which results in our success. This is where I start to feel sheepish as we have no magical secret, no formula we are recreating, on the contrary, our setting is as special an experience as it is because we do.......nothing. I always feel as if I am letting people down if I tell them:
In an echo of the quote above, we don't teach at LFF. I don't want any of my practitioners teaching. I want us to create a magical, relaxing, adventurous, challenging and inspiring environment, insert happy little children, then I want to stand back and watch the magic of learning happen.
Creating the suitable environment is easy. Nature offers the perfect setting, Our forest is beautiful and offers endless and ever changing opportunities to learn.
Doing nothing, however, is more difficult than you would think. For practitioners joining us from traditional teaching backgrounds it can be challenging to stop teaching. To stand back and to feel confident in observing. To feel comfortable that they are excelling at their role simply by observing the children's play and joining in, when invited and offering an opportunity to scaffold the learning they have witnessed through a tweak, a suggestion, encouragement or modelling.
If I am asked for one piece of advice to our new practitioners, it is always WAIT. Easier said than done with 2-5 year olds, but wait. Listen, watch, enjoy. Let them play. And just be ready to help them take their next step. Don't interrupt. Don't insert yourself into their game without invitation. Please don't say 'oh what are you playing here?' and totally disrupt a lovely moment.
Actually don't question them at all unless necessary. Don't ask them questions you already know the answer to. We don't need them to answer that this leaf is green, or that spider has 8 legs. They will discover this learning through their play without needing to be constantly interrupted to be taught.
When adults can cede control of an environment and relax into child-led learning, you will see children create incredible games, activities, role plays and situations that can often surpass anything an adult could have directed them too. Children are incredibly creative, stunningly open to learning and absorb learning like little sponges. And when you allow child led play in a natural free space to happen, you give children the tools to create for themselves very important character traits for life - independence, confidence, self-motivation, curiosity and a desire to learn, resilience, empathy, the list is endless.
Quite often, being a mum of young children myself and the proud owner of Little Forest Folk, I sit in the forest watching the children, watching the magic and it makes me tearful. Today a 3 year old child explained basic geology to me. With a mole hill, a stick and lots of enthusiasm he excitedly shouted and jumped around explaining his 'story' to me about how volcanoes are formed, what happens when they erupt, then he raced off with his stick to become a dragon who was shooting fire from his mouth after eating lava...he climbed a tree with his stick and triumphantly declared he was now a superhero sent to save the day and encouraged his friends to join him up a tree where they giggled, squealed and role played a constantly evolving scenario for ages.
Life doesn't really get much better than that, does it!? :-)