Toddler’s First Day at Forest School | 8 Lessons Learnt
One of my new year’s goals was to start taking the little one to play groups more regularly. For an almost two year old, I admit he’s not been socialising as much as he could be, and I put my hands up – it’s all been down to my own anxieties and apathy, but excuses are merely a hinderance. My toddler still needs to meet other kids whether I’m ready for it or not.
A friend of mine had been telling me about forest school and how much her son, who’s a year older than Reuben, loves going to it. For a while I was apprehensive – of course I was, the idea of going somewhere I didn’t know, to do something totally new, was hugely daunting. And though I did genuinely like the sound of forest school, and knew the little man would be in his element, it was just too scary to commit to and I tried to convince myself “now wasn’t the right time”. But is it ever?
So the new year began with booking the first block of sessions. Then all the worried thoughts of “what will I wear” and “what if this happens” flooded my head, panicking me before I even started. Yes, I did have some research to be doing and certainly some new clothes to purchase, but with my friend reassuring me over every mini drama, I really was going to be okay.
The coldest weather so far this winter arrived on cue for our first day, and it was F-R-E-E-Z-I-N-G. The sunshine was just a tease, at least it was nice and bright, but it didn’t stop my big toes throbbing. We did go on to have a good morning though – the little man was full of beans and buzzed for the best part before tiring out – and for me, there was relief I’d survived the scary first day.
Now I have the first day under my belt, I know (to the greater part) what to expect next time. The first day brought lessons to be learnt from, so while I met with some obstacles, I’m hoping I’ll be even better prepared for our forest school adventure next week.
8 FOREST SCHOOL LESSONS I’VE LEARNT
1 – FOREST SCHOOL IS COLD
This ought to be a no brainer but before our first day I really needed reminding that forest school would be cold. “But it’s forecast sun!” I’d say. It’s called forest school for a reason: the classroom is the forest floor beneath the tree canopy and forests can be hostile, cold places. Dress accordingly and then some!
2 – BE WEATHER-WISE
Forest School has you out in the elements all year round in all kinds of weather, so you best go prepared. Always take waterproofs because you never know where there’s a puddle or stream. Always wear watertight boots to keep feet warm and dry. And don’t forget gloves, a hat and a scarf. This means you too! As long as you dress in the right layers for optimal warmth and easy clothing removal, you’ll be warm or cool enough.
3 – TAKE EXTRA CLOTHING
An emergency outfit is a good idea to take in case there’s a clothing crisis. Wet outdoor play can mean clothes get wet, and as I discovered on day one, extra gloves come in handy (not that I had any) for when curious little hands investigate buckets of water. Extra socks for soggy wellies may come in handy too! So my backpack next week will contain a few more sets of gloves.
4 – IT’S A CONFIDENCE BUILDER
Forest School is much more than a playgroup for socialising toddlers, it encourages little people to grow their own minds and nurtures their independence. Kids need structure and routine but they also need space for growth, and they’ll never know their own capabilities, likes or dislikes if they don’t take the step of trial and error. Forest school encourages parents to walk behind the little ones and let them initiate activities. I’d hate to label myself a helicopter parent but when you have anxiety, allowing your child to take independent steps is scary stuff. This is something I find hugely against my nature to protect but I’ll try to be more aware of allowing the little man his freedom (where it’s safe to!)
5 – IT’S NOT THE CHEAPEST PLAYGROUP
Another reason why I deliberated over joining Forest School was over its cost. While it’s not expensive in the scheme of proper schooling, it is a dearer activity compared to other toddler groups. And there’s the cost of purchasing certain pieces of outdoor clothing you may not otherwise buy. But I decided it was worth investing in if it gave the little man a broader experience. Not all life skills are honed in the classroom and besides, I love country life; it’s fun and great for mental health, so feel it’s important Reuben grows up experiencing, respecting and loving the wild world too.
6 – IT’S A DEMANDING ENVIRONMENT
With plenty running, climbing, investigating, listening, watching, experiencing, tasting, singing, forest school is demanding stuff. My little man burned himself out ten minutes before the end of the session, which isn’t a bad thing for toddlers. Mental stimulation and physical activity that burns a lot of energy is necessary for growing little ones and in my experience, helps pave the way to a good night’s sleep.
7 – IT’S HUNGRY WORK
High physical activity always means one thing for my little man: the urgent need for snacks. He’s like the Duracell Bunny, his energy bursts fizzle out into an exhausted, hungry heap on the floor, demanding snacks from mummy’s bag. But this time, I was poorly prepared. I only had a snack box of bread sticks and it wasn’t enough. So next time I’ll bear in mind the hunger pangs and equip my bag with more nutritious nibbles.
8 – IT BRINGS FIRST EXPERIENCES
I like to think we continually give Reuben exciting experiences, but there’ll always be something new for him to try. Forest School opened up a lot of doors on his first day: new people, new atmosphere. But he also watched a fire being lit, toasted a marshmallow, tasted hot chocolate, went inside a yurt, and even went in his friend’s car for the first time! New things can be daunting and scary, not just for little ones but us parents too, but to watch them soak in the exciting world around them and enjoying themselves is worth the nerves.