As we are currently hosting open days for our new nurseries in Wandsworth and Barnes, I am spending time discussing why we created Little Forest Folk. As many of our supporters know, we created Little Forest Folk out of simplicity. We wanted children to enjoy the childhood we thought they deserved. We wanted our own and other children to experience a childhood full of magic, awe and wonder, being daily inspired by nature. We wanted our children to laugh, run and play all day long. We wanted our children to develop a deep connection to and respect for the natural world. We wanted our children to experience adventure, freedom and joy. We wanted to give them the gift of time and to protect their childhood. 

We have achieved our dream, and then some. What we hadn’t accounted for as we began this crazy journey was the phenomenal learning and development that would take place when young children are given the above ingredients and allowed the freedom to self-direct their learning. I am daily in awe of our incredible children. They amaze me, they excite me, they give me joy and I am incredibly proud of these astounding little people.

Their levels of compassion, kindness and empathy are almost unheard of in children of this age.

‘M, I can see you are frustrated’, says J, aged 4.

They are confident, with great self-belief and the generosity of spirit to bolster a friend’s confidence when they approach intimidating new challenges.

‘You can do it, keep going, YAY, you did it! I told you you could do it!’, says I, aged 3

Our mixed age learning in conjunction with our wonderful adult role models has created a culture where every child is both a teacher and a learner. Without ever being asked, children stop to assist their peers, to coach them, sometimes to do things for them, sometimes to talk them through a situation.

‘Put your foot there, then your hand there, YES! That’s it’, says B aged 3

Their play is continually collaborative and imagination and language rich. The children bounce ideas off each other and extend their games effortlessly, without needing adult direction.

The forest rings out with ‘why, why, WHY?’. Our children’s thirst for knowledge is insatiable, they are extremely self-motivated little learners.

When faced with a challenge, the children group together ‘team work is the best, it makes you stronger’ to try out solutions. These suggestions of ‘what if we try this….? We could….? How about….. ’ are joyful comments based in play that demonstrate for this age group an astounding level of problem-solving ability and resilience. They don’t care about failure, they are more interested in finding a solution to their problem. Together. These children’s self-belief, resilience and desire to solve challenges themselves by thinking creatively and critically marks them out as the entrepreneurs of the future.

Our children don’t play with toys that entertain them, and encourage them into becoming future consumers in a consumer-driven world. Our children play with sticks and ropes. They are going to be the creators of the future.

We trust our children and have faith in them. Every single day they repay our faith and trust by pushing their own learning to a level they would not access in an adult-directed learning environment. We currently have just turned 4-year-old boys playing with what is technically KS1 maths. The forest is an environment that strongly encourages STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning, but these boys have had a natural interest in numbers that has been encouraged with playful songs and using forest treasures. They have been adding and subtracting with ease for quite a while but have now extended their love of numbers to be playing with multiplication. From a chat about single and yellow lines, to a discussion about what double means, these children are now multiplying.

This is just one example of how our pedagogy creates an environment where learning is uncapped. Every child learns at their own pace, with encouragement and love from their peers and their teachers. With phenomenal results.

When we think about the purpose of education, for us it is to prepare our children for the future. We want our children to be strong, happy, functioning and responsible members of society. We want to help them become prepared to thrive in their personal lives, in their schooling and in their future careers.  We want to help them find their passion.

In a recent survey of Fortune 500 companies, the top five most valued skills were: 1. Teamwork 2. Problem solving 3. Interpersonal skills 4. Oral communications and 5. Listening skills. It is pretty apparent that filling children’s heads with knowledge is more redundant than it has ever been. Now is the time to help our children learn how to think, not what to think.

The world we are living in is ever-changing and we have no idea what it will be like when these children grow up. But I think it’s pretty obvious that our children, our amazing, capable, kind, generous and wonderfully creative children – if they choose to – will not only be the future custodians of our planet but will also be some of the most successful adults in society.

About the author

Leanna Barrett is passionate about giving children the childhood they deserve. She believes that all children deserve a childhood where they are active, inspired, joyful and where they enjoy a deep connection to nature. Leanna believes learning in the early years should be child led and play based, accompanied by deeply engaged and inspiring practitioners. Little Forest Folk believe wisdom begins in wonder and see their role to ignite the flames of passion for learning. 

You can contact Leanna via Twitter @littlforestfolk, website, Facebook or email info@littleforestfolk.com 

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