Little Forest Folk, based in London, has been given the Queen’s Award for changing pre-school education in the capital.
Children aged between two and five spend hours outside exploring, climbing trees and getting dirty. The nursery was created to meet the needs of parents who wanted their children to experience the physical and mental benefits of nature.
With 2,000 names on the waiting list, founder Leanna Barrett and her husband James gave up their jobs as civil servants to run the nursery full time.
Mrs Barrett said: “People thought we were insane at first and we had to remortgage our house to raise the finance. We did it to give our children a better life, but it has just exploded. We love living in the city but our children still have a cherubic childhood.”
The nursery children start their day off with circle time. Following this, they discuss the nursery rules which are: no running off, “no picking and licking” and to be kind to one another. After the rules are discussed, the youngsters are then free to play. Their daily activities range from running, making mud pies and going on treasure hunts to building bridges and swings.
The children stay outside whatever the weather. If it rains, the children are asked to simply put their hoods up. Mrs Barrett said: “We never say ‘no’ unless something is harmful. We do not put rules in place because something is inconvenient for us, or because it is messy.”
She added: “Children have never minded the rain. They do not see it as any different from a sunny day. They stay warm and dry in their suits.”
Every day, boundary flags are put in place so that the children know where they are not allowed to pass.
At lunchtime, children come together to eat on log stumps and then they take nap time in special tents and warm sleeping bags. There are nearby buildings and areas for the children to go when the weather worsens and where their parents drop off and collect them from.
Mrs Barrett said: “Children have been raised for generations with a connection to the natural world. This is the first generation to be reared in captivity. It’s not normal to be inside all day, their bodies are not designed for that. Everyone wants their children to be happy, and childhood is so precious and fleeting. We want them to enjoy every moment they can.”
Little Forest Folk costs between £70 and £100 a day. Mrs Barrett said: “85 percent of our families pay and we use the profits for others to come free of charge.”