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‘They embrace the mud’ - the school where children learn outdoors, even in the rain

PUBLISHED: 12:28 09 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:28 09 January 2020

Alwyn aged 4, helped make a den with his friends  Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Alwyn aged 4, helped make a den with his friends Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Charlotte Bond

If you go down to Onehouse woods today, you might be in for a big surprise - as this is the place where children learn not in the classroom, but by climbing up muddy banks and trees.

Little Foresters pre-school celebrating their great Ofsted report  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDLittle Foresters pre-school celebrating their great Ofsted report Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Our Lady's Pre-School in Stowmarket served its community well for 40 years, but organisers felt it "wasn't what people wanted" in the modern age.

So Cheryl Ratcliffe came up with a radically different concept - to make use of the wealth of open forests nearby to bring the outdoors to the children.

Setting up Little Foresters pre-school in 2017, the children aged between two and four spend the vast majority of their time building dens, exploring woodland and watching wildlife.

Even when it is raining, the 20 children on the pre-school's roll can be seen carrying logs of wood and watching their supervisors light a fire - although, Miss Ratcliffe stresses, sessions will occasionally be brought inside to Onehouse Community Centre if the weather is too dangerous.

Lucy aged 3, having fun in the forest  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDLucy aged 3, having fun in the forest Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The positives to an outdoor education are huge, with regulator Ofsted - which rated Little Foresters as "good" after its first inspection in December - saying: "Children benefit from many opportunities to exert themselves physically and be adventurous in their play, particularly outdoors.

"They become engrossed in building dens and climbing up muddy banks and trees. Children watch in awe as staff light a real fire. These activities are particularly engaging for those children who prefer to learn outdoors."

Ofsted also said the range of activities encourages youngsters to learn how to be independent and "helps children to play well together and enhances their good social skills".

Miss Ratcliffe said that the youngsters tend to "embrace the mud" and get many benefits from learning outdoors.

The Little Foresters often go out in the woods to explore nature  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDThe Little Foresters often go out in the woods to explore nature Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

She added: "I think that with society and the way things are changing, this is what people are beginning to want.

"We offer lots of things that the children don't get in other places. There are few places where you have the forest right on your doorstep.

"We work on children's resilience, self-esteem and imagination - all those things are maybe a bit harder to find indoors.

"Children can just go as far as their imagination will take them."

Chloe aged 4, helped make a den in the woods  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDChloe aged 4, helped make a den in the woods Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Lillie aged 2, went hunting for bugs  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDLillie aged 2, went hunting for bugs Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

You may also want to watch:

Leon aged 4,  enjoyed exploring the woods  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDLeon aged 4, enjoyed exploring the woods Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Taylor aged 3 loves to get out in the woods and play  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDTaylor aged 3 loves to get out in the woods and play Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Lucy aged 3, having a great time in the woods  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDLucy aged 3, having a great time in the woods Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The children enjoy free play in the woods  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDThe children enjoy free play in the woods Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The Little Foresters Pre-school in Onehouse achieved a good Ofsted report  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDThe Little Foresters Pre-school in Onehouse achieved a good Ofsted report Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND


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