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