A child’s first steps in education – even before they start school – can set them up for the years to come, and there are interesting new ideas how to approach this crucial stage. We talk to Reigate St Marys and Dulwich College Cranbrook
Forest school at Reigate St Marys
‘Forest school’ is a specialised learning approach which takes place in a woodland or natural environment. It offers children regular opportunities to develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences. It is also great fun and our kindergarten eagerly look forward to their weekly trip to the woods.
Forest School is a learner–centred method focusing on building strong relationships with the outdoor environment and ensuring the children know the importance of taking care of the woodland. It supports the normal Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, but its focus is on risk taking, creative learning and reconnection with nature, so helping the children to develop a broader skill set.
The children just love it! Each session begins with them looking for changes since their last visit. Crunchy leaves in autumn or beautiful spring bluebells are woven into stimulating learning experiences which involve exploration and investigation. They ‘discover’ a fairy door at the base of a tree and fill ‘prickly tickly’ boxes with items found in the undergrowth. The children connect with nature and their confidence soars.
It’s a type of learning which is suitable for all children. Each lesson is carefully planned, taking into account each individual child’s needs. Groups are small and each child’s progression is observed and used when preparing for the next visit.
Parents recognize that the sessions enable their children to learn important skills whilst getting the benefit of freedom and fresh air. They see it as a welcome break from technology and a reconnection with nature and imaginative play.
A balanced approach at Dulwich Prep Cranbook
Children can join us in the term after they turn three, starting with as little as three half-day sessions a week, gently increasing over the year.
We want every parent, child and member of staff to feel part of one cheerful family, so before a new child starts we visit them in their home and speak to key workers, gathering as much information as possible.
Each child is also invited to Nash House with their parents to chat with staff and their new classmates. We also run parent and toddler groups from 18 months so many children are already familiar with the setting before they start.
We are incredibly lucky to have a purpose-built building and playground, designed to create a safe, supportive environment for our little community. Classrooms are flooded with natural light thanks to their south-facing aspect and each has its own delightful outdoor learning area under a retractable canopy.
Each day is thoughtfully structured with a lively mix of teacher-led and child-led activities. Specialist music, PE, art and French teachers enthuse our children to create an inspiring space. Finally, our Learning Support Department provides invaluable support, ensuring every child fulfils their unique potential.
I had a very magical childhood and I want to be able to create this for the children at school through story-telling, the freedom to be outside exploring the grounds and creating a sense of wonder. You must never lose the ‘magic’, this is what drives curiosity and a hunger for learning.
Life at Nash House is all about nurturing happy, independent children who love learning and feel confident expressing themselves. We laugh a lot, so we learn a lot.
I think we have to teach children from a young age to slow down sometimes and relax and so we teach the children a yoga move a week as a relaxation technique.
To me Dulwich Prep is “the best of both worlds”.
I feel there is an excellent balance of academic studies and music, art, drama and sports and outdoor activities. Because of the wide range of opportunities there is something for every child, and we all have a great time.
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