Radio 4 visited Sussex Wildlife Trust’s headquarters at Woods Mill in Henfield.
I spent the morning with Sima Kotecha from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, 12 Nature Tots aged 3-4 years and their parents.
Concerned about children’s growing disconnection from the natural world, Sima was interested to visit the Sussex Wildlife Trust to find out the difference between playing in the woods and going to a park or your own back garden.
It’s a good question which got us all thinking: Some of the parents said they liked coming out to the woods because it offered a different experience with more freedom and adventure.
They also talked enthusiastically about their children bringing ideas from the Tots sessions home with them, showing their friends or older brothers and sisters how to make a mud monster or stick picture. Billy aged three cracked a dry ‘happy snappy’ stick in half and ran off to put it in the pile ready to build a campfire for making hot chocolate.
For me, the woods offers an unstructured ‘playground’ where the children face challenges and work co-operatively to solve them: How are we all going to get across this muddy ditch? Before you can say ‘bridge’ they have spotted a ‘convenient’ log or two nearby and are busy dragging them into position.
With a little help we all get across the bridge, some need hand holding and reassurance, some lead the way and act as role models to the others.
Nature Tots is based on our Forest School ethos of child-led learning and is a great way for children to build their confidence by facing challenges, develop social skills by working together, and learn resilience and problem solving strategies which will serve them well in later life. With no pre-formed toys to direct their play, the Tots use natural materials to create their own stories, such as this fallen tree which became a train.
Being allowed to get their hands dirty is a new experience for some children, and taking risks is an essential part of growing up.
There is mud to fall in, brambles to get scratched on, logs to clamber over and sticks to poke about with. There are also glorious autumn leaves to throw into the air, tractor wheels to be sawn, fire sparkies to strike and snowy paw prints to be made and followed on an adventure through the woods.
If you would like to bring your child along to Nature Tots at Woods Mill or Seven Sisters, please visit our web page for more details.