Outdoor Play and Forest School
The Importance of playing outside.
Rachel McMillan Nursery School is believed to be the first ‘Open Air’ Nursery School in England.
Our founders Margaret and Rachel McMillan were strong believers in the importance of fresh air, nature and activity for children’s well-being and learning.
“To move, to run, to find things out by new movement, to feel one’s life in every limb, that is the life of early childhood."
- Margaret McMillan 1930
The philosophy that developed here, has influenced Nursery School and Early Years practise across the world for the last 100 years. Free play, fresh air, physical activity and experience of the natural world are an integral part of children’s time here at Rachel McMillan. It builds their muscles and it builds their minds.
Children have continuous access to the garden from their shelters for most of their session whatever the weather. We have waterproof clothing and spare wellies to help the children stay warm and dry when it is wet. We provide sun cream and encourage children to wear long sleeved tops when it is sunny. The sun, wind, snow and rain provide rich experiences to support children’s understanding of their world and we want to enable children to be free to explore and learn in all weather conditions.
Children are able to interact with an environment that is always changing - exploring different weather conditions.
We plan for the children’s learning outside in the same way that we plan for their indoor learning experiences. The outdoor area provides opportunities for learning that we could not deliver inside. The children are able to explore and experiment on a much larger scale here and enjoy a much greater freedom of movement. There is provision to encourage them to run, jump, climb, balance, swing and more. These activities are vital for physical and mental health but they also help to develop fine and gross motor skills which in turn help children be able to write and use tools effectively.
Children are able to interact with an environment that is always changing - exploring different weather conditions, the changing seasons; different light and temperature conditions as well as developing a sense of wonder and respect for the natural world.
The garden offers unique challenges for children to work together, to solve problems, to take risks and to learn how to be safe. Recent research shows a strong link in physicality helping brain development and the importance of young children being able to move their bodies freely. To be able to sit and listen to stories or work together in groups, children need to be able to control their bodies. They gain this control by doing all the physical activities we offer here.
Forest School has developed from the Scandinavian education system and is about children and young people building self-esteem and independence through exploring and experiencing the natural world. It is a programme delivered by trained practitioners.
The Forest School experience promotes sensory child-led outdoor play, encouraging and stimulating curiosity and absorption. Forest School originated in Scandinavia where children are not formally educated until they are seven. The long tradition of craftwork in European education is also key to a Forest School experience. Forest School is a continuation of our outdoor learning and takes place in a small woodland space on the Nursery School site. Forest School operates in all weathers.
We have one Forest School Leader who works with parent volunteers to support children’s learning at Forest School. We all know children love playing outdoors in natural spaces. The ethos of Forest School allows children the time and space to develop skills, interests and understanding through practical, hands on experience. Children learn new skills through wildlife hunts, plant and tree identification as well as whittling, sawing and lighting camp fires to cook on. By engaging and training children in risk-taking activities in the outdoors, children develop sophisticated skills in being able to manage safety and learn skills they may not pick up anywhere else. Forest School has a significant positive impact on children’s language, their ability to make relationships and understand the world around them. Small groups visit the forest weekly throughout the year.