Out There Forest School and Kindergarten began in 2015, providing ‘nature based’ and ‘nature inspired’ early years provision, based predominantly outside. The setting places ‘outdoor play and learning at the centre of a child’s day and aims to facilitate children freely and safely spending time outdoors in their natural environment’.
Jenny is the founder of Out There, having had a career in teaching, but having a love for all things ‘outdoorsy’, Jenny qualified as a Forest School Leader. Jenny found that gaining this qualification was ‘a real eye opener into the possibilities of outdoor learning’. Following on from this, Jenny set up as a Forest School afterschool club and holiday club for primary aged children. Jenny was inspired by other early years outdoor settings that were running in other parts of the UK, especially in Scotland. She felt that this was something she would love to do, and so, Out There Kindergarten came into being. The first site was opened in Nightingale Valley in Bristol, followed by an additional site in Stapleton, Bristol a few years later.
It is evident that Jenny and the Out There team have an absolute passion for outdoors with an ethos of ‘Classrooms don’t have to have four walls’. Jenny recognises, that one of the many benefits of children being outdoors, is the impact it can have on the children’s mental health and emotional well-being, Jenny’s young daughter sums this up perfectly by saying ‘I just love moving around and being free!’ Jenny explains that this sentiment really resonates with her ‘having been in classrooms with thirty children, this feels totally unnatural now and that we have these expectations of children to go into school at such a young age. For me it was all about offering something different, that it’s about opening your mind to the fact that you can take all of the learning outside’. Jenny reminds us of the quote ‘Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls’ – Erin K. Kenny, Forest Kindergartens: The Cedar song Way.
The children at Out There are blessed with dedicated, highly qualified practitioners who know that ‘children learn more effectively when their learning is focused on their individual interests’. Jenny reinforces this by explaining that if given the freedom to play ‘then comes the most amazing learning opportunities, as long as you are there observing them and ready to jump in at the right time, or don’t jump in and see where it takes them’. Whilst an awful lot of time is spent playing in the woods there is a lot of discreet learning that happens along the way. Through observing the children, key workers are able to identify learning needs and have group time where the learning is more focused ‘I think that has worked really well and the children have benefitted and enjoyed having that routine and rhythm to their day and that’s balanced out with all of the time they are able to play freely’.
The team is also a key factor in the success of Out There – describing the staff team, Jenny says ‘The woods are a fantastic resource and the physical environment is amazing, but they (the team) do add to it’ being able to follow their particular interests too, whether that be loose part play or storytelling. Not only is the well-being of the children enhanced from spending so much time outside but also that of the staff team. This has become even more apparent since the pandemic. When asked how they felt about returning to work after lockdown the response was ‘they all came back with positive comments, saying “we would rather be at work, we just love being with the children and know they get so much out of being here”’.
As well as being dedicated to providing high quality learning experiences for the children, the team have a duty of care to ensure that the environment is a safe place to be. Jenny describes how ‘there are two parts of their job, one is obviously the logistics of making it works, keeping it safe and the risk benefit, which is really important. Having all of those risk assessments make it possible for us to go out all year round.’
Jenny has observed that a benefit of Covid has been that families who weren’t accessing the outdoors much before are now spending time outside ‘making the most of being outside with their children and actually realising the benefits for themselves, than being told the benefits’. Families are discovering for themselves how being outdoors can increase their children’s confidence and resilience.
Jenny is such a great advocate for all the wonderful opportunities that being outside can bring for young children and obviously gets a great deal of pleasure from this: ‘seeing them jump around in the rain and the muddy puddles. Muddy puddles never fail to delight children and even when the weather is miserable and they are soaking wet, they still find joy. Children are so resilient, a huge majority of them just love it’. Jenny loves to observe the children and how they use their environment ‘mud sliding, how they would use their bodies in different ways and the physicalness of it and the collaboration, pulling each other back up the rope, helping each other. It’s fantastic’.
Over the years Jenny has amassed a wealth of experience and her top tips to those wishing to embrace the great outdoors with young children would be to ensure everyone has appropriate clothing and to be flexible if the day doesn’t go according to plan, along with keeping things simple and not feeling the need to have lots of resources. Jenny stresses the importance of self-care ‘I think you have to look after yourselves, as the adults, as it’s really hard work, especially in the winter. It’s really important to make sure you have warm drinks and snacks, just things to get you through to the end of the day’. Of course, one of the best bits of advice Jenny can share is to ‘EMBRACE THE MUD!’