Category Archives: forest schools

What Can We Do with All These Leaves?

This time of the year my garden is covered in a blanket of leaves.  The girls enjoy helping to rake them up but it is a never-ending task. When leaves are plentiful there are many activities that you could take advantage of. Here are a few of our favourites.

Leaf Man

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert is illustrated with photocopies of leaves that have been arranged to make pictures.  We studied the way Ehlert uses coloured paper to create a layered background and  leaves and natural materials for the main body of the picture.

leaf bird rowena

We created our own pictures, starting with the background and adding leaves.  The leaves work better if they are pressed beforehand using a flower press or a heavy book.  Preserve them by laminating before the leaves dry out.

leaf man


Young children enjoy printing with leaves or painting on larger leaves. You could also try  painting with different types of leaves or dipping the stalks into paint to make marks.  Dried leaves crumbled into paint could also make an interesting texture.


Leaves are perfect for investigating colour mixing.  Give each child a leaf and ask them to try to mix the matching colour.  Younger children could paint the colour onto their leaf, print it on paper or paint around the outline, older children may like to try an observational painting of their leaf. Small square canvases or watercolour paper would make them extra special.

Leaf Rubbing

leaf rubbing

Sometimes young children  find this difficult so experiment with different colours and materials, like crayon, pencil, chalk, pastels or charcoal to decide which makes the most effective rubbing.

Leaf Mosaics, Patterns and Sculptures

Use leaves to create mosaic patterns and pictures. These could be individual or large group projects.

leaf face

The girls collected leaves on a camping trip and used them to thread onto sticks to create clothes for their stick people.

stick men


clay and leaves

Leaves  make interesting imprints in clay or they can be used  as a template to cut around. Clay leaves make great bowls, tiles or mobiles.


Sensory Play and Loose Parts

Collect leaves and put them in a sensory bin – investigate what happens to them over time. Add interesting objects hidden amongst the leaves or toy woodland animals and bugs for small world play.

If you have leaves outside how do the children use them as loose parts?

My children built a bonfire……


building a bonfireBuried their feet….

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and added them to a potion.

potion making


Use them as a Filler

Last Halloween we made spiders to hang on the bushes outside.  The bodies were made from black bags stuffed full with leaves.  You could also use leaves to stuff scarecrows or guys for bonfire night.

Laminate them

laminated leaves

Over a period of time we collected interesting leaves and laminated them.  They looked great on the window and I challenged the girls to find out which trees they belonged to. I think they would also make an eye-catching mobile.    This year we are using the laminated leaves to see if they can find matching leaves in the neighbourhood. Laminated leaves could be used for all kind of things. We have used them as gift tags, to play matching pairs and they look great on the light table.

Leaf Rainbows

If you collect leaves gradually from the same tree or bush as they change colour you can make a leaf rainbow.

leaf rainbow

Before you  decide to rake all the leaves away, take a look at this face, I think it says it all.
autumn leaves

Finding the Perfect Preschool

muddy feet
A place where I can kick my shoes off and sink my toes in the mud.

Regular readers will remember that when I moved to the US, I struggled to find a preschool that I was entirely happy with.  I became so disillusioned that I decided to home preschool for a year. I’d lost faith of ever finding a preschool that valued play, independence and individuality above academics and rigid schedules until a friend told me of a preschool situated on a farm.  The preschool shared my belief that children learn best by doing things that have relevance in their lives through exploring, discovering and creating.

The school is so popular that it was a whole year before I had a chance to visit and see the school for myself. Children were busy pulling apart sunflower heads on the covered deck area whist others moved freely between the different activities indoors and outdoors. The teacher’s enthusiasm and passion for both the children and the setting was evident immediately and a bubble of excitement rose up within me. Our name was put on the waiting list for Sept 2015 but before Christmas a place became available in the co-op class so finally my youngest daughter had the chance to attend.  This was perfect as I also had the chance to be involved in this wonderful experience as a parent helper.

There was little doubt in my mind that this was the perfect preschool for my outdoor loving daughter. My expectations were high. I have been fortunate to teach at a highly acclaimed nursery in the UK and to visit the best preschools in my local authority as an advisory teacher. My experience of this school has surpassed all my expectations, I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect preschool for my daughter and I am only sad that my older daughters didn’t have a chance to go there. After she started, it just seemed to get better.  Regularly she would come home covered from head to toe in mud.  To some parents this would be horrific but to me it meant she had the freedom to be herself and have fun.
Being a part of the co-op class means that I get to help out once a month. This is the most exciting part for me as I get to join in.   I love the covered deck area which enables the children to play outdoors all year.  The children explore the whole farm for the 2nd part of the session, mud, water, animals, climbing and balancing. They are actively encouraged to take risks.

long paintbrushes.
As we arrive my daughter always chooses to paint . She liked this painting activity with paintbrushes placed on extended poles.
painting with feathers
Painting with feathers

What makes it so perfect?

1. Children are individuals

Small classes and the dedication and experience of the teacher, mean that she understands each child as an individual. My daughter who is uncomfortable speaking in a group or to unfamiliar adults is given time to think about what she wants to say, often being presented with a question at the start of a session and returning for a response later.  The child who hates to get his hands dirty is offered alternative tools and all the materials are open-ended so that children can use them as they see fit.

2.Children are competent

Children are always encouraged to try things for themselves, even when they ask for help they are first encouraged to try.  The children are trusted to use adult tools for woodworking and tinkering, peeling vegetables and cooking.  The teacher shows them how to use the tools safely and responsibly and thereon in they are trusted with them.  The children cook their own green eggs and ham on the tiny stove, they dig with metal shovels, they observe candle flames and peel carrots with a peeler.  Outside they are permitted to climb trees, feed the animals, hold guinea pigs and dig in the mud. The children are trusted to handle precious materials like birds eggs, chicks and nests.

This tinker table is always available. I regularly see children sawing pieces of wood placed in the clamps, hammering nails or taking apart electronics with a screwdriver. In the nursery I taught at we had a tool bench with real tools but we weren’t confident enough to leave it out all of the time. I have never seen a child have an accident or do anything dangerous with the tools.

climbing trees at preschool
My daughter loves to climb trees – I’m not sure I could find anywhere else where this would actively be encouraged.

3. The Preschool fosters understanding and respect for nature.

Many of the activities involve the natural rhythms of the farm, collecting the produce, understanding the cycles of the plants and learning about the animals and creatures they find.

After the first few sessions, my daughter told me they had unicorns at preschool but that it was too small to have grown a horn yet. A preschool with unicorns? Could it get anymore magical?

When the duck’s eggs hatched the children were allowed to hold them.
bug hunt
A bug hunt in the woods

4. Children’s thoughts and opinions are important

Each session the children are asked a question and the answers are recorded for parents to read on the wall outside.  The children listen to each others responses and discuss them with respect.  The children’s choices are respected as they are presented with a number of activities to choose from at leisure. They also have opportunities to choose the songs they will sing and are confident at asking for things.  The children are offered a snack, they choose when and if they would like to eat it .

5. They have fun.

wading in  the swamp
On the last day of school, parents are invited to join the children as they wade in the swamp.

horse riding on the last day of term
horse riding on the last day of term


Best of all, I feel that my daughter experiences something here that she would never have the chance to experience elsewhere.  I feel so fortunate to have found this preschool and that my daughter has one more year there.  When our time is over I will be so sad but I hope I can remember her teacher’s words of wisdom.


Fairy Houses in the Woods.

fairy houseLook I think someone has been building fairy houses in the trees!

Do you believe in fairies? On a quiet walk around Beaver Lake Park, we discovered that they had taken up residence. Had the fairies crafted their own houses or had someone else built them to entice them in? Either option was equally magical to a 3-year-old. Having recently finished our own fairy garden, she was desperate to build a house herself and ran to fetch her sister. We carefully tiptoed around the trees, discovering at least a dozen fairy houses and rooms.

Fairy Hogwarts
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
This one had a swing made from blades of grass and a piece of bark.
This was my favourite.
This was my favourite.

fairy bathroom
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.

This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
fairy steps
Maybe I could build some steps to go up to this room.

Meanwhile on another tree, her sister was building a bridge to reach from one tree stump to the other.  We searched for the right sized piece of wood.

That's perfect.
That’s perfect.

They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.

furniturebuilding a fairy house

fairy house 3

They really wanted to stay but the night was drawing in and mummy was slowly being eaten alive by mosquitos. Every little girl knows that fairies come out at dusk and are afraid of humans. We needed to leave the woods quickly to give the fairies a chance to discover their new home. I wonder what type of fairy will choose to rest there?

Outdoor Play: Nature Faces

I’ve got an idea Mummy. How about we get the plates we use for barbecues, collect lots of things from around the garden like leaves and sticks and stuff and make people.

Great idea. You could use things from the loose parts station too.

I know, we could use bottle tops for eyes. There are 4 of us so we need 8.

We need 8.  We have 10 let's throw 2 of them away. Now that's right.
We need 8. We have 10 let’s throw 2 of them away. Now that’s right.

Oh no! We are not allowed to pick leaves from the trees and it isn’t autumn. How will we get leaves?

Look there are some nice little yellow leaves on the floor. Where did they come from?

This tree up here.

cherry tree

That looks like a cherry tree, there are red fruit on it but they are very small.

I’ll pick one and see if there is a stone inside. Yes there is, they are cherries. We could use them for a nose.

My 2 year-old started making a face but soon became more interested in exploring what the glue did. She then brought her watering can and watered her face.

Just as with the clay my 2-year-old has very different interests and plays at a different level to her sisters but that never prohibits her joining in.

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Mud Faces for International Mud Day

mud faces on trees for international mud dayOur first week of the school holidays has been rainy. Perfect for our preparation for International Mud day on Saturday.  We have been planting bulbs and sunflowers and finding bugs and worms under the ground.

Today we gave our trees mud faces. This is one of the many fabulous outdoor ideas that can be found in the Woodland Trusts  Woodland Adventure Booklets , free to download from their website.  We used materials from our loose parts station and from around the garden.

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Other ideas for International Mud Day

Make a mud kitchen (Including why playing in the mud is good for you).

Make muddy footprints

Top Mud Ideas from the Woodland Trust

International Mud day on  Pinterest if you’d like to share any of your mud day activities on my Pinterest board contact me and I’ll send an invite.

If You Go Down to the Woods Today – 10 Woodland Activities for Children

We had a lovely time today at Glenny Woods organised by our local Children’s Centre. Glenny Woods is a wonderful woodland centre owned by the Scouts Movement.  They have an indoor room with a veranda for when it is wet, an area for lighting fires with bench seating, adventure playground equipment and facilities for making dens.

However, even if your nearest wood doesn’t have these added facilities there are lots of simple fun things that you can do with children.  Try not to rush children on to looking at the next thing.  They may want to spend half an hour looking at a clump of moss or sliding down a muddy bank.  If you really want your children to appreciate and explore nature then allow lots of time and move at their pace (however frustrating this might be).

1. Give children a piece of cardboard with double sided sticky tape on and get them to make a hat collecting natural things.  This could be free choice or maybe have a colour theme.  You could ask children to create a pattern eg. large and small things or find specific items to make their hat.


2. Put double sided sticky tape around the top of your child’s wellies and ask them to collect items of interest and stick them to their wellies.

3. Take magnifiers or bug jars and look for creatures. Take photographs so that you can identify them when you get home.

Look Mummy I found a snail


4. Young children will enjoy exploring the textures of things, moss, long grass, tree trunks, mud.  Give children a textural treasure hunt – find things that are soft, smooth, hard, spiky, slimy, cold, warm, rough etc. Make a feely box containing some of the textured things or use a blindfold and ask children to describe what they are touching.

hands on a tree.

5. Give children a piece of string and ask them to find and attach the following items: something natural, something manmade, something colourful, something heavy  and something with an interesting shape.  Hang a line of string between 2 trees and hang the completed pieces from it to make a natural work of art.

6. Build a fire, toast marshmallows on whittled sticks or bake potatoes in the bottom of the fire.


7. Go on a treasure hunt


8. Play in the mud.  Take tools and  to see what you might find or stamp and feel the texture of wet gooey mud. Find a stick and draw or write in the wet mud, or take large sheets of paper and use mud to paint with – use fingers or sticks to apply the mud.


9. Collect natural materials to make a picture or sculpture .  Make a frame from sticks or stones and ask the children to make a picture inside it using what they have collected. For the youngest children let them arrange leaves into a nest or sticks or stones into a pattern.

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10. Build a den.  Use sticks and build a den in the style of Eeyore’s house.

You might also want to check out some of these ideas


Finding the alphabet in nature

Fairy houses in the woods

A natural playground

Children Connecting with nature

Mud faces



Someone to Watch Over Me – Childhood Risks

I’m so pleased that my eldest (almost 7) has finally started to play in the street with her friends.  It is well known that if you ask adults about the most memorable and enjoyable times from their childhood they will almost always involve being out of doors, with friends and with no adults around.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play out in the street, I certainly have clear memories of being 3 years old and doing so.  When we moved from the city to a cul-de-sac before we had children, I hoped that we would find somewhere that our children could play in relative safety from traffic.

This has come at an opportune moment as I have just finished reading ‘Beware Dangerism’ by Gever Tulley, which discusses the irrational fears that we have about our children’s safety and how this makes them less able to deal with risks and challenges.  Gever runs a school called Tinkering School which encourages children to build and take things apart using real tools.  This reminded me of photographs that a colleague of mine shared on her return from visiting forest schools in Denmark.  I saw pictures of under 5’s using sharp knives with great skill to whittle sticks.  She talked of how one of the schools had been on the coast and the children were sent off without adult supervision onto the beach, with the only rule that they were to go no further than the edge of the water.  They were called back hours later by a bell.  This approach reminds me of the hours that I used to spend in the woods near our house as a child.  We used to often pretend we had run away – the idea of being independent was always a thrill.

I love this Ted talk by Gever Tulley  entitled 5 Dangerous things you should let your children do.

I’m sure that I am often looked upon as a bad mother.  On holiday last summer another parent looked horrified as my 18 month old stood waiting to go down a big slide.  I watched as her child looked worried about going down the smaller one and an adult stayed carefully by her side.  I looked at the other parent and said ‘She’ll be fine , she does it all the time with her sister’ as she launched herself down the slide smiling and laughing.  I often see parents holding their children on reins as they attempt to climb in playgrounds, as if they are afraid to let them try anything on their own.  I once had an argument with a lady in a charity shop because I was letting my daughter touch china pots whilst I was next to her supervising.  The lady very crossly asked her to stop and I asked her how my child was expected to learn to be careful with things if she wasn’t allowed to touch them under adult supervision.  I want my children to try things with confidence and not to grow up cautious and timid, I never underestimate what they can do as long as they have clear safety  rules.

Lenore Skenazy has a great blog  that talks about kids and risk taking many daft restrictions on children