It is not often that my kids and I have the chance to escape city life with all it’s noise, traffic and hubbub. But I did one day last week when I spent the day at Bristol Zoo’s WildAbout Forest School with my little boy.
That day we swapped the sights and sounds of Gloucester Road for towering green trees and a rare day of early Spring sunshine, with only the sounds of birdsong, rustling leaves in a gentle breeze and a river in the distance.
Set in private woodland in the grounds of the Hollywood Tower Estate on the edge of Bristol, Bristol Zoo’s WildAbout Forest School is an alternative, play-led oudoors educational programme aimed at kids of all ages. The forest school is available for birthday parties and school trips, as well as courses which run throughout the holidays.
Our day started mid-morning where we were met by Jackie, our guide and trained Forest School Practitioner. Jackie led us through the dense, green forest and we braved muddy slopes and brambles to reach our destination, halting every so often to listen to the sounds of the forest, differentiating between the voices of the different birds and to learn about the wild plants that grew there.
Our destination was a little fabric gazebo set in the midst of the forest, which housed a hanging mobile of dream catchers, crafted from feathers and twigs by young forest school graduates who had come once before us.
The children were in their element, taking advantage of the space, fresh air and abundence of natural materials at their fingertips. They enjoyed the rare freedom of safely running free, away from the usual danger-strewn world of fast cars and pollution with today’s only danger being mere brambles and nettles.
They played in the stream, rebranding it their ‘lagoon’ and enjoyed hatching a hardy den using sticks and decorated with leaves and forest undergrowth, after Jackie showed them how.
Oozing, squelchy and liquid thick, the mud was all around but this did not deter the children. Instead they relished the rare opportunity to satisfy that universal urge of all children to jump into muddy puddles and dirty their hands making mud pies and clay ‘bobbies’.
We perched on logs around a crackling, spitting campfire, warming cold hands from flames of orange and red and cupping hot pebbles from a pan of steaming, hot water sitting on the fire.
There we toasted pink and white marshmallows into a heavenly combination of golden brown crunchiness and melted gooiness. We made toffee apples on the fire, toasting them to perfection with sugar and cinnamon and we baked scones, too.
That night my son and I climbed into our beds and slept soundly and deeply, the only way you can after enjoying a day out in fresh open air, sunshine, surrounded by nature.