Today on Bristol Mum is an interview with Jenni Bailey, mum to two children and owner of Stonebury Learning Forest School.
Stonebury offers Forest School sessions for Parents & Toddlers, after-school and for home-educated children, too. Classes are held in woodlands in Bristol, as well as woodlands just outside Bristol & Bath.
In this interview, Jenni talks about the benefits of forest school for children, why she set up Stonebury Learning and the activities that it has to offer kids.
You may also be interested to hear that Jenni is currently running a competition for a FREE term at Stonebury Learning Forest School! Read on…
Hi Jenni, please tell me a bit about yourself.
In addition to doing Forest School I’m a mum of two boys, aged 4.5 and 1.5, who love bike riding, ice skating and playing in mud. As a family, we are lucky that my husband works at a lot of fun events like festivals and parties and we get to do a lot of travelling and camping together while he works!
I’m American originally and we travel back to Michigan and Florida to visit with family a couple of times a year. I was a teacher for about 15 years, teaching a whole range of things from Drama and English in Secondary School, Special Educational Needs in Primary Schools and working as a Special Needs Consultant as well.
What or who inspired you to set up Stonebury Learning Forest Schools?
I found myself in a state of joblessness midway through my maternity leave with my second son and I knew that this was the opportunity that I was looking for to try something new. I had spent much of my first maternity leave thinking about other things I could do for work but in the end I went for the safe option of going back to my job in school. When I had no choice the second time around, I decided it was the moment I had been looking for and went for a new career!
I’ve always loved being outdoors and really believe that children learn and grow best in unstructured and unpressurised environments, so when I learned about Forest School a few years ago, I was immediately hooked. The choice to lead Forest School was less a considered decision than a eureka moment – and I threw myself into it from there!
What are the benefits of Forest School for children?
Forest School is unique in early years education in that there is no expectations or targets for learning or achievement and yet the children all seem to make remarkable strides. It caters to the side of all of us who learn best through trial and error, who become confident through repeated small steps of progress and who yearn for a little more freedom and a bit more of the outdoors.
Time and again, research into the effects of Forest School has shown that children who participate in regular and well-planned Forest School activities show greater attentiveness in school, more confidence and self-esteem, increased physical fitness, better decision making skills, improved safety awareness, improved social interactions and greater creative problem solving.
And it’s not just Forest School advocates who have found this to be true, OFSTED has said the same in their own reviews of Forest School – it is recommended that all children are given regular and repeated exposure to outdoor learning opportunities like Forest School.
What activities do Stonebury Forest Schools offer?
By its very nature, Forest School should be child-centred and child-led. So quite the opposite of what you get in a classroom where the teacher plans ahead what is going to be taught, what should be learnt and how we will measure success.
Because of my teaching background however, I don’t want to get away entirely from the concept of structure because I think small children, particularly those who attend school already, understand that structure is a way of finding independence.
So, every session has a theme such as fairies, treasure hunting, cooking, art or balance and this theme underpins the activities we do. Children are given the chance to do craft activities such as making willow crowns or fairy wands but many opt to not do these structured activities. We play games that teach good decision making and strategising – such as working as a team to climb a very tall hill – and then having to figure out our own way down.
We also do what is considered more ‘bushcraft’ style activities such as using tools to create musical instruments and building fires – but with very young children the focus is more on learning how to manage the tools and fire rather than a final outcome.
Please tell me about the Stonebury Learning Parent & Toddler Forest School Group.
Parent and toddler sessions are a great way for children who have not had much exposure to adventures outdoors to grow in confidence. We teach lots of skills and have lots of fun. But the main aim of the sessions for the children is to get them comfortable in the outdoors, so learning to be OK with getting very muddy fingers, learning that it doesn’t matter if you fall in a muddy puddle, learning how to decide whether it’s a good idea to climb a tree.
And of course, there are lots of tips and pointers for parents to help them to feel more confident playing games and being adventurous outdoors. Every session has a lovely bit of story time where we have yummy snacks and hot chocolate – and talk about what we would all like to do next.
Please tell me about the after-school sessions that you offer at Stonebury.
So often I hear parents say that after school their kids are so tired that they just need to veg out in front of the TV to relax for awhile. But it seems to me, that when they’ve been mostly sedentary in school all day and their minds have been taxed from all that they have been learning, what they actually need is some fresh air, a chance to blow off some steam and some space to have a bit of an adventure where there is no expectation that anything will be achieved or accomplished.
Older children love the responsibility of being allowed to use knives and boys in particular like hanging out in the trees and whittling. We also light a bonfire and let the kids cook themselves a snack or two and do lots of challenges like mud sliding and tree obstacle courses.
Do you offer Forest School sessions in the school holidays?
At the moment we are term time only – but we have had a few requests for school holidays and are looking at the possibility. My suggestion to anyone who is looking for whole-day activities for children during the holidays is to drop us an email and let us know. If we get a reasonable sized number of requests, we can definitely arrange for this.
Stonebury Learning differs from most other forest schools as it offers Forest School sessions specifically for home-educated children. Please tell me more.
Our eldest son is flexi-schooled, meaning he attends school part-time and is home educated the rest of the time. If circumstances were different, we would probably home educate the boys entirely, but for now this is the best of both worlds. We’ve met lots of families during our home educating journey and I feel like the ethos of Forest School fits in very nicely with the ethos that many who home educate subscribe to – namely that children learn best by being given the freedom and space to explore the world and to learn through activity rather than in the traditional classroom.
And also, when I was spending endless hours talking to my husband about the kind of work I was going to go into, my eldest son was never far away and ended up being party to many discussions. His opinion was that he wanted me to do Forest School so that he could go to work with me. So on Fridays, our Home Ed group will have my boys in it as well – which is lovely on many levels.
Please tell me more about the Stonebury Learning Forest School givaway that you are offering Bristol Mum readers!
I’m sure there are a lot of parents out there thinking it sounds great – but they don’t know whether their little ones will go for it. I think getting a chance to try it out for free will be all that those families need to convince them of how brilliant Forest School is. So we’re going to do a prize draw to give away a free place for a five week term starting on 21st April. Anyone else who enters into the draw will be entitled to a free trial session if they book it with us in advance. Click here for details of giveaway.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Forest School is a really brilliant thing and creates such positive changes in children’s lives. Have a look at the timetable on the Stonebury Learning website to see if there’s a class that fits your schedule. If there isn’t – don’t despair – give us an email and let us know when you’d like to do a session. If we have enough requests, we can always try to add in another session.
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If you would like to find out more about Stonebury, please visit the Stonebury Learning Forest School website, or fill out a contact form on the website. Alternatively, you can contact Jenni by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 0781 235 7206
*Disclosure: This was a sponsored post.