At Little Wild Tribe, we follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum and incorporate the timeless lessons of nature in order to create our own child-centred and play-based approach to holistic learning and development. In accordance with the EYFS framework, our curriculum has been developed to cover all seven areas of learning and development as well as taking into account the individual needs and interests of each child to plan fun and meaningful learning experiences. Our approach is play-based and child-led where we as educators recognise the unique, co-constructed nature of learning in early childhood; making decision ‘in the moment’, extending play and learning through thoughtful reflection and dialogue with children and their families in order to foster a love of learning at a level and pace that suits each and every child. We will also follow the Forest School principles outlined by the nationally recognised Forest School Association which endorses open-ended opportunities for experiential ‘first-hand’ learning over a period of time.
As a team, we strive to promote a holistic approach to our practice, fostering and nurturing the physical, emotional, social, creative, cognitive and cultural development of all children in our charge. We have a unique set of core principles that guide everything we do and these values keep children at the heart of our ethos:
Obvious but vitally important, playing and learning in natural environments increase physical activity which is so important for young children. Research has shown that those who are involved in nature programmes such as forest kindergartens are more physically active, have more physical stamina, and are less likely to be obese. Not only does it improve physical activity but it also improves the quality of physical development. Gross and fine motor skills are advanced; the ability to balance on a log, walking and running on uneven natural ground, using tools such as rolling pins, spatulas, cutters, scissors, whittling willow, sawing. All of these motor skills helps to improve hand-eye coordination, balance, agility, strength and control and builds core strength. There’s even surprising research that tree climbing supports a child’s pencil grip ability!
When children are given the freedom and space to physically move they begin developing more than just their muscles. Daily outdoor play enables children to use their bodies’ vestibular systems, which determine balance and feed into their limbic systems which regulate emotions. Many of our neurological systems need movement in order to develop; balance is vital to assist learning (A Hanscom, 2016).
Regular play in the natural world also facilitates our physiological development in terms of our respiratory system, bone health and immunology. Research has shown that playing in dirt benefits the immune system, helps to support the balance of bacteria in the gut, lowers our heart and blood pressure as well as providing vitamin D. Even trees emit oils called phytoncides, as protection from germs and insects which further support our immune system. Research also demonstrates that myopia, otherwise known as short sightedness, appears to be affected by the amount of time spent outside. The development of myopia is halved if a child gets three hours per day of natural light outside (Rose et al, 2008).
The multi-sensory experience of playing outdoors helps children and young people to retain knowledge more effectively. There are opportunities for children to learn with their whole bodies on a large scale; the research proves it, physicality drives learning!
At Little Wild Tribe, we understand the importance of the emotional, social and mental wellbeing of children to ensure we have happy, confident children who have a strong sense of wellbeing and belonging in a caring, learning community. Simply put, spending time in nature, playing in mud, and being surrounded by greenery can lift your mood and make you feel happier! Whilst we all know and have experienced the calming effect of nature, there is actual scientific research to demonstrate that spending time in nature really does reduce anxiety, improve emotional regulation and increase sensory processing integration.. There is real therapeutic power in listening to the wind through the trees, and feeling the rain on your face. Nothing in nature is telling you to hurry up, or do things a different way. It allows you to be yourself, be happy in your own company, or team up with others to build, play or imagine Recent studies have revealed that dirt contains microscopic bacteria called mycobacterium vaccae which increases the levels of seratonin in our brains, helping to relax, soothe and calm by stimulating serotonin production.
Research shows that outdoor learning environments contribute to richer social and emotional development since children will be better able to get along with others, creating a greater sense of connection to each other, developing emotional intelligence such as empathy, confidence and a self esteem. When children have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the great outdoors, they build key relationships with their peers, develop their ability to work both cooperatively and collaboratively with others, and learn to work as part of a team to share and negotiate. These skills also have significant impact on their speech, language and communication skills as they discuss ideas, exchange materials and debate which method is best as well as promoting an enterprising ‘CAN DO’ attitude and growth mindset. (Burdette and Whitaker, 2005).
Strength of character is most often evident in a child’s capacity for resilience; their unwavering persistence and determination to keep trying, to not lose motivation in the task at hand. We promote resilient learners in many ways, not least by being outside in almost all weathers for a significant part of the day. It fights against the cotton wool culture of helicopter parenting and teaches children to not just survive but thrive outside their comfort zone; promoting problem-solving, observation and critical thinking skills which teaches them how to be resilient. It gives children the chance to figure out how to respond to challenges, overcome fears and work with others – all essential and transferrable life skills.
At Little Wild Tribe, we are passionate in our commitment to introduce children to nature through sensory experiences and free play in wild natural environments. When children become truly engaged with the natural world at a young age, they are more likely to become caring, compassionate and courageous role models who actively support their first hand engagement with the natural world, and to participate in environmentally and socially responsible communities as adults. Little Wild Tribe is not only committed to teaching respect and responsibility to one another, but for the environment and the protection of nature as we recognise that children are the environmental stewards of the next generation who can become future impactful difference makers.
‘Getting children outside to play creates happy memories with the one most primal element in our world: nature. It is important to study these childhood experiences in order to develop environmental awareness and action in the next generation” (Broom 2014). This approach to citizenship is essential for future sustainability and it is important to engage children from an early age about their roles to support the conservation of our world.
Not only is it important to teach social responsibility to our children, we also recognise our ongoing accountability to make a positive contribution to society and create lasting positive benefits through a planet-friendly sustainability strategy. As a ‘green’ nature nursery, we have made a conscientious decision to avoid the use of unnecessary plastic, source locally, make use of natural open-ended wooden toys and loose parts as well as using eco products where possible including bamboo toothbrushes, and reducing, reusing and recycling as much as possible.
As part of our environmental focus, we aspire to supporting our children develop as little scientists within our nature and science rich environment; where they can learn about the diversity of the local ecological systems including wildlife, the changing seasons, weather, horticulture, conservation, how to identify and distinguish one species from another, and even climate change.
In short, playing outside ‘fires up the brain’. When we move our brain produces dopamine which makes us feel happy, energetic and motivated. Not only that, but movement also promotes the production of neurons in the brain that improve our ability to learn. Children love outdoor play, but it’s not just fun, it actually boosts their ability to learn! The natural world is one of the most complex environments a young child will ever navigate. Exploring the natural world with educators who are planning that navigation is wonderful for children’s brain development (Hilborn, 2017). Daily exposure to natural settings increase children’s ability to focus and enhances cognitive abilities (Wells, 2000). Studies have demonstrated that they support significant student gains in academic curricular subjects such as Literacy, Science, Languages, Arts and Maths. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland have even found a link between the amount of time boys spend being physically active and their development of reading skills in the following two years.
A growing number of researchers now believe that being exposed to greenery has general benefits for children’s ability to pay attention, referring to it as ‘superior attentional functioning’ since play in green space is known to support changes in behaviour, motivation, concentration, impulse inhibition and delayed gratification. According to one particular study by Kuo and Taylor (2004), contact with the natural world can even significantly reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as young as five years old. Indeed, Ofsted noted in their review of learning outside (2008) that it contributed significantly to raising academic standards and improving children’s personal, social and emotional development as well as contributing to the quality and depth of learning. Ofsted described improved outcomes for children including better achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour.
The best way for children to learn is when they can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it, smell it since it is this regular experiential first hand learning approach that helps the myelinisation process. In an outdoor forest kindergarten setting, learning happens organically through inquiry and investigation, promoting innate curiosity through direct experience. As a result, the impact of learning is much greater since learning is conducive to the real world as opposed to hypothetical situations or a world of digital technology.