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Jumping over waves, paddling in coves, living out desert island fantasies, toasting marshmallows and simply feeling the mud and sand between their toes are just some of the exciting adventures young children get to experience during a Beach School session.
Woodland House Nursery in Bristol is one of only a few hundred early years settings in the UK accredited by Forest Schools Education (FSE) to provide their three- and four-year-old children with this innovative outdoor learning experience.
Cassie Holland, co-founder of Bristol Beach Schools, which operates both Woodlands House Nursery and Archfield House Nursery, has always been inspired by the profound effects outdoor learning has on children’s learning and development.
"When adults are asked to close their eyes and recall their first memory playing as a child, these are invariably of experiences located in the outdoors, perhaps on a beach or in the garden at home," she said.
"For children, the beach provides experiences that no other place can. It offers endless opportunities for discovery, whole-body movement, social interactions, risk and challenge. Children are free to develop a strong relationship with the natural world around them at the beach, breathe in the fresh air and be at a point where they are at their highest potential to learn and develop.
"It also allows children to express themselves in any way they wish; from making small marks in the sand to running as fast as possible to get the wind in their hair. It is wonderful to capture the moment a child first finds a crab in a rock pool or falls in the squirmy mud for the first time.
"The magic of awe and wonder never runs out at the beach."
Dressed in their waterproofs and armed with numerous spades and buckets, the children at Woodland House take a trip to Severn Beach once a week, where they are given the freedom to explore the great outdoors.
Their journey begins with a short walk to the train station, at which point children point out familiar places such as their local shops and sibling’s schools, followed by a thirty-minute train ride.
It is during this part of the trip where the children meet commuters and excitedly tell them about their imminent adventures awaiting them at the beach.
"It is astounding to see the children so interested in their environment," said Ms Holland.
"They have an inquisitive nature and are often reading letters of the station names whilst the train is stopped or are helping to pay the conductor for our tickets, counting how many we need in advance. Even when we arrive at the beach, the children immediately ask questions about the animals that live in the sea and whether there will be big waves or little waves for them to splash in."
Beach Schools are considered to give children an opportunity to learn and develop in a natural environment, sparking their intrinsic motivations to explore, create and be curious about the world around them.
The sessions also encourage independence by allowing those taking part to venture on their own, overcome challenges and gain confidence from trying new things.
With nothing to break or damage and nothing to keep in order or to keep clean, the atmosphere at the beach can immediately relax children and adults alike, says children’s author Richard Louv.
Children who appear shy, find sitting for short periods of time or find their indoor environment challenging can “come alive” when making their own discoveries outdoors.
According to the qualified Beach School Leaders at Woodland House Nursery, every area of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and Characteristics of Effective Learning can be observed in children’s play whilst at the beach.
During their most recent outing, the leaders observed a child create a sea monster using pieces of driftwood and resources such as seaweed for ‘the hair’ and pebbles for ‘the eyes’.
The child enlisted the help of his friends to collect the items which were too heavy for him to lift or carry, and whilst doing so, told a story of the creature for all his friends to listen to.
For Ms Holland "it was a remarkable observation of pure imagination coming out through his play."
As well as supporting learning experiences outside the nursery setting, Beach school sessions have also been found to stimulate new interests inside.
At Woodland House Nursery, photos of children’s adventures adorn the walls, whilst traces of seaweed and pebbles are often found scattered across tables with excited children crafting their very own sea creatures.
Some can be found chatting about the pirate treasure they found or where they can find secret hidden coves, or are in the garden creating sea-monster footprints with their wet and sandy wellington boots.
"There is no limit to the experiences and curiosities that outdoor environments can stimulate in young children," said Ms Holland.
"Fuelling their interests and putting their experiences into a realistic context back at the nursery brings their learning alive. It’s like unclipping their wings once again."
Forest Schools Education
With over 11,000 miles of British coastline, it is not surprising that Beach Schools are becoming an inspirational learning environment for young children.
FSE estimate that there are currently around 300 Beach School leaders working in early years setting and schools across the UK.
The Beach Schools Practical Skills and Environmental Management course is intended for any individual who is already working with children and wishes to utilise a beach for outdoor play and learning.
The qualification can be utilised to assure practitioners that children’s safety is paramount and the use of marine shores and beaches can be sustained for future generations as well as being productive in educating children with their unique qualities and habitats.
For more information visit: http://forestschools.com/