The Treehouse Club – a morning in a forest school

The Treehouse Club started its eco-friendly forest school journey in 2011. We wanted to create a space for children to learn through calming, natural environments and through nature. We now have 5 settings spanning across Essex and work with a wonderful team of over 80 staff, says Ashley Wilson, founder of The Treehouse Club Forestry Nursery and Out Of School Club and MOEducation

In nurseries as you know, every day is different, but ours is very different, as we go on adventures everyday. So, pop on your wellies and lets go.

Our day starts at our Brentwood Nursery arriving to 96 acres of woodland in the beautiful Thriftwood Scout Centre, surrounded by ponds and woodland walks. Walking down to the nursery, all you hear is birds singing, everything looks still, however if you look closer it is a hive of activity and this is what we get our children to stop and enjoy. With the environment changing every day there is so much to see and discover.

As I listen to the crunch of mud below my feet, I see a wren rustling through some leaves for its breakfast, a squirrel races across a branch and there is a cheeky robin sitting on the back of a bench, he is a regular visitor and I know he will soon appear on our fence waiting to see if any seed is popped in his window box by the seed monitor.

Today in our Owl’s room (age 3+ years), after breakfast and circle time and of course topping up the bird feeders, the children dress for their adventure, excited to see if it is a frosty morning to go and visit the many spider webs that have popped up during the night and are glistening like silk in the morning light or on warm summer mornings going to the ponds to see who is bathing in the mid-morning sun, normally a stretched out frog!

After a walk around the woodland to visit our favourite spots, we set up a seating area to enjoy our snack, while taking in the different sceneries and discuss what we are going to do this morning. Today we are practising our fine motor skills and we explain to the children that we need to find a stick, no longer than our arm and we are going to write our name in the mud, they love doing this and it normally ends with all of us covered in mud too!

The children gain so much from outdoor learning, it is the freedom and space and the chance to be curious. They naturally grow in resilience and confidence because they are able to be natural children, to get covered in mud, splash in a river, climb a tree, build a den, balance on a log and slide down a hill, you see them constantly experimenting, creating and above all laughing! Outdoor classrooms are welcoming for all, it brings everyone together. There is never a preferred area, the children move freely and their engagement is so much higher due to the varied nature of the outdoors, it always amazes me how quickly you see them develop.

Woodlands are awash with natural resources from leaves, sticks and stones however do not forget we are not the only ones that use them, insects and animals need them for food and shelter, so we never snap or pick and only borrow a few pieces. Our environment is beautiful and we need to protect it and our role is to teach children about the world and I strongly believe this includes how to care for it.

After a great session, we walk back to the nursery for a good hand wash. Back in our room, the children are practising yoga and you hear the giggles as they are balancing and bending, while laughing at the team as they try to do the same to our yoga story. Before lunch we practise some mindfulness, we ask the children to lay in a circle, placing a special feather on their tummies, we show them how to make the feather go up and down with our breathing to calming music, before readying ourselves for lunch and tucking into a warm home-cooked meal.

We love our environment, and it is important we protect it, by trying not to leave much of a footprint. Most people balk at the words eco-friendly, thinking where to start and the cost, but we say to begin a journey you just need to start with the first step.

The first thing to consider is reasonable usage. Is what we are using and doing reasonable, for example leaving the light on all day and the heating when not in the room, doing huge amounts of printing. Is there a more eco-conscious way – could the supermarket order change to a local butcher, could we use chalk boards, set rules to change bulbs to led and turn them off when leaving rooms? Small changes make the big difference, are sustainable and will create a mindset which will naturally create less waste and can actually save money.

At the Treehouse Club there are daily things we do to reduce waste and recycle. A great step is involving the children, for example recycling bins: each of our nursery rooms has a recycling bin and the children are supported to know which material goes in each bin. Each room also has a compost caddy so when the children have eaten and tummies are full the children tip any food waste into their waste caddies and then in turn into their wiggly wormery where, once the worms have had some wiggly fun, it is ready to use as a fertiliser to grow seasonal veg and fruit. Again, the children love this, you may initially only end up with a potato and carrot that could feed a barbie, but don’t give up!

Using a wormery really sparked the children’s interests in animals, so we brought a Millhouse Mini Beast Farm for our room to continue and extend their learning. It is important for us to also bring the outdoors in, so all our rooms have plants to create that green space, our equipment is wooden and all rooms are painted calming colours.

In early years there is a lot of waste with nappies, wipes, paper towels, blue roll, etc. You can buy eco-friendly bio biodegradable items however they do come with price tag, you also need to be aware that some biodegradable items like nappies can take 10 years to start to degrade, however there are
companies that recycle normal nappies into tyres which is amazing!

Simple changes do make the difference, we changed our wipes at mealtimes to warm bamboo face cloths, we also have replaced our paper towels with flannels for hand drying and replaced blue towel with
bamboo cloths that can be washed. We also looked at the cleaning materials we use, for the washing machine we use an eco-egg which doesn’t contain anything harmful for the environment, and eco tablets for the dishwasher.

It is about changing your mindset, we created ECO officers at each setting to help this, these are members of your team, that are able to think of ways to increase your eco-friendly environment and implement manageable, sustainable changes.

I believe it is important to always have that connection to nature. It is a fact that if we keep taking, in the end it will run out. There is no better time to start so, grab the team and start your adventure.