Parent & Toddler Forest School - Fridays at The Folly, Dalwood (near Honiton, Axminster, Stockland)
Updated: Jun 7
I’m writing this with the pleasant smell of campfire smoke still clinging to my hair and a pink and green bottom from sitting on a log stool recently decorated with chunky chalks. I think there are worse things to smell of, and it’s reminding me of a very Famous-Five style morning spent at the Folly Nursery’s new Forest School for 2 and 3 year olds in Dalwood. (Within a half hour drive of Axminster, Chard, Lyme Regis, Honiton and Stockland.)
I always like to set the scene and I can report to you that it was a dicey start to the day, what with Livvie deciding that no, she did not want to put on her waterproof trousers, and yes, she would rather run up the stairs and hide under the desk than get her wellies on as she’d been asked (we were up against it time-wise). Then I discovered that I was running on fumes with no diesel in the car to make the trip to Dalwood, however we did just about roll in on time and without the AA’s assistance, and a couple of hours spent in the woods was just the antidote I needed for the morning’s stressful start.
We’d been invited along to try the new Forest School toddler group by Helen, manager of The Folly Nursery, and being a past customer of the preschool I knew I was in for a treat. We were kindly gifted a ticket to this week’s session but fear not, I won’t become a sell-out blogger, I’ll only post write-ups of places and activities that I genuinely recommend to others as that’s what this is all about!
I’ve always been a fan of Dalwood, it’s a village that time forgot - a place nestled in the Devonshire hills with chocolate box cottages, a pretty river running throughout (complete with rope swing), a proper pub, and an outstanding nursery/preschool set in the building that was once the village school. One of the things that sets The Folly Nursery apart from the rest is its focus on making the best use of its outdoor space, and encouraging the children to roam freely between the indoor setting and the outdoor grounds as much as possible and in almost all weathers.
The Folly has some fantastic outdoor play facilities and its very own separate (fully fenced-off) area for Forest School with a summer house, campfire area, willow weaving zone, and sheltered activity bench. All of the nursery’s pre-school children get to go to a proper, organised Forest School session at least once a week Monday-Thursday, but now any child can have a go thanks to the open Forest School session on Fridays during term time 10.00-12.00.
The Friday sessions are aimed and two and three year olds (more or less – if your child is a little older or younger just drop Helen an email), and parents/carers do need to stay with their child to supervise – I saw it as a wholesome way to feel good about myself as a parent as I spent the whole two hours giving Livvie my undivided attention (bar the odd chat with other mums and the staff), helping her to make potions, split wood with a mallet and knife, and paint a wall with mud amongst other activities.
Forest School is led by trained Forest School Leader and qualified Early Years teacher Jane, and supported by a fabulous member of staff who is training to achieve Forest School specialisation - Kate, who between them guided us through all of the great hands-on things we could get up to during our time in the woods. Activities had been laid out so we could move freely from one thing to the next and there was more than enough to keep us entertained for the whole two hours.
We made potions with scented leaves and herbs, mixed paints out of mud and spinach and decorated the wall, modelled bugs and animals out of clay, coloured in beads to make a necklace, clambered on the swings and hung out in the dens before settling in to take turns splitting wood for the campfire using a big rubber mallet and a knife. What could go wrong, I hear you say! But I have to say I was so impressed about how the kids concentrated on the task (lead and supervised carefully by Jane) and I’m happy to report that Livvie still has all 10 fingers. Seriously, it was so good to let the younger ones have a go at something practical and grown up, and they really all rose to the challenge.
That’s what Forest school is all about – allowing the children to experiment with what nature has provided, enjoying the outdoors, and learning about the natural environment in a hands-on way. Mud and mess is fully encouraged much to the excitement of the kids! Some of the sessions have special themes – I heard that pond dipping, fairy hunting and even camping was on the agenda, and the forest party for the last session of the term sounds fun! Other typical activities include wood carving, shelter making, building an open fire, fire cooking, study of habitats, plant & animal identification, sculpture making and rope tying - if that sounds like something you and your child would enjoy you should definitely consider popping along.
A snack and a drink is included in the £5 session fee (along with tea & coffee for the adults) which is eaten in the cosy summer house – fruit, raisins, rice cakes and milk were on today’s snack menu and the children were encouraged to cut their own apples with the safety knives.
But the grand finale to the session was lighting the campfire, which the children helped to make with cotton wool and the kindling they'd split earlier. I’d have had my reservations about sitting a two-year-old so close to an open fire but it was amazing how being entrusted with this sort of responsibility made the younger ones more sensible. Each child (and adult, YESSS) was handed a marshmallow on a stick and we toasted them near the flames, washing them down with hot chocolate from a flask and finishing up with the all-important lesson about how to put the fire out safely with sand and water.
I was really impressed at the whole provision and count myself really lucky to have discovered this little group – if you’re within driving distance or if you're visiting the area it’s a lovely thing to do with your child and it made a nice change for me to spend the time focusing on Livvie rather than skiving in an indoor play café where I can often be found! We will definitely be going back, and it’s also worth saying that Forest School runs whatever the weather, as long as it’s not extremely windy (no-one wants a branch to land on their head, right? But we can handle a bit of rain, just bring the wellies and coats and remember to choose the waterproof mascara in my case.)
The Folly Forest School runs on Fridays, 10-12.00 term-time only, for children aged roughly 2-3years and a responsible adult. If you’d like your child to attend but they are a little younger or older than the age bracket, do get in touch with Helen at the Folly as there is a degree of flexibility on age. Sessions cost £5 and are bookable via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or message the Folly Dalwood’s Facebook page - you can book just the one session or block book. Sessions need to be paid for in advance, and there’s space for 10 children per session. There are three Forest School sessions left before the summer holidays – the 5th, 12th and 19th of July 2019, and sessions restart again early September.
Before I go – if your child still has some energy to burn after Forest School, I noticed that the play area right next door in the adjoining playing field has just had a major upgrade – it’s called the Jubilee Field. Brand new play equipment, picnic tables and plenty of space for frisbee, football and bikes etc – it’s one of our favourite secret picnic spots away from the crowds in summer so I’ll write it up properly soon.
Disclosure – Livvie’s place on this week’s Forest School was gifted to us in order to allow me the check it out with a view to covering it in the blog, but no influence has been had over the content of the write-up.