For years, mothers have despaired at their children eating worms, climbing trees and playing in mud, but apparently that’s what they were supposed to be doing all along. Mark Burr, 51, runs Wild Times Woodland Adventures, a Forest School in Maidstone, Kent, based in a 10-acre woods complete with small lake, composting toilet and a parachute shelter. The idea comes from Scandinavia, and let’s face it, they’ve had some pretty cool ideas over the years (Ikea, ABBA, Vikings…). The theory is that being outdoors in nature is good for children’s emotional well-being and physical health, as well as their developmental processes.
In fact, it’s not just a theory anymore, there’s a mounting pile of evidence to back it up. It rings true with me too. Few of us can deny that we feel much better when we’re outside, (preferably when it’s warm and sunny), surrounded by nature’s beauty. Mark has a quote on his website, “It’s impossible to walk in the woods and be in a bad mood at the same time.” While I disagree with this statement, having endured many miserable hours out in the rain, I fully support the principle that being outdoors is good for the soul, weather permitting.
Forest School started to gain traction in the UK in the late 1990s, predominantly at Primary School level. This was based on the premise that repeated enjoyable outdoor experiences will have a positive effect on children, including gaining a disposition for learning. Research is still being undertaken as to why this should be, but evidence from MIND and hospitals with healing gardens indicates that being in nature has a profound effect on our well-being, for adults as well as children (click here to read a report by MIND or here to read an article by the National Garden Bureau).
One of Mark’s favourite parts of his job is getting to watch children tentatively explore the forest for the first time. “It’s a voyage of discovery and self-learning.” And that’s what it’s all about: child-led learning – letting the children discover nature for themselves and have fun while doing it. Mark says that as well as developing motor, communication and problem solving skills, the children get to learn risk management, ways to overcome difficulty and keep safe, and how to interact and work with adults outside the classroom setting. Sessions are not just for Primary School age children however; the recognised benefits for behaviour management and self-development mean that Mark also works with young people referred from Secondary Schools and Pupil Referral Units.
Wild Times also offers outdoors children’s parties and holiday clubs. They’re every bit as exciting as a kid could desire – den building, fire building, whittling with knives, messy clay, bug hunting, hide and seek… the list is as long as the children’s’ imaginations. And that is another difference with Wild Times– the children do not have to do the suggested activities; if they discover something or come up with their own ideas (within reason!), then they are allowed to do them too.
What might surprise you is that Wild Times is fully operational all year round, even in winter. Mark was adamant (as much as I begged to differ) that there’s ‘no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’. While it’s true that his parties are weather dependent, in that severe wind could force him to cancel, Mark is proud of the fact that he won’t be rained off. “Children are very robust. It’s important that they get to experience the forest in every season.”
And before you get too disappointed, Wild Times offers woodland experiences for adults too. Mark has found the woods to be a very healing place for people grieving a bereavement or going through a stressful period. He encourages people to take time to walk through the woods, reflecting on life while they take in the fresh air and resting in the tranquillity of the forest. And for people looking for some excitement, Wild Times also hosts parties and stag/hen dos, which can involve learning to shoot, dinner round the bonfire and spending the night under the stars. Family days are being planned too.
If you want to try it for yourself, we’re giving away an opportunity to win a Wild Times Woodland Adventures Party for ten people worth £200! Mark has kindly donated one of his parties as the prize for our Chocolate Campaign March free prize draw. To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is buy one of our Handmade by Henry chocolate bars to help sponsor a victim of trafficking and answer this simple question:
‘Restoring Health is currently offering free PEMF Therapy alongside their massage treatents for pain reducation and sports enhancement.
Q. Name a major benefit of PEMF Therapy’
You can order your bars from email@example.com or pick one up next time you’re at the clinic. And if you’d like any more information about Wild Times Woodland Adventures, please visit their website www.wildtimeswoodlandadventures.co.uk, Facebook page or contact Mark directly on 07904070333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.