Our Tree Tots Toddler Clubs were the second addition to our events lost when we first began Exeter Forest School nearly ten years ago. In preparation I visited a friend who was running a similar thing in Bristol to steal her ideas!
I can still remember the very first informal meeting in our woods for interested parents and their 0-5 year olds. It was March 2010, cold and muddy. I did my best to convince the shivering parents that they should come and sit around the fire, under the parachute we’d strung up in the trees, on a regular basis. At the end of the session I had only convinced myself that no one would return!
Amazingly a few did sign up for a half term. And after this, a few more signed up. Word seemed to quickly spread as before we knew it, we had two full Toddler Clubs running each week, even through winter!
I don’t think there were many, if any, similar groups in the Exeter area at the time, and we had filled a niche requirement; fun activities, lots of freedom, a little structure, and plenty of hot tea and coffee for the parents!
The children began to show signs of benefiting from the sessions. Being in the woods on a weekly basis was giving them the opportunity to explore a wild space, walk on uneven ground, hunt for bugs, hide in dens, and see their parents start fires and use tools.Added to this was simply being in a natural setting with children of their own age, making playing outdoors in all weathers totally normal.
For the parents, it was an opportunity to relax, let the kids free and make some new friends. Sometimes the sessions can be a bit of a support group, sometimes all the children just cry for no reason and we all look at each other perplexed and attempt to laugh! I always think that one of the most important things that our Toddler Clubs provides is the opportunity for the parents and carers to try new woodland skills alongside their children, a wonderful opportunity to share new experiences and learn about each other.
Of course now the Toddler Clubs run from Exmouth and Okehampton too. And the concept has evolved with our Exeter Forest School KIndergarten and the new ‘rising 5’s’ groups.
It’s also a mightily fun thing to run as a Forest School Leader, with that great mix of seeing the kids having fun and being able to chat and laugh with the parents.
‘My little one is loving toddler group, as are we! She is gaining confidence with every visit & loves her hot chocolate by the fire!’
‘Myself and my daughter Matilda came today for the first time !’ Wow we loved it ! She loved exploring the mud kitchen , making paint out of berries ! And sitting around the fire having a hot chocolate and singing !!such a fantastic place !! ‘
‘We’ve been regularly attending toddler club for almost three years now. Even in the depths of winter my daughter loves it and it‘s a great start to our Monday morning. Chris is fab with the kids and makes the best hot chocolate ‘
Date: 11 July 2019
Author: Chris White, Exeter Forest School Manager