5 years ago this week, on the 5 November, Lizzy and I launched Free Range Urban Kids Forest School. Some thought we were crazy to launch in the midst of winter but we were determined to make our dream a reality and bring Forest School to Hackney. As mothers of young boys we knew our children, and also, those in the community needed more outdoor time. What an amazing journey it has been. So many wonderful memories have been made and we reckon over 500 children over the years have been to our setting and experienced child led outdoor play and learning at our Forest School. Since we began both Lizzy and I have shaped and grown the business and have done various qualifications and are both now qualified Early Years Educators and hold the positions of Manager and Deputy Manager, respectively, as well as Founders and Directors. We have a wonderful team whom are dedicated and experienced, who go above and beyond, to create a nurturing and exciting environment each and every day.
Since then we have had 2 Ofsted inspections, our most recent one in January 2019 we received a grading of Good with Outstanding Elements.
We have expanded the business from our initial offering of 2hr sessions a few times a week in 2014. To now offering a Forest Kindergarten for 3 – 7 year olds, 5 days week during term time. Holiday Clubs for 3 – 8 year olds. A Nature Club once a week for 2 – 3 year olds and their parents and carers. An After School Club for 4 – 8 year olds. Plus this week we launch the newest offering, an After School Club for older children, catering for 8 – 11 year olds. This is very exciting as this will be held in the dark so will bring a whole new experience for the children who will be kitted out with head torches and lots of his vis!
We have worked closely with the local schools too as our registration with Ofsted includes offering places up to the age of 7. Our Kindergarten provision enables those who wish to defer starting school or to Flexi school to attend our setting until they are ready for formal schooling. We currently also have Year 1 children who attend us 1 day a week and 4 days at school plus home schooled children. We can see the wonderful progress these children have made and continue to do so and how Forest School complements and enhances their overall learning and progress. Of course we are very strong on certain areas of the curriculum such as understanding the world and physical development but Forest School is brilliant for ensuring all areas of the curriculum are met to ensure happy, healthy, resilient, motivated and creative children who know how to keep themselves safe whilst engaging in risky play.
Below are some of the wonderful testimonials we have received from parents:
My partner and I feel so blessed to be able to send our son to FRUK. It’s the only setting we wanted for him.Being so child-led is perfect for him, who has a series of highly unusual interests – snails, mushrooms, and lately warning signs and electricity pylons. The FRUK team have always supported him to explore his interests and design learning opportunities for him and the class around them.Our son needed a very long time to settle into the FRUK setting and the team were hugely adaptable to this – I suspect a full month may have been the longest settling they have ever had, but he felt the process to be at the right speed for him, as did we.The quality of the staff at FRUK is always superb – so many staff have additional areas of expertise (arboriculture, ornithology…) but they are all without exception totally focused on the children, and operate with more patience and enthusiasm than I could dream of. Staff are always enthusiastic to see the children – even out of the setting environment, and even in the case of staff who no longer work at FRUK. Parent of 5 year old
I cannot speak highly enough of the staff at FRUK.
There is an environment of high nurture , individualised challenge and fun.
Learning is incorporated into every aspect of forest school life and no opportunity is missed to maximise each child’s potential. Themes for the week are expanded into creative , motivating and fun activities both on and off site.
I have been supported to facilitate my child’s settling in and accessing learning after a prolonged break from school and all staff show a high level of understanding of his complex and sometimes challenging needs. Staff have also been proactive in providing evidence and support re EHCP assessmnt.
Communication with parents is outstanding , with daily verbal and written feedback (Famly) and the photographic evidence of fun and learning regularly providing updates and observations of achievements.
As a parent of a child with additional needs I have found the flexible and individualised approach to learning , the caring team and positive approach to parental involvement all contribute to an outstanding setting.
Being able to offer provisions for children from 2 years of age, and now up to 11 years, means that the children can be part of FRUK for their whole childhood as they move through the the different provisions at FRUK. At our recent half term Holiday Club there were a group of children who first started at FRUK when they were 3 years old who are now 6 and 7 years. Having known these children for a long time. It’s so wonderful to see how they behave so positively when they return to us for fun and freedom. Their knowledge of the natural world, such as trees and birds, has stayed with them. They remember all the boundaries and safety rules and they played wonderfully all day at our setting, with no conflict, using only the natural resources and the environment. They let the younger children join in their games. Deeply absorbed in role play for the entire day, they needed no prompts from the adults and knew what they wanted to do, it was a joy to observe.
FRUK operates from a small corner of South Millfields Park in Hackney but we also venture to nearby wild spaces too, visiting woods, wetlands and local nature reserves too. There are just so many memories to fit into one blog post to mention but our enthusiasm and drive at FRUK has not waned as each day is filled with awe and wonder as the natural environment brings new discoveries all the time as the seasons change.
We can truly say we love our job and are so glad we decided to launch FRUK. It’s been a life changing experience sowing the seeds of conservation in young people, through encouraging and nurturing a love for the natural world.. Here’s to the next 5 years at FRUK!!! A huge thank you to all those that have been involved with FRUK over the years, from the staff, the parents, the volunteers, members of the local community and of course the children. We could not have done it without you all involved in this journey.