Brandon Forest School Roots and Boots opens at Brandon Country Park
Two women with a shared passion for outdoor education realised their dream when they opened their own Forest School.
Roots and Boots based at Brandon Country Park is the product of about six years of discussions and planning between Jen Smith and Tori Truman, both from Brandon, near Thetford.
Between them the pair have a background in education and early years settings, and it was during their shared car journey to Barnham Primary School, where they both worked as teaching assistants, that the idea grew and developed.
Mother-of-three Mrs Smith, 35, said it was ‘really dreaming at first’, but they gained the confidence to make it happen, opening Roots and Boots in April.
Forest school sessions are outdoor and child-led, with a focus on play - something that is vitally important in a world where these opportunities are decreasing, said Mrs Smith, who has previously worked at Busy Bees nursery in Beck Row.
She spoke of her own childhood when she would ‘go off into the wilderness’ with a packed lunch in her backpack and would come home when the street lights were on.
She said: “Children are missing these really exciting parts of independent play as a result and with Forest School we are lucky enough to be able to provide space where parents feel comfortable to let their children manage their own risk knowing should anything go wrong, there is somebody there, and maybe get a bit of that old childhood back that we all had."
Mother-of-two Mrs Truman, 45, who is a Forest School Leader, said Forest School was about children 'pushing their boundaries, managing their risks and having a go'.
She said Forest School ‘builds confidence across the board’ and added: “It’s about the development of the whole child.”
She said by being taught to manage their own risk, this builds children's confidence, which means they are then more likely to take a risk in the classroom, for example putting their hand up.
Forest School also helps children develop social skills, she said, which had been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think here in a really safe space in a small cohort children are really capable of finding their voices, and it's good fun," said Mrs Truman.
Mrs Smith said they were 'absolutely' already seeing progress with children, for example some had initially struggled with dirt - possibly exacerbated by the Covid pandemic - but are now getting stuck in.
The sessions also help develop fine and gross motor skills - important pre-skills to learning to write formally.
The new Forest School is already proving popular and it is bringing people together and building a community, which Mrs Smith described as their 'dream'.