Nicola Price, teacher in charge of Forest School at Alleyn’s Junior School, talks about the benefits of unstructured play outdoors.

As a child of the 70s I had the experience of ‘playing out’ with a group of neighbouring children. We spent days exploring, building, and experimenting – always working together and keeping an eye out for the younger ones. We made ramps for bike jumping, a proper raft to fish from, and climbed trees to imitate birds and experience a bird’s eye view. We would often be out all day without interruption or adult direction, only stopping for lunch.

These days children can miss out on the benefits of active learning in the environment; time spent listening, looking closely, thinking, imagining, problem-solving, risk-taking, team work and perseverance. Forest School is doing much to bridge this gap for children, offering them time for child-led activities in the natural environment.

Your children might have a Forest School session at their school or nursery but do not despair if they don’t. You can foster the resilient, confident, independent and creative learner in your child outside school or nursery time. Here are some ideas to give them unstructured time and space to develop skills, interests and understanding through practical experiences in the natural environment:

  • If you have a garden, consider retaining a natural area for exploration; the trampoline provides fun as well as exercise, but a natural environment can enable them to develop awareness, independence and confidence.
  • If you have an outdoor space, set your child up with a messy area. Supply water, containers sticks and stones, and let them use their imagination!
  • Consider teaming up with other parents in your street to ask your local council to close your road for one day a month so your children can play safely together in your street.
  • The next time you take them out, skip the local park and go to the woods (Dulwich and Sydenham Wood are nearby). Take a picnic, let the time while away, and allow your children to explore.

Useful links:

The London Wildlife Trust’s Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Marsden Road SE15 is a great source of

Sydenham Hill Woods offers ‘child-led play for all ages in all seasons and all weathers’ every Friday at 10am. provides help and information on how to apply to get your street closed for a few hours a month for children to play freely in your street.

The Stick Book and The Wild Weather Book, both by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks, provide plenty of fun ideas for outdoor play using leaves, mud twigs etc. in creative ways – and even grown-ups can join in the fun!