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Nursery children spent a day exploring their local woodland – but the fun and games disguised a serious purpose that could set the youngsters up to lead healthier lives.
The day out was designed to encourage parents to take their children into the woods to play and learn in a natural environment.
It was organised by the Forestry Commission Wales Woodlands for Learning (WfL) team and came as a new survey showed up to 75% of junior school children in England and Wales preferred to stay at home watching television or playing computer games during the summer holidays.
The WfL team sought to tackle the issue of obesity in Wales – described as “a drastic epidemic” by the National Obesity Forum for Wales – during its annual event to display the health benefits of our woodlands to parents, children and education experts.
Laughter and yelps of joy rang out in Gogerddan Wood, Penrhyncoch, just outside Aberystwyth, as children from three local nurseries, along with their parents, took part in a variety of activities and followed a trail through the natural playground.
The youngsters explored the resources available in Welsh woodlands – leaves, twigs, animal footprints, fresh air – and played in the mud, built animal homes and created smelly cocktails to stimulate their natural interest and curiosity.
Sue Williams, Woodlands for Learning team leader said, “The emphasis of the event was simplicity and use of the natural environment. You don’t need anything except your wellies to enjoy a day in the woods.
“Hopefully, the time spent will inspire confidence and a desire to return to woodlands again and again.”
Woodlands can offer an outstanding learning and play resource. They are accessible and stimulating environments that offer a safe, robust and exciting arena for all kinds of learning, for all kinds of people.
In Wales, they are more often than not on people's doorsteps, meaning they are accessible at all times for families to enjoy.
But with concerns over so-called “stranger danger” and safety, many parents were reluctant to let their children roam free, giving rise to terms like “cotton wool kids”, said Sue.
With health statistics showing that 36% of under 16s are overweight or obese, Sue said it was more important than ever to get children out into the natural environment as young as possible.
“If children can establish a connection with and interest in nature in early life, this can help lead to a healthier lifestyle and combat obesity as they grow older."
It is a view supported by Natural Childhood author Stephen Moss, who bemoaned the decline in children’s play in the outdoors in his recent report for the National Trust.
“The time to act is now, whilst we still have a generation of parents and grandparents who grew up outdoors and can pass on their experience and whilst there remains a determination to do something positive in this area,” he said.
The WfL Team is doing its part by delivering woodland learning and play sessions to about 18,000 children a year, as well as running some longer programmes and providing training for teachers and learning professionals.
It also supports many other partners and initiatives, all with the aim of increasing the amount of time children spend outside.
The nurseries taking part in the day were St. Padarn’s Nursery, Mes Bach – Comins Coch Nursery and Aberystwyth Cylch Meithrin.
Parent and nursery assistant at Cylch Meithrin Aberyswyth, Elin Mabbutt, said, “The event was excellent and tailored ideally for pre-school children, who all had a great time.”
Caption: Nel, Llew and Rhiannon of Cylch Meithrin Aberyswyth listen intently as Education Officer Juliette Staples brings the woodland to life.
NOTES TO EDITORS
A total of 14.3% of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
The Woodlands for Learning team delivers woodland based learning experiences throughout Wales, supports the development and delivery of Forest School and facilitates the Forest Education Initiative on behalf of its partners.
For more information on learning in the woodlands of Wales, contact Sue Williams on 0300 068 0109, mobile 07789 923830, email email@example.com
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales
Press office contact: Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email firstname.lastname@example.org