Children’s woodland games could offer lessons for life

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A group of nursery children are having their every move discreetly monitored as they play in their local woodland as part of a project that aims to equip them with essential skills for the rest of their lives.

The children from Pontycymer Nursery in the Garw valley, Bridgend are taking part in a trial being run by Forestry Commission Wales to study how they interact with each other and the environment, when left to make their own choices.

It’s hoped the activities of the three- and four-year-olds, as they play in the natural environment at Rockwool Woodlands for Learning centre in Pencoed, Bridgend, will provide evidence for a new lifelong learning template for young children.

A small group of nine children spend around three hours every week at the outdoor centre where they have the woodland all to themselves to explore and play in, with minimal adult interaction.

The Play Project sessions are led by Woodlands for Learning (WfL) team Education Manager Karen Clarke, alongside Forest School leader Lynne Walsh and other school staff who observe how involved the children are in their play and record their findings.

During the first session, the children were taught how to carry out a simple risk assessment of the woodland and were given some basic resources such as buckets, ropes, trowels, water and mud to encourage them to start playing in an environment that some of them have never been in before.

Each week, the resources are reduced until the children just use what they can find in the woods to interact with and use in their games.

Karen said, “The children make their own choices about what to play, communicate with each other and mediate their own disagreements without adult intervention.

“They learn how to negotiate with each other to get an agreed outcome and are finding out about becoming more resilient when things don’t go their way.

“These are important lifelong skills that we hope will remain with these youngsters long after the programme ends.”

Each week, the children become more confident about exploring the woodland and grow in independence. They go home, covered in mud, with wet feet but smiling and positive about their experience.

Lynne Walsh, who teaches at Pontycymer Nursery, said, "The children have quickly become very at home in the woodland. It’s the start of respect and responsibility, and hopefully a lifelong interest in the natural world."

Members of the WfL team visited Sweden, where outdoor learning is the norm for even the youngest children, to pick up tips for encouraging child-centred learning in a woodland setting in accordance with Welsh Foundation Phase aims.

It’s hoped the Play Project will provide enough material to determine how freely chosen play can support children’s levels of involvement.

Already, nursery staff have transferred some of the techniques indoors, allowing children to use their new understanding of negotiating and problem solving back in the nursery.

Staff member Nicola Prior, who is studying for a Masters degree involving observation, said, “The children have grown in confidence over the weeks and are able to implement conflict resolution strategies independently.

“They are also making progress in personal and social development and well-being areas of their learning and becoming increasingly creative with the natural resources available to them.”

A full report will be available to view on the Forestry Commission Wales website in the near future on the education pages at


1. Holly, aged three, is happy to show off her muddy hands.

2. Some of the children from Pontycymer Nursery at play in the woods.


A total of 14.3 per cent 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 about the Play Project, contact Karen Clarke on 02920 886842 or email

Rockwool Woodlands for Learning is a registered charity and the Rockwool Woodlands for Learning centre is leased by the Forestry Commission Wales Woodlands for Learning team for the delivery of training and school visits.

More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on

Visit News at FCWales for news, images, press office contact details and links to case studies.

Press office contact: Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email