Emma Hill, Forest Schools Expert: Ditch CBeebies, Grab Your Wellies - Here's Your Guide to Getting Outside!

February 06, 2019

Emma Hill, Forest Schools Expert: Ditch CBeebies, Grab Your Wellies - Here's Your Guide to Getting Outside!

Emma Hill is the founder of Wild Things Forest School, a weekly forest school experience for children and their carers in the Northern England city of York. She is the winner of two 2019 Little Vikings Awards for Best Active Class and Best Hot Chocolate.

With her promise, “a stick will never just be a stick again”, Emma is an expert in inspiring young children in nature through foraging, tracking, climbing trees, messy play, storytelling and den building.

Here she shares some of her top tips on getting your little ones stuck into the outdoors…

It’s been said before but one of the key things to getting your little ones loving the outdoors is to make sure you are all togged up in appropriate clothing. You don’t have to invest in expensive brands, but think about layering, thermals, t-shirts, all in one suits, waterproof trousers & coat,  snoods, woolly hats and waterproof gloves. If you are going to invest in something think about footwear, traditional welly boots are cold, and best avoided so look at walking boots, snow boots or insulated boots.

And make sure you are kitted out as well as the children, many parents forget about their needs, and end up rushing the children in their play as they are feeling the cold.

Also, go with the attitude that they are going to get muddy and that is fine! If we warn them not to go in the mud we are restricting their confidence to explore, to test out a new terrain and to find out that sliding down a muddy bank can be the best fun (and free!).

As well as talking positively about the mud and dirt try and talk positively about our lovely English weather!

‘yeah it’s raining, let’s go and jump in the puddles’

‘look at the wind, lets blow bubbles and see if we can catch them’,

‘can you see your own breath!  Like a dragon….’

… even if deep inside you just want to curl up on the sofa with a cuppa. If we are negative, they will pick up on those messages and be reluctant to go outside.

Meeting up with friends with children the similar age can be useful – children are very good at distracting each other and taking their mind off the rain, wind or cold. Before you know it they will be chasing each other around and you get support too! 



It’s cold, it’s drizzly, it’s winter in England, tell us some of the tricks you use to encourage children (and parents!) to tear themselves away from CBeebies and go outside:

Start small; you don’t need to plan to be out all day. Go with the vibe, some days they will want to stay out for longer, other days 20 minutes.  Here are some ideas of things you can do:

  1. Find out where your local woods are – until I started on my forest school journey I was oblivious to the number of woods and wooded areas within parks on my doorstep.
  2. I like to give the children their own explorer rucksack with a magnifying glass, binoculars and bug pot in it. Print off scavenger sheets and off you go! Children love looking for things – find something green, shiny, wet….
  3. Use the rucksack to collect woodland treasures – aka pine cones, leaves, sticks, acorns, conkers….
  4. Let the children explore, go off the beaten path.
  5. Is there anything in the bushes to spy at?
  6. Are there any insects hiding under the rock, tree stump?
  7. Can you balance on this log, sorry, I mean pirate gang plank!
  8. Look up – what can you see in the trees? Nests? Buds? Leaves?
  9. Play games – hide and seek is an old time favourite, blow bubbles and chase them, hide things the children have to find.
  10. Try and find some trees for young children to climb – rhododendrons are a great shrub as they have lots of low branches to climb on.
  11. One of the things we love doing the most at Wild Things - having a campfire and toasting marshmallows!  Go to your local forest school, get some tips and try it yourself.



What inspired you to set up Wild Things?:


After reading about the Swedish and Danish ‘Naturbornhavens’ and ‘Skogsbornehavens’ which is where our concept of forest schools originated, I was totally inspired, an ethos which allows children to play outside, manage risks, make decisions and learn about nature. I was sold. As an ex-teacher I love working with children but find the constraints of the classroom suffocating. Running Wild Things allows me to work with children, be creative and help them get a connection with the outdoors and nature.



You work with a lot of children who live in the city; can you tell us about any benefits that you’ve seen your forest school has had on the families you see?:

During some of the sessions we use something called a Kelly Kettle, which is a kettle which allows you to have a fire in the bottom part which heats up the water. The children love this – it’s so different to their kettles, and it gives us the perfect flame out of the top to toast marshamallows. What’s not to love? I have had a number of families that have brought their own Kelly Kettles and they have taken it on their camping trips, woodland walks and even to their granny’s house (where they accidently burnt her lawn). I get photos from all over the county and Europe of the families huddled around their kettles toasting their marshmallows. I love how Wild Things has inspired them to invest in a kettle, and go for their own family adventures!

One of the parts of Wild Things that amazes me time and time again is how well young children can listen and take instructions about how to be safe around the campfire. It’s all about the marshmallow, and their desire to toast this delight. The listening skills, patience, turn taking and respect for fire is heart-warming.

Part of the ethos of forest school is all about resilience and not giving up. One of the young boys was determined to help me light the fire using the flint and steel. He kept trying week after week, but he never quite managed it. One week, full of determination the whole class (made up of 18 month olds to 4 year olds) sat and waited patiently while he tried again, and again. Marshmallow toasting was put on hold, this guy was determined. When he finally lit the fire – there was whooping and clapping from us all, he stood up and faced the group, chest pushed out and jubilantly stated ‘we can now toast marshmallows! I did it!’ He was elated, his confidence had a massive boost and he proved to himself that he could do it if he persisted. Not one of us took a photo of this special moment, or a video as we were all willing him to succeed, drawn into the moment, encouraging and supporting him.

Read more about Emma’s work on her website http://www.wildthingsyork.co.uk or follow her @wildthingsforestsch

Photo credits: Helen Barlow