The One Where We Cooked Seaweed

Have you ever cooked seaweed? Not the kind you get from many takeaways (which is usually cabbage) but actual seaweed? Well you are in luck, the British and Irish coasts are abundant with edible seaweeds (just check the sea water quality!) so it’s all a matter of taste. In fact, until very recently, cooking and eating seaweed was an important part of our coastal diets.

For the beach schoolers, we harvested and cleaned some Ulva, known as sea lettuce, fried it in olive oil and served with a sprinkle of sea salt. A few beach schoolers thought it was delicious. Some thought it was absolutely disgusting. But nearly everyone gave it a try. For the record, I think it tastes a bit like spinach.

It is always important to forage sustainably, seaweed is an important part of the marine ecosystem, so only take what you need, and don’t go crazy. There’s a useful resource here.

Wild Paper Making

The Beach Schoolers latest adventure in to sustainable crafts has been making their own paper. We have been taking advantage of the dry and sunny weather here in East Kent and making recycled paper. I prepared some pulp, made from used brown packing paper (soaked for several hours and then blended using a hand blender!) Then together we cut scraps of used tissue paper and added them to the pulp – tissue paper softens and starts to break down in the watery mix quite quickly.

We spooned the pulp on to our moulds and used our hands and flannels to squeeze out the excess water and bind the paper fibres together. Brilliant squelchy sensory fun. Then we flipped our paper on to some parchment and left them to dry in the sun. On a bright sunny day, some of the thinner sheets could be taken home after about 2 hours, though best results came from the paper being left to dry for 24 hours.

Because of our location in the marine environment, I was very conscious to use only bleach and chlorine free paper in our pulp, but you could do this activity with almost any paper in your recycling box.

We enjoy a purposeful craft activity – having a strong focus on process not only provides an activity that can be experienced in an open-ended way. Some Beach Schoolers were fonder of cutting the paper and stirring the pulp, while others were definitely “squelchers”! A process-based experience also provide huge opportunities for developing descriptive language, as well as a deepening appreciation of where everyday items come from and how much energy it takes to produce them.

You could extend this activity by adding wildflower seeds to your pulp to make your own seed paper, which could also make lovely gifts. I’m even quite tempted to make seaweed paper one day!

Clay Work

The Beach Schoolers and Kirsty @throughthehedge spent some time this week exploring natural clay. Clay is often overlooked in early years and schools for being a bit messy and unpredictable but it actually has the most incredible soft responsive sensory qualities.

Clay lends itself to open ended creativity because children often need lots of time working with clay, but it is incredible for motor skills development: Pounding, pushing, rolling, squeezing, poking, pinching and twisting.

Because of its responsive qualities, we observed that small children are naturally fascinated by clay. It responds to their touch so they are motivated and empowered to keep experimenting with it. Through work with clay, they are learning not only how a natural material behaves, but also how to make something in their imagination take a physical form, the development of their imaginative expression.

We use 100% natural clay as it is suitable for use in the natural environment (air dry clay often contains plastic polymers), a stainless steel tray and some simple wooden clay tools. We also recommend having a bowl of water to dip your clay in if it starts to get dry. And if you are worried about the mess – always take it outside.

Other experience ideas for natural clay:

Making faces on trees/ seawalls

Pinch pots


decorated tiles

Find more inspiration here:

Native hands: Wild Pottery

Millie’s Garden Instagram

Photos by Kirsty Southam

I’m a Forest School Leader, but I am not an Outdoorsy person…

Rachel and Rose in the Locavore Garden at Martello Primary. They are looking at a freshly picked radish. There are spinach leaves growing in the foreground.
Rachel and Rose in the Locavore Garden at Martello Primary. They are looking at a freshly picked radish. There are spinach leaves growing in the foreground.

I am a Forest School Leader, but I am not an outdoorsy person.

At least I used to think that was the case… I have dyspraxia, which means things like tree climbing, tool use and even moving around uneven spaces do not come very naturally to me. I don’t learn very well from visual instructions. You will rarely find me whittling, not unless I have a big box of plasters to hand…

But I love being outdoors. Being outdoors lights me up and restores my mental health. My dyspraxic brain sees and feels outdoor spaces in a unique way. It is an incredible problem solver and has huge empathy. So you won’t find me happily climbing up a tree? That doesn’t mean I am not experiencing a huge amount of joy down on the ground.

Naomi @intersectionalmotherhood recently facilitated a brilliant conversation about the dominance of Forest School in Outdoor Learning provision. One of the things that troubles me is that we only seem to value a narrow range of outdoor experiences. Despite following most of the Forest School ethos, my practice has been criticised for not being ‘Forest School’ enough. However, I couldn’t meet the needs of my learners (and my own needs) by only offering Forest School style experiences and that would exclude us from developing our own relationship with the outdoors.

Forest School can be empowering for many, but if we are looking to truly diversify the outdoors, we must recognise that different humans experience being outdoors in different ways. These are all valid, they are all important. And they can all be joyful learning experiences.

I would urge the outdoor learning community to consider neurodiversity when developing programmes. We have a huge role in shaping perceptions of what being ‘outdoorsy’ is. Nurturing connection with nature is key, no matter what that looks like or where it takes place. If well-being and involvement levels are high, does it matter if someone doesn’t like touching mud?

If we want to build genuine long lasting relationships with the natural world, which is urgently needed in this climate crisis, the outdoor experience can not be limited. We must make all people feel like that they too can be ‘outdoorsy’.

This post was originally posted on Instagram: Come and read some of the conversation it sparked here:

Outdoor Learning at Home: Week Two

Hello friends, I hope you are safe and well? Thank you for getting in touch about last week’s newsletter. I really love seeing what you have been getting up to and connecting with you. Except if you have had lots of snow, in which case, I am just extremely jealous…

I don’t know about you, but as we are entering this second week of lockdown, there have been some big emotions around here (mainly from me). There has also been a lot of overwhelm (also, mainly me!)  However, in our house, getting outdoors always makes us feel better – it is guaranteed. The combination of movement and fresh air help us to move through and release the negative emotions. 

I feel very conscious not to add to other people’s overwhelm though. This newsletter is not a list of things for your family to do this week, it is just seasonal ideas for outdoor fun. Simply dip in to what might work for your family at any time. Stay safe and follow the government guidance.

You are doing an amazing job. Let’s go!

Photo: An animal print on a muddy footpath in Walmer, Kent.

Look for animal tracks 

Have you ever spotted animal tracks in the mud, sand or maybe the frost and snow? Winter is a really good time to hunt for animal tracks because it is so wet and soggy. Animal tracks can tell us which animals have been in an area. When you see an animal’s track, you know it has moved through that exact spot. 

If you can find more than one track and look at the spacing between steps, you might be able to tell whether the animal was moving speedily or slowly. If the tracks are far apart, they were probably moving quickly. Tracks close together indicate slower movement. 

You can find animal tracks anywhere in the Winter. Even in our towns and cities. Have a look for some tracks when you are out on your daily exercise, what story are they telling you?

Photo: A soft toy ladybird in a mini den made of sticks and pine needles.

Make a Mini Den 

One of our favourite Forest School activities is den building. A secret place, free from the grown ups – such excitement! Den building is a great activity for children of all ages, from physical development to problem solving skills. However, while we are in lockdown our access to places for den building, like woodlands, might be limited. Do not fear! Why not try building a mini den for your toys? Collect some sticks and leaves when you are out on a walk and create your dream den in miniature!

When den building, children are able to think creatively and put their ideas into reality. Creating dens gives children the opportunity to think outside of the box and problem solve in order to create a structure. They can also develop communication and language skills if they are working as a team to create their den, because they will need to take turns, explain their ideas and negotiate with others.

If you can’t find any sticks and leave, or are unable to go out, you could use cushions, building blocks, wooden spoons and even old t shirts instead.

Photo: A child writing on a map drawn on cardboard with a sharpie.

Go on a Listening Walk

When you go on a Listening Walk, rather than looking for things, you are trying to focus on the sounds you can hear around you. There is a lot less traffic during lockdown, so this is a great time to try a Listening Walk.

  • When you are out on a walk, stop often, and in different places. Try and be as quiet as you can. Ask your child what they can hear.
  • Notice sounds, both near and far away. Talk about how loud the sounds are. Talk about what’s making the sounds. Are they made by people or machines, or  are they natural noises like wind or birds?

Younger children might enjoy copying some of the noises they hear. See whether your child can make a sound like a seagull or a car engine. An older child could draw a Sound Map, showing where they have walked and what he has heard along the way.

A Listening Walk is a great activity for early reading skills. It is also a great way to pay attention to what’s happening right now, moment by moment. This is also known as mindfulness.

Find a Face in a Strange Place 

Sometimes you can find an imprint on a pebble or a shape in tree bark that looks like a face. You might even see a funny face on a lamp post or a car that looks like it has a face on its bonnet. 

Looking for faces in strange places can be a fun game to play when you are out for your daily walk.

If you’d like to add to this activity, why not talk about how you think the face might be feeling? You can talk about different scenarios and what face you would make in them. Recognising feelings is also an important step in developing self awareness and empathy for others. These are really healthy coping skills, especially in these very strange times.

I really hope your enjoy this week’s activities. Please let me know if you try them. You can tag me on Instagram and Facebook @holdfastbeachschool

Speak to you next week.

Stay safe, Rachel

Outdoor Learning at Home: Week One

Getting outdoors in Winter can feel tricky. It’s not easy to motivate yourself when it is warmer and drier at home. But spending time outdoors has proven benefits to both physical and mental health, it can boost your mood and boost your immune system. Both essential in this period of Lockdown.

Even though I have been working outdoors, throughout the seasons, for nearly a decade, I still feel it is much easier to get outdoors when I have something to do. I like a task and so do the children that I work with. So I am creating this weekly newsletter for you which will contain ideas for outdoor activities that will enhance your home learning and, most importantly, purposeful reasons for you and your family to get outdoors every day. These are all activities that you can do in your garden or on your daily outdoor exercise. Please just stay safe and follow all the social distancing rules.

Lets go!

Snails hibernating behind a plant pot in Rachel’s garden

Go on a hunt for hibernating snails. 

Winter is a time when many creatures go in to hibernation, a long deep sleep. They do this to conserve their energy when there isn’t much food available for them and also to protect themselves from the cold and the frost.

Did you know there could be creature hibernating in your garden? Many of our land snails hibernate in the winter. Why not go on a snail hunt in your garden or local area? 

See if you can find gangs of snails gathered in disused plant pots, in crevices in walls, holes in trees and other sheltered places. 

Snail’s bodies are mainly made of water, so they hibernate to stop their bodies from freezing. Snails make a lid out of their slime  and put it over the mouth of their shell, which can protect them for several months. They find suitable nooks and crannies in walls, under stones or deep in leaf-litter where frost won’t penetrate before sealing themselves in for a good long sleep.

If you find snails hibernating, please leave them where they are. They’ll wake up when the risk of frost has passed.

A rain jar from Hattie Garlick’s book ‘Born to be Wild’

Measure the rainfall

Here in East Kent, our winters are less white and more wet. But the rain can still be a lot of fun! 

Try making your own rain gauge and train to be a weather forecaster. You will need an old jam jar, paper, pencil, scissors and sellotape.

  • Cut a strip of paper as tall as your jam jar and use a ruler to mark centimetres on the paper.
  • Sellotape your strip of paper up the length of jam jar. You might want to cover the paper entirely with sellotape as it is going to get wet!
  • Leave your jar outside for a predetermined amount of time. You may want to try an hour or even a whole afternoon.
  • Bring your jar back in and, using your paper measuring tape, check how much water has fallen in that length of time.

Need a bit more challenge? Become a meteorologist – a weather and climate scientist. Repeat this activity for a whole week and make a bar chart showing how much rain fell every day. 

Rachel’s daughter walks on a path through some Ivy

Look for evergreens

Sometimes it can feel like winter is quite grey. But there is some bright colour out there – the evergreens! Deciduous trees shed their leaves all at once to adapt to the cold seasons. But evergreen trees and plants lose their leaves slowly through the year, which means they are green all year round, even in the winter. Hence the name – evergreen!

The World Health Organisation says that greenery in towns and cities can promote mental and physical health by providing psychological relaxation and stress alleviation. 

Why not go for a walk and see what evergreens you can spot in your local area. Common evergreens are Ivy, Holly and Pine. Ivy, in particular, can be found growing in most urban areas, it even grows up walls. However be careful picking Ivy and Holly, as their berries are poisonous to humans.

I am Ivy, I cling and bind, evergreen vine of the forest

My leaves gleam with a leathery sheen and have delicate tendrils that grow and cover earth or tree.

I can grow old and strong, weaving my way up trees to the sky. Sometimes I smother but rarely so; my way is to weave and climbing grow.

In winter I shelter the birds that bravely stay in this land. I am food for deer and sheep who have few greens to keep them strong.

(from The Children’s Forest by Dawn Casey, Anna Richardson & Helen d’Ascoli)

Phases of the moon from Nat Geo Kids

Keep a Moon Diary

When the days are short, it can feel like there are not enough daylight hours. But we can make the most of the longer nights by enjoying the wonders of the night’s sky. Whether we are in a town or the countryside, we are all looking at the same glowing Moon. But the Moon doesn’t emit any light itself. What we can see when we look at the Moon is the sunlight reflected off its surface. as the Moon orbits the Earth, the Sun lights up different parts of it, making it seem as if the Moon is changing shape. In fact, it’s just our view of it that’s changing…

 If darkness has fallen, see you if you can spot the Moon. Maybe you could draw or what it looks like, find out what phase it is in and keep a Moon diary (top tip – the next new moon is on 13th January).

If you are going on a walk after dark always take a responsible adult with you. You should wear warm, waterproof clothing and you might want to take a torch and ask the adult to take a fully charged mobile phone.

I really hope your enjoy this week’s activities. Please let me know if you try them. You can tag me on Instagram and Facebook @holdfastbeachschool

Speak to you next week.

Stay safe, Rachel

Tips for Adults in a Child-Supporting Role at Beach and Forest School

The Forest School philosophy is about connecting children (and adults) to their natural environment, creating opportunities to develop creativity, confidence, resilience and learning, as well as promoting ways in which children can experience risk.

Forest School is often described as a child-led process, but I think it is much more helpful to think of it as being learner-centred. We want to give opportunities for creativity and confidence building and it is shown that the optimal place for this is in child-led play. But that is not going to happen with learners that are unable to participate due to developmental reasons or learning differences. Being expected to ‘lead’ in these cases may cause complete reluctance to participate or cause anxiety.

In these cases it is particularly important to remember that Forest School is a process and the process is moving from adult-directed to child-led. By being learner-centred, we are reminded that some learners will require more adult-direction than others. As long as we are still supporting and scaffolding the development of confidence, creativity and resilience, this is still Forest School. It’s a process, and it will take some time to find the right balance for your setting. Here are some tips that may help:

1 – Ensure your learners are able to communicate in the Forest School setting.

Please feel comfortable to bring any communication tools or techniques your learners may need and to use them – be that anything from visual cards to electronic devices. Communication builds confidence and confidence is essential.

2 – Do something you enjoy

There are normally a variety of suggested activities available at a Forest School session. If you are supporting a learner who is reluctant or unsure, then find something you would like to do and lead by example. You can support activities by stimulating inputs. Remember, that in Forest School there is no right or wrong. Modelling activities is an important part of Forest School and you are going to be able to convey more enthusiasm for something that you are enjoying. Forest School is for everyone and if you are participating you might get something out of the process too.

3 – Do not worry about outcomes.

While there may be a number of suggested activities in a Forest School session, none of them are compulsory. If we are making insect homes, for example, it is not necessary for every participant to make an insect home. If a child wants to spend the whole session digging, that is fine. If a child wants to spend the whole session lining up sticks, that is fine. There are no learning outcomes of a Forest School session. If any assessment is taking place, then it is likely to be just an assessment of their well-being and their involvement (using Leuven Scales is very common).

4 – Don’t be afraid to feedback

Forest School sessions can fly by, but do not be afraid to give feedback to the Forest School Leader. Reflective practice is a critical part of the Forest School process and as an extra pair of adult eyes, you may have important observations or insights that the Forest School Leader hasn’t seen and would welcome.

I hope these tips help with participating in Forest School sessions. Please let me know if there are any others that you think of.

The Certificate in Therapeutic Skills for Outdoor Leaders

Throughout July, August and September, I have been working on gaining the Certificate in Therapeutic Skill for Outdoor Leaders from The Therapeutic Forest CIC, who run inspiring inclusive Forest School groups for children with SEN in Manchester.

This course is normally run at Manchester Metropolitan University. But due to the current pandemic, it has been moved online so I jumped at the chance at being able to gain the qualification remotely.

The four module of the course comprised of:

The Therapeutic Toolkit: Learning how to support the emotional wellbeing of children in Forest setting through improve emotional regulation, growth mindset, solution focused approaches and the promotion of resilience and motivation.

Meeting the needs of children with learning disabilities at Forest School: Using strategies to support children with specific difficulties including Down Syndrome, Autism, ADHD, SLD, SLCN and PMLD. Learning how to adapt equipment and use communication supports to meet the needs of children with different learning disabilities.

Supporting children with attachment difficulties and developmental trauma: Understanding Attachment and tailoring strategies to different attachment styles. Understand and apply the Circle of Security during Forest School Sessions. Adapting communication to best support children with attachment disorders. Supporting looked after children in the Forest using the PACE model.

Child development and developmental therapies at Forest School: How to use techniques used by Speech and Language therapists to support language development. Strategies to support the development of Social Communication Skills. Supporting the development of gross and fine motor skills.

As you can see, it is an incredibly rich and challenging course. However, going forwards I will be registered as a Therapeutic Forest Approved Practitioner and will be supported by being a member of that network. I’m really looking forward to being able to enrich my practice with these new skills.

Nature and Mental Health

Looking back, it often feels strange that something I love so much came in to my life at a time that was so dark and lonely, but I discovered Forest School when my son was a baby, when I was recovering from post-natal depression and anxiety. I quickly realised that it not only provided a place for both us to learn about the natural world. But it also provided much more, this time in nature was hugely restorative for my mental health when more conventional therapies hadn’t helped me. Forest School gave us a regular reason to spend whole mornings in nature, away from our suburban lives. When we were there I felt calmer and happier. The UK mental health charity, Mind, says that regular time in can help with mild to moderate depression and eco-therapies like social-gardening and forest bathing are now prescribed around the world. Being a naturally curious person, I’ve been intrigued as to why being in nature and developing a connection with nature helped provide me with a coping strategy.

Research about the impact on nature on our mental health is ongoing, but here’s what we know so far:

Researchers have found that there is a direct correlation between low levels of vitamin D and increased risk of depression. We don’t yet fully understand why this is, but scientists have found that there are vitamin D receptors in the areas of our brain associated with the development of depression and the best natural source of Vitamin D is UV light, outdoors from sunlight, which can be synthesised by our skin. Though we do still need to be sun-safe!

Research has also shown that bacteria in soil, known as Mycobacterium vaccae, can activate our brain cells to produce the ‘happiness’ chemical seratonin in a similar way to antidepressants. A lack of serotonin has been linked to depression and anxiety. This ‘friendly’ bacteria can get in to your bloodstream just through contact with the soil.

Being in nature can also provide you with a peaceful and undistracted place to practice mindfulness. Research from Oxford University has demonstrated that Mindfulness therapies can prevent relapses of depression and could provide an alternative to long-term antidepressant use. Practising mindfulness is not just about seated meditation, there are many ways to find a place just to be in the present. For me, and many other people, this comes more easily when I am in a more natural environment and away from the distractions of everyday life.

I found my nature place at Forest School, but if you are struggling to find a place for you to spend time in nature, here are some tips:

1 – Mindful Walking/ Mindful Mapping: Go outside and simply start walking. The key to walking mindfully is to pay attention and to notice your surroundings, rather than being lost in thought. Our minds wander naturally, this is normal, but when you get home sketch a map of your walk and add as much detail as you can. The next time you go for the same walk, try to pay even more attention and see what else you can add to your map on your return.

2 – Spot Sitting: Sit in a natural spot or just by a window with a view and see what you can see. Sit in the same spot on a regular basis and just be present. If you find your mind wandering you could try to identify species of trees, listen for different bird song, play games with the shapes in the clouds or chart the phases of the moon. Visit the same spot regularly and see how it changes through time.

3 – Plant some seeds. Either outdoors or indoors, planting seeds in soil will get you in contact with some of that friendly bacteria, Nurturing and watching plants from seed can also help us feel more connected to natural world.

Spending time in nature has been shown to help mild to moderate mental health problems and some of these techniques may help you feel more connected with the natural world. However, if you are suffering with your mental health please speak to your GP.  You are not alone. You might also find helpful:

The Samaritans –  Providing emotional support 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week –  Phone: 116 123

PANDAS Foundations – For everyone affected by peri-natal mental health issues – Phone 0843 2898 401

Action for Happiness – More resources and evidence-based ideas for actions to make us feel happier

A version of this article originally appeared in the Autumn edition of Robin & Rose Nature magazine

The Cloudspotter’s Guide

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We see clouds nearly everyday, especially here in Britain. They float in the sky above us and sometimes block out the Sun. Sometimes clouds are white and puffy. Sometimes they are dark and cover the entire sky. Different kinds of clouds can mean different kinds of weather.

Meteorologists study the formation and make up of clouds to understand the weather better and if we want to better understand our amazing planet, clouds are a great place to start. I created this cloud resource for the Beach School, however, I thought it would be perfect for us all during these ‘stay at home’ times because you can cloud spot in your garden or even just out of your window.

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This guide is perfect to explore the wonders of our cloudy skies. It’s a great resource to add to your nature study. You can cloud spot almost anywhere in your garden or even just out of your window.

This 5 page PDF file includes:

– a printable cloud observation window

– a guide to 9 types of common cloud and what they mean

– ideas for games to extend the learning and mindfulness prompts.

The Cloudspotter’s Guide is available as a digital download through our Learning Resources shop

Simply print, cut out the central window and hold it up to the sky. We like to attach lollypop sticks to the bottom too, but it works very well without.

I hope you can share pictures with me on facebook and instagram (@holdfastbeachschool) of you using it and I really hope you enjoy it.

You will also be amazed what scientific terms small children manage to learn through playful nature connection.

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