CLIMBING trees and den building were initiatives to fire the imagination.

For all the benefits technology brings to our daily lives, sitting and swiping across a screen doesn’t come close to the satisfaction of creating your own fun or the excitement of outdoor exploration.

Now it appears parents are keen for their off-spring to benefit from outdoor education initiatives - perhaps to give them the opportunity of embracing the care-free activities they enjoyed during their own childhood.

Today’s children tend to be more cosseted and it is easy to appreciate why. Parents shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to protect their children, it is the natural thing to do, but exploration is part of growing up and being exposed to a safe element of risk is, many argue, actually good for their health.

Using her expertise as an outdoor learning practitioner, Viky Sutcliffe teamed up with her sister, Bethan Searcey, who has a degree in childcare, to launch ‘Out in the Aire’ in February.

Viky explains the reason for setting up their own forest-style school was to try and encourage more children to explore the great outdoors - and enjoy the benefits it brings such as building confidence, and self-esteem through hands-on learning activities and experiences.

“A lot of children are wrapped up in cotton wool and are not understanding controlled risks like tree climbing,” explains Viky.

'Out in the Aire' encourages children to take controlled risks, such as climbing trees, collecting wood and learning how to build a fire in a safe environment with experts on hand to demonstrate how it is done.

Viky explains the sessions, held in private woodland and activity centres around Bradford and Keighley, are also giving children the opportunity to appreciate open spaces within the area which are becoming few and far between.

“There aren’t enough green spaces around. I live in Keighley and we know they are playing on the streets because there aren’t enough green spaces to explore safe places. We provide the space for them to come to; our place is private as well,” says Viky.

The sessions, aimed at the two to fives, also give parents the opportunity to spend precious time with their children participating in activities.

Viky explains the two hour sessions, held on Mondays and Wednesdays and fortnightly on Saturdays, help children to work together as a team and participate in less structured activities where they can explore their interests.

“They have got the space where they are out in the open, where they have space to run around learning lots of new skills, being confident at such a young age,” says Viky.

She explains how they learn how to manage small risks through supervised activities such as using peelers to whittle wood. Walking on uneven surfaces and playing on rope swings helps to improve their motor skills.

Working with the Forest of Bradford, ‘Out in the Aire’ manages the private woodland close to the former Hallmark Cards building. They also work with the Woodville Activity centre in Keighley. Future plans include offering taster sessions to nurseries.

Viky explains children are learning transferable skills for adult life.

“Children develop their confidence, they need to have social skills, they need to be aware of other people as well. It is essential to being a real human being and being safe as well and team work. When they start going to school they start working with other people.”

Learning about the environment is important too. “There seems to be a lack of understanding and a respect. It doesn’t seem to have filtered through from times in the past where people understood and respected nature. We need to inspire our young people to go forward in the future and look after the environment,” explains Viky.

Lily Horseman, chairman of the Forest Schools Association, explains Forest Schools developed around the mid-90s after a group from Bridgewater College, Somerset, saw first-hand the positive impact of early years woodland-based provision in Scandinavia. The Forest School Association was set up in 2012 to promote best practice and quality among practitioners.

“It’s being independent as a learner, being creative, being imaginative. It is working on lots of different levels,” says Lily, who helped to develop Bradford’s Forest School Network and is now based in Cumbria.

“It’s real learning as well and it is real tangible stuff.”

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