Forest play aids nursery children's mediation skills
A trial of outdoor learning in the woods designed to promote independent play in nursery children led to them learning to solve disputes themselves.
The Pontycymer Nursery youngsters were part of a test project in Bridgend.
The children were encouraged to play together and with materials such as buckets and trowels and were discreetly observed by staff.
The trial was led by the Forestry Commission Wales.
A group of nine children spent about three hours every week for a 10-week period at the Rockwood Woodlands for Learning (WfL) centre in Pencoed, Bridgend county.
At their first Play Project session, the children were taught how to carry out a simple risk assessment of the woodland and given basic resources such as buckets, ropes, trowels, mud and water to encourage them to start playing.
The resources were reduced each week until the children just used what they could find in the woods to interact with and use in their games.
The adults with them, play leaders from Woodlands for Learning and the nursery staff, observed the children discreetly and recorded how involved the children were in their play.
Part of the philosophy behind the project is modelled on outdoor learning in Sweden, which aims to encourage independent learning.
WfL education manager Karen Clarke said each child was assessed three times during the session for two minutes each time to analyse how they were interacting with their environment.
She said of the mediation skills the children started showing: "The conflict resolution came along during the project. Withdrawing adult-led interaction, it was a byproduct of the process.
"It was a very positive side of it."
She added four children in particular who appeared not to be interested in their surroundings at the start became much more engaged as the project went on.
The children learned "how to negotiate with each other to get an agreed outcome" and were "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."
Ms Clarke is now hoping to repeat the project with slightly older children in the Year 2 (six to seven years) age group and is looking for schools interested in taking part.
Lynne Walsh from Pontycymer Nursery said they hoped the project would foster a lifelong interest for the children in the natural world, and respect for the environment.
Her colleague Nicola Prior is studying for a master's degree involving observation.
She said of the project: "The children have grown in confidence over the weeks and are able to implement conflict resolution strategies independently."
Ms Prior said it was also helping their social development and they were becoming "increasingly creative with the natural resources available to them."
Staff have transferred some of the techniques back to the nursery allowing children to use their new understanding of negotiating and problem-solving in the normal classroom setting.