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October 2, 2014
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School of Tarzan?

By Pablo Toledo
For the Herald

Forest nursery school in London lets kids explore

In the heart of north London lies the ancient Queens Wood, a green forest hidden away in a metropolis of more than 8 million residents. The sounds of the city seem to fade away * as a group of children plays in a mud kitchen, pretending to prepare food and saw wood.

These aren't toddlers (1) on a play date (2) — it's an unusual outdoor nursery school (3), the first of its kind in London, following a trend in Scandinavia, Germany and Scotland. It allows local children to learn, and let their imagination run free, completely surrounded by nature.

The “Into the Woods” nursery was opened in April by primary school teacher Emma Shaw for children from two-and-a-half to five years in age. She said the natural environment works wonders (4).

“Children learn through movement and from doing things,” she said. “So everything is practical and hands-on outside, so the learning comes a lot more naturally as we don’t have to set up opportunities for them to problem-solve and risk-take because they are all here and they can set their own challenges, which boosts their self-esteem.”

Each morning a group of children gather at the Queens Wood camp. A circle of logs (5) provides a place to gather for snacks, stories and songs. The mud kitchen provides an opportunity to make a proper mess and have a sensory experience, a rope swing provides some excitement and a challenge, and several tents are set up for naps and washing up.

In a clearing in the woods, a fallen tree trunk can be transformed by imagination into a rocket train, calling at the beach and the moon, with leaves for tickets.

A two-year-old, Matilda, finds a stick — but in her mind it's not a stick. It's a wand. She says she is a magic fairy (6) who can fly. Then suddenly the stick has become a drum stick, and a gnarled (7) tree stump her drum. She taps away contentedly, the rhythm all her own.

Forest schools are increasing in popularity in the United Kingdom, with many schools offering short courses for children to spend time outdoors, building dens, climbing trees and exploring.

Adapted from a story by Siobhan Starrs for the Associated Press

(1) Toddler
A toddler is a child who has recently learned to walk and still toddles (walks with small, unsteady steps). It usually describes kids who are 1-3 years old.

(2) Play date
Grownups date as part of their love life – kids have play dates when their parents make appointments with other parents and get a group of children together to play in a home, plar, playground or any other kid-friendly location.

(3) Nursery school
Depending on the country and educational tradition, educational institutions that offer early childhood education receive different names: in the US they are usually called “preschools,” the UK tends to prefer “nursery schools,” while the German term “kindergarten” was coined by Friedrich Fröbel and became the basis for our Argentine “jardín de infantes”.

(4) Work wonders
If something works wonders, it achieves very good results – a wonder being something that makes you feel surprise and admiration.

(5) Log
Let's talk about the parts of a tree: under the ground we have the roots, from which we get the trunk which supports the branches. In the branches we find the leaves. The whole tree is covered by bark. A log is a piece of wood that has fallen or has been cut down from a tree.

(6) Fairy
A fairy is a magical creature typical of legends and folk tales – which usually get the name “fairy tales” because they feature so many of them!

(7) Gnarled
A gnarled tree is twisted, rough and covered with bumps or knots. It is sometimes used to describe the hands of old or ill people.

* Fade away
When something fades away, it gradually disappears, becomes less bright or less intense (it is also the title of a song by Oasis, from that brief period between the day they broke out with a handful of great songs and that the time they started producing boring copies of themselves... but I digress). The verb “to fade” always has the meaning of appearing/disappearing gradually, and is used in many phrasals or contexts.

It often refers to light and sound. For instance, songs which end with the sound turning down rather than with an abrupt stop “fade out” (just like songs which begin with a sound that slowly grows in volume “fade in”), while a scene on a film that slowly turns black is called a “fade to black” effect. Colour fades from clothes after washing many times, too.

@destierrado

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