Soft play makes me come out in a nervous rash. Playgroups give me headaches.
Don’t even get me started on the Topsham Play Cafe. (Such a haven before people found out about it, darn it).
Maybe it’s the suffocating stuffiness (sweaty feet + crushed snacks + too many toddlers). Or the constant umpiring of toy sharing. Or the fear that my son might unleash his toddler fury at any moment.
Most of all, it’s the four walls.
Likewise, staying at home for an entire morning with a toddler boy just isn’t an option – no matter how grey and dismal it is outside.
Which is why I love Wednesdays. Each week I bundle my baby into his sling, wrestle my two-year-old into his waterproofs and – rain or shine – we head for the woods for a morning at Exmouth Forest School.
If you go into the woods today…
Deep in the forest, under the towering Norwegian spruces, you’ll find an inviting camp filled with welly-clad toddlers and hear the sound of Nick, the forest school leader, playing his ukelele.
After a wholesome sing song with Fred the Fox (you gotta love it), the first task of the day is hunting for ‘number one’ sticks to build the camp fire. It’s a job my little one relishes because later in the morning he gets to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate brewed on the fire, followed by the joy of joys: a toasted marshmallow.
The morning is spent hanging out in the camp, making mud cakes in the mud kitchen, splashing in muddy puddles, playing hide and seek in the dens – and getting stuck into a craft activity. So far we’ve built a bug hotel, made woodland sprites, leaf collages, crowns and necklaces, and even baked bread. Sometimes my two-year-old is too busy stomping around the forest to join in the activity – and that’s fine too – whatever you fancy. No pressure.
When he’s not making fire, sawing wood, building dens or strumming his ukelele, Nick always has a fascinating fact about the forest or something special like giant toadstools to show us.
Forest School is ideal for siblings too. Five days old, my newborn attended his first session wrapped snug and tight in my sling.
I think people thought I was a bit nuts – but life goes on when you’ve got a toddler and we needed to get out and about, rather than crawling the walls at home.
And where better than Forest School, where there’s always an extra pair of hands, a warm brew and the reassuring confines of the camp, in case you need to feed your littlest.
Now four months, my tiny one still sleeps through most of Forest School, allowing me precious 1-2-1 time with my eldest. Some other mums of two, with bigger babes, dutifully drag their pushchairs through the mud…it’s worth it.
Sceptics might wonder why we don’t just go and play in the woods, or go for a walk – for free. But Forest School provides much more than just outdoor exploration and play.
We love the structure and routine of building the fire and playing games.
And we love the company. My toddler gets to hang out with his Forest School friends and I get to chat with other mums (actual adult conversation, in between games of hide and seek and stuck in the mud).
Each week my growing boy gets a bit bolder and more independent, and I get to step back and relax a little more. Might even get to finish the odd sentence or drink my tea before it turns cold.
Without a doubt Exmouth Forest School is one of the highlights of our week. Every Wednesday we return – hair smoky and faces slightly sticky from marshmallows – worn out and ready for a nap. Job done.
Find your nearest forest school: http://www.forestschools.com/find-your-local-forest-school