Forest preschool and holiday club set to open on outskirts of Weston
- Credit: Keepers Gate Forest School
A new forest school where children can immerse themselves in nature is set to open on the edge of Weston this autumn.
Co-founders of Keepers Gate Forest School, Nicky Lewis and Rachel Landen, have invested in woodland spanning 30 acres between Bleadon Hill and the Oldmixon estate, in Wentwood Drive.
Across the next few weeks, the business partners are registering with Ofsted and getting the site ready to open. A barn and compost toilets are already under construction.
Co-founder Rachel, who has worked in the early years sector for two decades, said she and Nicky's new forest school is where children can play, explore and learn to take risks in the natural environment, developing confidence and self-esteem through hands-on experiences.
She said: “I started looking for land to buy to create our vision five years ago. We only secured the land three weeks ago, which has been a big journey in itself.
“Children have been staying indoors for longer periods of time as a result of the pandemic, which is going to have a big impact on them for years to come, so the forest school couldn't have come at a better time.
"When children spend uninterrupted time outdoors, immersed in nature, the learning that takes place is huge and we know how important it is for children's mental health and wellbeing to be outdoors.”
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Keepers Gate Forest School will offer children the chance to be absorbed in activities such as exploring, making dens and shelters, painting, observing insects and wildlife, story-telling, being creative, caring for the natural world, and learn bushcraft skills.
Rachel adds that children will be outside ‘all the time’ in all weathers, to get back to basics and immerse themselves in nature and the elements.
She added: “We’ll teach the families about wearing the right clothing through the seasons. We’ll put up shelters with tarpaulins and have a fire going in the winter months, so, really, it’s about being outside all the time.
“Children can come to Keepers Gate full-time or part-time, explore the woodland and take part in lots of activities. It’s about really slowing down and going back to nature.
"We’ll have compost toilets, and running water, but no electricity, it’s really being out in nature.”
Rachel said she and Nicky have known each other for 17 years and the pair are both level three forest school trained. Nicky has been a reception teacher for 17 years and Rachel has worked in the early years sector for 20 years.
Rachel added that the pair are hoping to open their forest school this autumn, with their Ofsted registration in process. The forest school barn is currently being constructed in Bridgwater and will be completed by August 7. The compost toilets are being made in Rachel’s back garden.
Rachel and Nicky have an eco-friendly focus and are trying to do as much of the construction themselves as they can.
Rachel added: “The barn will be sitting on pillars above ground, so if you remove it, you wouldn’t know we were there.
“Our carbon footprint is very small, the barn is only one level and will have a sedum roof. The sedum will attract bees and insects. There are also bats on-site, so we are going to build and put up boxes to help them in their habitat.
“We have so many ideas to really help children understand and care about their environment. We need to help them look after nature, so they can teach the next generation about sustainability.”
Keepers Gate Forest School will open 50 weeks of the year in term time and will offer spaces for up to 24 children. There will be 20 spaces for three and four-year-olds, as well as four spaces for two-year-olds, subject to government funding.
Opening hours are governed by daylight to protect bats in the area and Keepers Gate Forest School will open from March to October from 8am-6pm. The hours will shorten slightly across the winter months.
The on-site holiday club will run across all holidays, except for Christmas, for four to 13-year-olds.