Get Kids Outdoors with the Free Forest School

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Have you heard of the Free Forest School? Kidding Around’s Melanie recently enjoyed a Free Forest School outing with her daughter. Today she’s sharing all about this group, their mission and what you can expect at Free Forest School outings.

Most of us grew up in a different world than the one in which we are raising our children. I can distinctly remember going to a friends house, and then the two of us ran off to go explore the woods by her home. I think I was 10 or 11 at the time and otherwise very vigilant parents didn’t even give it a second thought. We came home covered in mud and exhausted,  but with memories that I still hold dear decades later.

Children now have high tech distractions to occupy their attention and parents have more things to be concerned about. Our modern world provides less opportunity for children to scamper off into the woods like we might have done when we were young. That is where the Free Forest School can help your kids create these type memories.

What is Free Forest School?

According to the organization’s web site, “Free Forest School ignites children’s innate capacity to learn through unstructured play in nature, fostering healthy development and nurturing the next generation of creative thinkers, collaborative leaders and environmental stewards.”

This international organization has local chapters that go on regular weekly outings to outdoor spots, year round and rain or shine. As long as the conditions remain safe, a little bit of precipitation won’t slow them down. Participating in Free Forest School activities are FREE. The only cost is if that day’s outing is at a park that has an entrance fee, however these are usually very minimal.

Our local Upstate Chapter serves both Spartanburg and Greenville. The group has weekly outings to Lake Conestee Nature Park, Campbell’s Covered Bridge and Croft State park. Before heading out to see what Free Forest School is up to, you will need to fill out a waiver and go over the rules.

The group is focused on child led exploration so, strollers should be left in the car. Some locations are rustic and do not have restroom facilities. If a restroom is required, parents are encouraged to lead children away from the trail to squat in the woods for relief. I know this all sounds like a lot and possibly a bit intimidating, but if I could do it with the world’s strongest willed three year old, you can too. I promise.

A Free Forest School Outing

We recently had our first adventure with the group at Croft State Park in Spartanburg. We walked a short trail to a swimming spot on a river that I didn’t even know existed within the park. Once we arrived the kids all ran to splash in the water, and the older kids took advantage of a rope swing hanging over the river.

Not knowing what to expect, I came completely unprepared. My daughter had a swimsuit, but no flotation device. Another mother noticed that in the parking lot and quickly offered up her spare one for us to use. I only thought there would be some casual splashing around, so I left my bathing suit at home. Dipping my toe into the water, turned to wading into the water, which resulted in me falling fully clothed into the river. In the spirit of going with the flow and being carefree I just dove the rest of the way in and spent the rest of the time as if I had a bathing suit on.

I watched my daughter explore the water and riverbank. She chased a frog, touched a butterfly, petted a crayfish, caught tadpoles and had a dragonfly land on her hand. We had such a good time, and my only regret was not having my son there at the time to enjoy it with us. The group usually has a potluck snack / story time, however I think too much fun was being had in the water.

Another thing I love about this group, is that they try very hard to be inclusive of children with all abilities. For a special needs parent, not feeling like you have to apologize for just participating is a big deal. During the school year, outings occur during school hours and are mostly pre-k and home schooled children. During the summer months older school age siblings are welcome too!

If you are looking for ways to get your children outside and exploring nature, I can’t recommend a better way than Free Forest School!

More information about Free Forest School can be found on the local chapters website.

For an up to date outing schedule join the Greenville Spartanburg Free Forest School Facebook group.

About the Author
Melanie is a native New Yorker, who landed in the Upstate by way of Florida. She is the mom to two awesome kids, and the three of them love going on adventures! She enjoys sharing her finds with friends and loves even more that she can share them with Kidding Around readers! She can be found on Instagram @figuringthisoutdotcom

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