My young head gardener hadn’t had the best of mornings and wasn’t very talkative. So we went to the forest school area where he busied himself making a den out of whatever wood he could find while I pruned the mulberry in silence. Half hour later we were clearing paths and chatting until the rain beat us inside. Then, with very limited tools – a wet bit of paper, some chairs, a book to act as a ruler and a blunt pencil – he sketched out a bench he wanted to make for the school. His design skills were incredible and the way he used whatever was at hand showed an intelligence that was imaginative and practical.

Not all children are academic and so we have to find different ways to teach them Maths, English and a love of reading. The lad has to keep a diary after each session with me – but at least he is writing from experience, about something he excels in and that stretches his vocabulary. It is then published on the school facebook page.

Children learn everywhere, whatever they are doing. Which is what worries me when I hear the words catch up.

Do children really need more academic cramming or wouldn’t they benefit from what some experts in child development have labelled a “summer of play” – helping pupils recover from the stress of lockdown and a year of Covid upheaval. As PlayFirstUK point out ‘Instead of extra lessons, catch-up summer schools and longer school days, children should be encouraged to spend the coming months outdoors, being physically active and having fun with their friends.’

Moulsecoomb Primary works with a whole host of different organisations that help deliver a wide and varied curriculum. These aren’t opt outs – you need a certain type of brain to dismantle a bike wheel then put it back together. Brighton Table Tennis Club teach Ping Maths, Albion in the Community PE and team skills, Little Green Pig bring literacy and writing to life. And as for the chickens – the wonderment of children as the eggs hatched in the nursery incubator was a sight to behold. As the strapline for Every Child Should says “Every child should have rich and rounded experiences that develop skills for life.”

I love nothing more after a forest school session telling parents how amazing their child has been. After harvesting the school sweetcorn the children had grown, we all made a fire to roast the corn when one child said this was the best day ever and it didn’t feel like school. But we had learnt food tech, ecology, science….

Schools can’t rely on overstretched teachers to deliver all these activities but outside providers who are trusted, have expertise and are known to the children and the families.

Moulsecoomb Primary’s stunning school grounds hosted a successful summer scheme run by Brighton Table Tennis Club which will be now be happening every holiday. While we run an annual summer scheme for Moulsecoomb Primary pupils. The school is also incredibly lucky to have the support of YHA offering their hostels to pupils for residentials and will do once again, when lockdown allows.

The trick is – and this is where relationships are so important – is making sure that all children get a chance to enjoy these activities.

What children really don’t need is more staring at screens. They need to catch up with their friends and have some fun. Because guess what – children can still learn while enjoying themselves.

* If you want to support our work delivering these activities (and more!) why not become a Friend of the Forest Garden.

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