A democratic, inclusive and nurturing space where children can decide how they spend their time, while learning to build and maintain a community.
The Garden is part of a rapidly growing movement for small, independent groups who take inspiration from a variety of educational and other philosophies or movements, as well as current evidence in educational theory, to build unique spaces for children. At the centre of our vision are emotional wellbeing, our social culture, a learner-led approach and the physical environment.
Central to our ethos is the emotional wellbeing of each child. We believe that an emotionally safe and nurturing environment is the fundamental on which children can discover who they are a lead a fulfilling life. The keystone of this is our unconditional, or non-judgmental, approach; without punishment or reward. We also draw on mindfulness and actively encourage the enrichment of our emotional vocabulary.
The next layer of our philosophy is the social element. We believe that if children are furnished with an ability to make decisions and solve problems collaboratively and co-operatively then their skills will always be in demand. The most important tool employed by The Garden in this area is the democratic meeting. These are held at least daily, sometimes more and during which we make agreements (rules), make plans and decisions (for example how we spend our budget) and resolve conflict. We draw on the principles of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and restorative justice in our approach to conflict.
The third level is our learner-led approach, in which we draw on project-based learning, permaculture design and the maker movement to allow children to be auto-didactic, adaptable and resilient learners. Children are generally free to decide how they spend their time at The Garden, with adults there to provide resources and guidance when required or requested. We champion daydreaming, reflection and tinkering, to preserve intrinsic motivation, curiosity and foment a lifelong love of learning. Children spend a short time each session participating in our journalling game, in which they reflect on and document the activities of the previous session and planning their current session, in whichever form works best for them (e.g. drawing, writing, photos, scrapbooking etc).
The final component of our vision is the importance of the physical environment. As Forest School leaders, we know that children (and people in general) benefit, both physically and psychologically, from spending more time outside. The educational philosophy Reggio Emilia goes further, telling us that the environment is the third teacher. The Garden is set in a beautiful, natural environment, with a secure acre of woodland, meadow and ponds, rich in inspiration and possibility. Natural environments provide opportunities for children to take risks in a relatively safe way, developing their physical abilities, as well as their judgement.
Play is the highest form of human expression
Community is central to wellbeing
Autonomy is key to fulfilment
Connection to nature is essential