As you all know, we are huge advocates for outdoor play and learning and this plays a significant role in our daily routines, activities and outings, and the children’s learning and development is enhanced as a result.
However, we often find that there is one aspect of outdoor play and learning that is commonly overlooked by so many settings and practitioners, but is one that we are incredibly keen for our children to not only learn about, but participate in, is the art of foraging.
‘Foraging’, put simply, means to obtain food or provisions by searching. For many Early Years setting, it may never occur that the possibility of introducing foraging outings and activities into routines is relevant and beneficial to the children. But, as we’ve discussed before, children’s play and learning becomes more meaningful when they are able to experience something first-hand and through hands-on exploration and investigation.
The learning and development opportunities that can occur as a result of foraging in the natural world and outdoor environment really are endless; not only do children have the opportunity to learn about plants, nature and their environment, but they also begin to develop an understanding of seasons and how these seasons affect the natural world as a result.
Foraging is not just an activity or experience restricted to summer; it is an all year-round experience which present itself as a whole new learning opportunity as the children begin to learn about which ingredients grow during which season whilst also developing their understanding of growth, decay and changes in relation to flowers, plants and food. For example, in the summer we have foraged for elderflower and blackberries, in autumn we have foraged for walnuts and in the spring our children are keen foragers of watercress.
In the current climate, many may argue that foraging for food is not particularly relevant for today’s children, particularly those in the Early Years, however we argue that foraging not only provides children with essential life skills and a developing knowledge of the natural world, but also the process of growing and harvesting food and how this can be used for our benefit.
Foraging can be introduced and adopted by all types of settings, in a wide range of locations, regardless of the type of provision you are. Also important to mention is that foraging isn’t exclusively for older children, children of any age (where developmentally appropriate) can learn these basic foraging skills and participate in foraging activities. We have children as young as two years old who can confidently identify elderflower plants and a range of other berries as a result of their early exposure to the natural world and the opportunities on offer to them. This is a truly remarkable skill for children so young and proves first-hand how beneficial these natural experiences are.
Similarly, there are countless ways in which foraging can be introduced and implemented into a range of different settings; nature walks, incorporated into your growing areas or as part of your Forest/Beach school sessions.
Foraging does not just stop with finding and picking the ingredients, instead can be extended and developed within the setting too; for example, cooking/baking with the items the children have foraged is an incredibly beneficial opportunity and a great way to summarise and develop the children’s experience. In addition to this, the children may need computers, books or leaflets to research whether or not what they have found is edible, and again how they can incorporate these into their meals and snacks. Not only this, but children can develop their early writing skills; writing ingredients, recipes and labels for their creations.
In the past year, our children have foraged for wild ingredients on various random outings and adventures we have embarked upon, many times just stumbling across this wild produce rather than pre-planning the experience, and as a result the children have created their own home-made lemonade, elderflower cordial, ketchup, jumbleberry jam and passata; all through the collection of wild ingredients that they not only identified and foraged themselves, but were then also actively involved and responsible for the entire process from start to finish, resulting in them bottling/jarring their creations and taking them home to share with their families, in addition to sampling each of their home-made creations within the setting and as part of their mealtimes too.
These experiences enable children to develop a new found independence and confidence when exploring and investigating the natural world, by sourcing their own wild ingredients and then learning new skills in order to prepare and cook meals and condiments for themselves, their families and their friends. In addition to this, of course some of these ingredients have a longer production process than others and so children also learn about time, patience as well as being able to re-visit an activity in order to complete the process themselves.
Using opportunities such as foraging and harvesting food and ingredients, enables children to have full control of their food preparation and this has an overall positive impact on the child’s attitudes towards food and trying new ingredients/flavours; this is only magnified when children are in charge of collecting/growing their own ingredients too.
Foraging is not only a fantastic opportunity for children to learn about the wide range of natural ingredients that can be found and eaten in the wild, but also enables them to develop an understanding that there is also an element of danger too. For example, on many woodland walks and outdoor experiences, children may encounter a patch of wild mushrooms growing in the wild; mushrooms are a common ingredient found in most kitchens and a vegetable that most children will be aware of and have tasted at some point, and so may expect to be able to forage mushrooms they encounter in the wild. And so, this then presents an opportunity to talk about potential dangers of touching and tasting certain items they may find and so becomes another essential learning opportunity as a result of foraging; allowing the children the opportunity to explore and differentiate between ingredients that are safe to forage and eat, and those that are not. Not only a life skill, but a survival skill.
Due to the increased pressure on practitioners to conduct risk assessments and ensure that everything the children encounter is safe and clean before using/eating, may impact on how some settings approach foraging as a whole, however these negative/concerned thoughts and ideas surrounding foraging as an activity is then cascaded to the children and as a result impacts children’s natural curiosity and wonder of the wider outdoor world.
These real-life experiences are the ones in which we should be advocates for whatever type of setting we are working within as these are the experiences and opportunities the children will not only benefit from the most, but remember too; where they have been allowed to freely explore and fully experience something for themselves with no restrictions or set rules, where they have been able to let their curiosity run wild – and experienced the incredible benefits as a result.