Open Air Theorists

Friedrich Frobel (1782-1852) and Margaret Mc Millan (1860-1931) were both pioneering advocates for outdoor education and form part of our rich tradition where outdoor play, risk, and challenge, are keystones of effective early year’s provision. This strong distinctive tradition continues to inspire and inform our practice and values today: the links to Forest School are many and clear.

Frobel saw the outdoors as a place where children could develop in harmony with nature. He believed in a divine unity and connectedness between all living things. His educational philosophy was holistic and practitioners nurtured and facilitated the growth of each individual child. Children where given great autonomy but also had to take responsibility for their communities and for nature through first hand experiences. Nature was a way for children to develop their sense of self and their place in the world. Imaginative free play was encouraged and provision was tailored from close observations of the children’s interests. Natural materials and physical processes were investigated and promoted as having high educational value. Nature was a place where parents, teachers and children could play and work together.

McMillan believed that time spent outdoors could dramatically improve children’s health and that the youngest children should be the focus of attention. The open air was central: the indoor spaces merely shelters for use in very bad weather. Everything could take place outdoors, play, sleep, meals, stories, games.

Our nursery was founded on the principles of McMillan shortly after her death, whole walls of the classrooms would open allowing unrestricted access to the large communal garden. While the concertina walls are now gone the outdoor area is still a vital part of our philosophy. Our Forest School Sessions continue this direct link to our roots.


Margaret McMillan Forest School @ Narroways
“The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky” Our sessions are held in the open air. Minimal resources are taken – rather imagination is added to the wide variety already there.
“Space, that is ample space, is almost as much wanted as food and air. To move to run, to find things out by new movement, to feel ones’ life in every limb, that is the life of early childhood.” There is plenty of space at Narroways and room to expand as confidence grows. Children are enabled to follow their own interests and set their own challenges, many of which are physical – allowing the children to feel more alive as they operate on the borderline of their comfort zones.
“The garden is the essential matter. Not the lesson or the pictures or the talk. The lessons and the talk are about things seen and done in the garden” Learning through doing outdoors is also at the centre of our sessions with nature as the inspiration.
“Suppose you want to develop the touch sense! Lo! Here are a score of leaves, hairy sunflower, crinkled primrose, glossy fuscia, and the rose. Do you want to compare colours, to note hues and shades? Well here is wealth a plenty. The herb garden will offer more scents than anyone can put into a box, and a very little thought will make of every pathway a riot of opportunities.” Just as Margaret McMillan shows how nature fulfils the educational mores of her day so too are our sessions held accountable to the Early Years Foundation Stage. Demonstrating through observations, evaluations and planning how sustained attendance with sensitive facilitation in this diverse natural environment amply covers all areas of learning in the EYFS.
“Every child needs a bigger world than the one we are getting ready for him. Our green plots and ordered walks are good and right but who does not remember that he once liked to play in a big place where there were no walks at all and no rules?

Therefore a nursery garden must have a free and rich place, a great rubbish heap, stones and flints, bits of can, and old iron and pots. Here every healthy child will want to go, taking out things of his own choosing to build with.”

Forest School takes it a step further by taking the children out of the garden into a wilder place altogether (Narroways) with very few rules. Children are encouraged to use the resources already there and available to them, to determine for themselves what is safe and not safe, to assess their own risks and set their own challenges. Learning is child led.