Urban nature hero

Urban nature

Green spaces in cities are being given a new life by Forest Schools – places where children can learn about the natural world in an urban environment. We head to east London to sample one of the capital’s best outdoor adventures.

Audi Q3 car parked in Hackney

A child sitting in the Audi child car seat in the Q3 car

Big-city life can be all-consuming, which is why spending time in nature is so important. Thanks to a growing trend for Forest Schools – where children can be educated about the outdoors in a range of city parks and beyond – you won’t have to travel far.

My nine-month-old son Bodhi is at his happiest when we go on nature walks, so, with my sister and her young son Max, we decided to try out Forest Kids Hackney: a loosely guided walk, once a week, for two hours across Hackney Marshes in east London. For children, spending time outdoors not only encourages time away from screens, but can also help with building confidence and creativity. This is why Forest Schools – a concept originating in Scandinavia as a solution to the lack of indoor facilities for pre-school children – has gained momentum in the UK.

A child in a yellow raincoat looking at a river

Forest Kids Hackney has been running for six years, growing in popularity as parents seek more wholesome activities for their young children. Kim Golding, who started it, wanted to get her own kids outdoors, ‘come rain or shine’. She soon realised others, like my sister and me, wanted to as well.

So, on a slightly damp weekday morning, we packed the car with our outdoor gear and drove to Hackney in our Audi Q3 S Line Edition 2.0 TDI with quattro, happy in the knowledge that the kids were sitting comfortably in their Audi car seats in the back.

It’s never easy getting the kids ready for a morning activity, but Forest Kids maps out the route via WhatsApp so you can catch up if you arrive late. For once we weren’t delayed and joined the walk, along with about 15 other parents and their kids. We crossed a cobbled bridge before heading through a stone gateway leading to the marshes. The best thing about this walk? You don’t actually do that much walking. We meandered over to a stone circle, let the kids out of their buggies and stood around chatting while they explored their surroundings.

Woman holding a toddler

Two toddlers in raincoats standing by a train in Hackney

For Max, that meant trampling through piles of damp autumn leaves, throwing them in the air and playing kiss chase with his little pal, Celeste. For baby Bodhi, it was more about crawling through dewy grass, finding big leaves to twiddle between his forefinger and thumb, and putting dandelions in his mouth.

After 40 minutes, everyone slowly regrouped and walked a short distance, over another bridge, to the next piece of open land. Again, the children explored and the parents enjoyed being out in nature, keeping a not-so-watchful eye on them. ‘Finding activities to suit both a baby and toddler can be tricky,’ said mum-of-two Claire, ‘but these walks are free, open to everyone and suit a pram-aged baby, and a two-year-old who is desperate to run around. I love that we are all outdoors, together, for a couple of hours each week.’ And I agreed.

After our stint in the wilds of the marshes, we waved goodbye to the group and headed home for a nap. I can see why Forest Schools and activities like them are taking off in cities – it entirely satisfied any yearning I have for countryside life, realising I have a slice of it right on my doorstep. Words by Annie Ridout. Photographs by Alexander Rhind.


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