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A very Muddy history: Lizzie

I am often asked how I became involved with outdoor learning and Forest School and built the Muddy Puddle Club business into what it is today. So here's a bit of background on how I came to do what I do today and why I often geek out on Piaget.

To understand how I came to build a career working in outdoor education you have to go right back to my own childhood. I am one of four children and growing up in the 80s we spent our time playing with our friends mostly in a copse and common behind my house. We had a pretty free childhood with lots of freedom and space to play, some of my fondest early memories are soaking conkers in vinegar in the autumn to win at conker fights and spending endless hours making daisy chains and looking for 4 leaf clovers. As a teenager I found my community in outdoor adventure groups, trips spent jumping into far too cold lakes and in the woods wild camping. But also in music and the wide variety of diversity which that brings into your life. Needless to say I loved the outdoors and have always had a strong connection with the time and space that nature allows but also with people, with stories and a passion for community.

I completed my degree and teaching qualification in the early 00s and we can then fast forward to 2009 when Greenwich borough was funding training for Forest School leaders. I left my level 3 course having had a life changing experience, a new understanding of learning and the power of the outdoors. My main interest was in play theory and how the outdoor environment supports and enhances purposeful play and the impact that being outside has on mental health.

Delivering in London to children who never had outdoor play time and very little connection with nature was fulfilling and a huge learning experience for both me and them. I was sad to leave them when my life took me away from London and further south to Hampshire when my eldest was born. At the start of 2013 I started delivering Forest School sessions to children in my small town, Whitchurch, in a small local woodland in a beautiful water meadow on the river Test.

The following year, I was approached by parents in Basingstoke to start a weekly group there, which I did with the support of the rangers at The Vyne, National Trust. In 2014 we were also joined by Charlie who volunteered for us one summer and never left! In 2015 I took 6 weeks off to have my second child and it's also the year we started working with Linda in Bramley Frith.

In late 2014, I first met with Annie from Cambium Sustainable to start my journey to becoming a Forest School trainer but had to put that on hold for a while to focus on family. I finally began the process in early 2017 (at the same time we became a recognised FSA Forest School provider) and qualified in 2019.

Since 2013 Forest School has been my focus and passion. I have met some incredible people along the way, families, parents, children, Forest School leaders, rangers, and outdoor learning professionals of all kinds. This year, 2019, I took 4.5 months off work to travel Europe with my families with the aim of looking at how play based outdoor learning and adventure play influences other societies. That's a whole other blog post (or 5). I have spent time working in nature nurseries to gain experience, shadowed trainers, attended numerous CPD events, cooked on the fire uncountable times, made mistakes, learnt huge amounts from children, laughed (a lot), tried really hard not to talk about politics in the woods, experienced the absolute kindness of people and found a place that feels like home. Play based outdoor learning, in particular the Forest School approach, isn't just something I do with my life, it has influenced my life in so many ways and allowed me to live my best life. I look forward to many many more years!

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