The phrase ‘heuristic play’ was a term coined by child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid in the 80’s to describe the activity of babies and children as they play and explore the properties of objects from the real world. She was the creator of ‘treasure baskets’, a resource used frequently in nurseries, full of natural real objects for children to explore.

Heuristic play is about playing with real life, everyday objects and providing children with an opportunity for open-ended discovery.

We have taken this play type and have put ‘real’ objects in our rooms for children to explore. Let’s face it some of the pre-manufactured plastic toys don’t even look anything like the item they are supposed to be and how many times have presents been bought for children to find the toy left to one side and the part played with is the box that it came in!  We have found that children seem curious and engage in play with increased focus.  Real spanners, screwdrivers, pots, pans, cameras, keys, coins and food boxes are some of the items found in our resources. The dressing up clothing was changed to contain lengths of material and ‘real’ accessories such as snorkel, flippers, football boots and glasses. Gone were the pre-made ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Snow White’ costumes as children will often only ‘be’ these characters and the adults would without thinking comment on the predisposed character rather than letting the child explain who they were pretending to be. Children experimented with material, wrapping it around their bodies to be brides, mermaids, superheroes, worms! Children used their imagination and demonstrated their creativity. Staff found they could stand back giving children time to process thoughts and invite the adults into their play.

We also decided to reduce the plastic toys in the den room, reducing the cars, dolls and figures with the goal of removing them completely. Often children were found ‘holding’ toys to stop others from having them rather than playing with them. These toys seem to be the root cause of many arguments and some children would spend a lot of time disengaged until finding a ‘particular’ toy. By removing many of the toys it has meant that children need to use their senses and their imagination. Imagining takes us beyond what we know, into the future or into another world. We see alternatives and possibilities; we work out what we need to achieve our goals.

It has been a dream to go back to basics and re-connect children and staff with their environment. A little like the character Tom Good in the television programme ‘The Good Life’ who became disillusioned with life and opted out of societies expectations and become completely self-sufficient. With this in mind, we are going seasonal both inside and out! The current urgency to reduce our use of plastic has given us cause to rethink what we provide. In the den room we are using up the last of the pre-bought brightly coloured paints and plastic shimmer shower pieces. We have waved goodbye to glitter and the forest of paper. Instead we are making our own paints from natural resources found on site, painting on material which can be washed and re-used. We aim to make our own charcoal and forage to become more in tune with our environment and the seasons. For example, during forest school children have used the charcoal from the fire to draw images as part of a story telling activity and during the past months children and staff have been collecting pinecones ready to use at Christmas. Our children will remember and gain an understanding of time and changes over time, have a sense of ownership of resources and where things come from. They will be grounded and respect what we have and where it has come from rather than resources being another product bought in. Free Rangers has always been about the process rather than having something to take home. With this new direction we hope our children will have some ‘time out’ from the consumer driven society that we are currently in.

And with articles hitting the headlines regarding well-being that indicate a change in how we live needs to happen to promote a healthy mental state. A world where children and adults need time, time to stop and take a breath, to be bored, to not be on call every moment, to be quiet, thoughtful, joyful without the need for things, to be at one with the environment, to be content.

Here’s to living the good life.


Forest School in the Hive

Exploring the tree house.

Exploring the tree house.

I have been working at Free Rangers for the last 3 years and love that we are always evaluating everything we do to see how we can improve our practice to benefit the children. Up in the Hive we have an amazing outdoor space that we use every day. In this space we set up new and exciting activities that allow the children to explore natural resources. We especially love a good bug hunt. However, recently it occurred to me that as a Forest School nursery, what was stopping us opening that world up to the babies on a more regular basis? Upon evaluation it was evident that other than adapting the activities there was nothing standing in our way.

From that moment I was on a mission to create a forest school experience for the babies. After conversations with management I set up a meeting with Ed and we were on our way. Ed is our Forest School Manager who has always kept the babies involved, he would often shout over the fence “One, two, three, where are you?” and several of our older babies would smile and shout “Over here”.

Ed introduced me to the vast but necessary amount of risk assessments and activity planning, and we talked in length about how and what we had to adapt to make the forest school safe for the babies. We decided to do two groups a day, each with 6 children, focusing mainly on the children moving to the Burrow in the new term. However, each time we would take a selection of walking and non-walking children so everyone is included.

And now here we are, coming to the end of our first week of baby forest school.


For our first week of forest school we enjoyed a picnic snack outside in the forest school area.

Then we sung and marched our way up to the top car park where all the blackberries were. The children have been learning how to safely pick berries without getting hurt, and have really relished the independence of picking their very own berries.

Then the children helped crush all the berries…

…to make beautiful pictures.

Finishing with some fun in the willow tunnels and tree house.

The babies and the staff have loved the experience and the feedback from families has been amazing. I’m looking forward to creating more fun and exciting forest school opportunities for the babies and am excited to see how it benefits the children.

Bring Back Bedtime Stories!

A few months ago we were shocked to learn that the humble bedtime story is quickly becoming a thing of the past! Storytime is one of our favourite activities here at Free Rangers. It’s no secret that the adults love a bit of The Gruffalo as much as the children do! So, we decided to put our heads together and come-up with a way to bring back bedtime stories.

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Can a child's diet affect their behaviour?

As a parent myself I always notice the instant effect of some foods and drinks on my children's behaviour. (Never again will a Fruit Shoot pass their lips!)

But what is the latest research saying?

Instinctively we feel that sugar almost instantly turns our children into Tasmanian Devil style lunatics who run around and ping off all the furniture. But physicians say there is no scientific evidence to co-oberate our theories. 

One line of thought is that adrenaline is released upon sugar consumption (particularly highly refined sugars) more quickly in children than in adults, meaning behaviour, in the form of hyperactivity will result. But more recently, a link has shown between healthy guts, healthy minds and positive behaviours.

This article explains how this relationship works:

Healthy Guts

So whether you're a finger licker or a bowl scraper, at Free Rangers we always strive to provide the children with unrefined sugars, leafy greens and food that will promote gut health and a balanced diet. As research grows, it seems we really should listen to our "gut instinct" when it comes to what we should be trying to feed our children. 


S.L.E.E.P - we all need it to make us happy!

Last month we went to the Be.Nips seminar in Bath for Mental Health and Children.

We heard Paul Stallard, Professor of Child and Family Mental Health at the University of Bath advise us all to remember to talk to our children. This seems easy and like common sense, but how do you actually discuss your child's feelings or indeed not say the "wrong" thing.

Paul used an analogy:


S: Stop what you're doing and engage with your child if they have given you a cue they want to talk.

L: Listen to what they are saying. We all want to help our children but sometimes we can be guilty of butting in and trying to solve the problem.

E. Empathise, put yourself in their shoes and confirm that you can understand why they might be feeling like that.

E: Explore, what made them feel like that? What happened to make them build up to these feelings? Explore the context of the problem with them.

P: Plan a way to cope with the scenario if it happens again.

A negative cycle in thoughts can happen when children focus on their weaknesses rather than their strengths, so try to build an environment in your home where strengths are celebrated and weaknesses treated with compassion.

We also found these little resource cards from Mindful Kin, they are great for exploring feelings and starting to open up discussions about how your child is feeling.