Nature helps nurture confidence
'I'm a big believer that not all classrooms need to have walls and you can teach any subject outside.'
That is the mantra of Alnwick father Mark Tuff, who uses the great outdoors to help children with learning difficulties.
Indeed, the 48-year-old’s popular forest school is proving just the tonic for youngsters with additional needs.
Equipping children with the skills to light fires, use gardening tools and grow vegetables might not be the traditional approach to learning, but Mark believes his philosophy is effective.
His sessions aim to have an educational purpose, but mostly importantly, perhaps, they are designed to break down barriers and give youngsters with specific needs the chance to thrive.
“I really do believe that the forest school is an inspirational process, offering children opportunities to achieve, developing confidence and self-esteem through outdoor learning,” says Mark.
“My sessions are based on free play, letting the children be themselves and moving between the activities which they find interesting.
“It is about letting them learn their abilities in a non-judgemental environment and once they pick up the skills, they are self-sufficient.
“I have seen so many children benefit from this type of learning, coming out of their shell and really developing.
“These sessions are all about the children and gives them the chance to get some fantastic results.”
Mark certainly has the knowledge to make such a judgement. Not only is he a qualified survival, bushcraft and forest-school instructor, but he also has an autistic teenage son.
From his own personal experience, he has learnt what makes children with learning disabilities tick and how to bring the best out of them.
And if ever proof is needed that Mark’s forest-school sessions are working, then it is the fact that he is expanding his Lone Tree Hill Outdoor Experience venture.
Currently operating from a forest site at Kirkley Hall, near Ponteland, Mark is on the verge of launching new sessions at Howick Hall Gardens. Every Wednesday, starting from February 21 and running 10.30am to 1.30pm, he will run a session aimed at children who are taught at home.
He said: “I have had a lot of interest in this and these sessions will use the forest-school ethos and we’ll be teaching lots of skills.
“Costa Coffee in Alnwick has also donated cups, which we will be using for all sorts of crafts and growing vegetables.”
On top of this, Mark will be running a monthly Saturday session at Howick, from noon to 3pm, starting on February 17. While they are aimed at children with special needs, they are open to their peers and siblings.
Mark also insists that the sessions are good for the parents, giving the chance to meet others in the same boat and share ideas and experiences.
Mark’s work has attracted positive reviews on his Facebook page, including glowing comments that his sessions are ‘excellent, inclusive and without judgement’.
For more information, message Mark via the Lone Tree Hill Outdoor Experience Facebook page.