Forest Schools and PhDs

PhD student Tanya talks about her journey, its roots and where she hopes to go in the future.

My name is Tanya Richardson and I have worked for the University of Northampton for the last four years. Prior to that I owned and managed my own day nursery and out of school club. The nursery had a very tiny outside space and as such Ofsted refused to give me an outstanding rating so…..I bought a field and set up a forest school site!!! I did it, if I’m honest, to tick a box as far as Ofsted were concerned but after a while realised that the children in our care were flourishing when in the natural environment. This sparked an interest in me and I decided to research why children were different when in this kind of space.

What I found was that there was lots of research about the benefits of a natural environment on children’s physical development, on their social and emotional development and on creative development but what did not seem to be documented was the effect that this outdoor play had on speech and language development. I had noticed that children who hardly said a word inside, came alive when in the forest school and their speech was more noticeable. I therefore decided to begin to investigate what impact different play and learning environments had on young children’s speech and language.

I undertook an MA and found that, from a very small scale research project, children did talk differently if they were in the forest school compared to the indoor/outdoor classroom. They used more adjectives, more exclamation words and, in general, a richer range of vocabulary.

What I now want to do, as I undertake my PhD, is take this further and find out if the quality of the environment does indeed have an impact on the quality of children’s speech and language. The first question to ask therefore, is “what is a quality environment with regards to aiding speech and language?” and that, it appears, is a difficult question to ask in the first instance!

When I have a definition of what a quality environment is then I aim to devise a rating scale that can assess environments and apply that alongside an analysis of children’s speech and language to ascertain if there is a correlation between the two things. Sounds simple eh??!!!

Who would have thought that a decision from Ofsted could result in such a detailed research project and providing me with the impetus to research something that could be so crucial to early years? Speech and language therapists in a borough of London have read my journal article about this research and are attempting to trial their therapy sessions in different environments, as a result of my findings. By exploring this further at the level I am, it is my hope that it can make a difference to children’s lives. I know that sounds twee but that’s the aim!

If you would like to read more about this research then you access my journal article by clicking on the following link:


P.S. Ofsted gave me “outstanding” in the end!!!

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