Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
Rosie Goodwin
Family Arts Correspondent
9:33 AM 31st October 2019

Focus On Forest School With Dalby Diddies

Dalby. Photo by Michael Hill
Dalby. Photo by Michael Hill
The Royal College of Psychiatrists and Forestry England have recently championed the need for getting outside, crucial, it seems, when it comes to combating the winter blues.

No matter the weather, venture out of doors is the advice at hand, including with children. With some estimates suggesting that over half of ten-year-olds have never made a den, with only slightly more having climbed a tree, it is refreshing, exciting even, to hear about a success story to counter this in a forest close to me.

Dalby Diddys, a Forest School based in Dalby Forest in the North York Moors and run by Hidden Horizons, specialists in outdoor learning, has just announced that they are expanding their sessions – from November 5, they’ll be running three per week, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The sessions are led by Donna McAnulty, a Montessori practitioner and Level 3 Forest Schools Leader. Her enthusiasm and passion for all things Forest School are clear immediately. She loves what she does, the fact that she “can use real tools and light fires!” as part of her actual job – as can the children participating – and is blessed with a calm patience that goes a long way when working with the under 5s!

For Donna, Forest School just works. In fact, Donna can list a lot of advantages – more than I could possibly have imagined. Forest School not only brings children of a range of ages closer to nature, but also helps them to grow in confidence, independence and self-motivation. It awakes their senses, she insists, instils a desire to care for the natural environment, increases motivation and concentration and can even make children less prone to pick up common infections.

Forest School is also about learning to take calculated risks – risks that will set children up for real life when they reach adulthood.

I know, too, that as a society our understanding and our knowledge of the natural environment have been under threat for some time. Last summer, during a land art project using entirely natural, ephemeral objects, I was taken aback by the number of children who confused pinecones and acorns. It was a gentle reminder that each new generation is at risk of becoming steadily less nature-literate.

It’s fantastic news that Dalby Diddys is expanding, allowing even more youngsters and their parents to experience the wonders of the forest, to try out life-enriching experiences and to develop their creative play and resilience within a natural environment. In an age where so many of us, myself included, find ourselves reaching for electronic devices as easy childcare, it’s uplifting to encounter something so confidently different.

Forest School as we know it started in Denmark in the 1950s and has evolved over the decades whilst remaining true to its origins. At its heart, it continues to assert passionately that woods and forests are magical, exciting and endlessly creative spaces which provide a wealth of precious and natural resources, from twigs and sticks, to minibeasts and crawling creepers, for fire-building, waterplay, scrambling, dangling and generally meandering.
From what I can see, autumn, season of sun-flecked paths lined with trees in a rainbow of colours, is the perfect time for little ones to experience the outdoors.

Hidden Horizon’s activities are rooted in outdoor engagement. Led by Scarborough-based Will Watts, the team offers a range of activities, based around Yorkshire’s East coastline and the North York Moors National Park, including Fossil Hunts, Star Gazing and Forest-based activities.
Dalby Diddys is for preschool-age children and their siblings, to experience with their parent or carer. You can find out more at and book Dalby Diddys via

Rosie Goodwin delivers a range of arts projects through her Yorkshire-based arts-engagement firm MakeMore Arts, working with heritage organisations, schools, community groups and libraries.