Nature Play Testimonials


These past couple of weeks, some members of the FWG holding team have been building an application for funding, with the view to be able to share the practice of Nature Play with more of the community in Lewisham, particularly targeting those families from low income households. As part of the application process, we collected some of the feedback from previous attendees and hosts.

What the parents said;

“My children participated in Nature Play for two years prior to starting school. They both grew in confidence as a result. Importantly, they became more skilled at conflict resolution between them and their peers. Teachers have commented on how ready for school both children have been. Personally, I found the weekly sessions were an important moment for on-going reflection on my own parenting in a supportive non-judgmental environment, helping me listen to and support the needs of my children. The sessions had an impact in and of themselves, but also through the week on parenting.” 

Nature Play Parent.


“My son was hyperactive as a toddler and the nature playgroup was the only activity that he could access and enjoy. It provided a friendly space with familiar faces and endless opportunities for free play. There are proven benefits of spending time in nature for children with ADHD, and I believe it’s really helped him develop calm and concentration needed for school, as well as gain friendships that have lasted to this day.” 

Nature Play Parent. 


“My son attended Nature Play sessions – several years ago now – from when he was around 2 years old. It was a weekly appointment that we both looked forward to. It was lovely to walk in the woods and meet other parents and children. I really liked that the sessions were regular, same day and same time every week. They were free and had a starting time but no ending time. We were all walking in the woods and chose a spot to sit on and have a picnic. The children started to play and the parents were able to relax and be in nature. I loved socialising and my son was always happy to go. He met many friends there and learned to play in nature freely. I learned to observe him play and intervene and help him only if there was a danger. This allowed me to learn to trust myself and him very well and to spend some relaxing time in the woods. My son benefited immensely from going to the woods weekly, the walk there from home allowed him to take pace and arrive there already relaxed. He then socialised and learned to mediate and compromise by playing with children of different ages. His gross and fine motor skills developed a lot from being in contact with nature.’ 

“My daughter attended nature play sessions from the age of 1 to 5. This time was so important for me to understand her and the way she learnt and the way she worked. Before attending Nature Play I was often comparing her to other children, and I used to worry that she was not doing things quick enough or energetically enough compared to other children, and was starting to push her and encourage her beyond her comfort zone. However, when I started Nature Play the hosts helped me to relax and to trust her more, and I was able to allow her to follow her own process for learning. For example, when others were climbing a certain tree, I saw that she watched for a couple of weeks before attempting it herself – now I know that she learns a lot through observing first rather than doing – then she tried little by little, and so I knew I could trust her, as she was never doing anything she couldn’t manage all by herself. She made her way bit by bit each week. Because she found her own way to It was beautiful to understand this about her, and now she is extremely confident when learning a new thing – she takes her time, and does it methodically and without stress.” Nature Play Parent.


“My eldest child is very sensitive and introverted, suspected to be on the spectrum. Nature play has been extremely helpful in supporting his development. The area I find more surprising is exactly the social! The natural environment makes him feel confident with peers in a way no other structured indoor play contexts manages. Nature Play estimates his inquisitive self and I know it’s where I/ any other trusted adult in the space can contribute easily to his growing awareness of the world around him- skills and knowledge of how we belong and live in this world.

Those learning and appreciation of nature as learning lived space continues until today. He enjoys long walks in nature with family & friends and keeps that unique eye to what is around him along the way. He is aware of seasons, cycles and happy to share them with the higher complexity of what he has learned so far. Currently, he is studying for his GCSEs, amongst his options he has chosen Photography. Interestingly enough, most of the photographs he chooses to write about and analyse are those of artists picturing  broad landscapes, natural textures and natural light that gets reflected in details of the living world. It is just beautiful to witness how nature play could have potentially been one of the fostering elements in his natural gift and sense of belonging to where he is now socially-emotionally and skills competent.”

Nature Play Parent


“The most significant change for me, since attending nature play, has been to grow in trust. Trust in myself, in my daughter, and in others. That’s significant for me because before, after a semi-complicated birth with feeding issues, I was not trusting myself as a new mother, and following different role models I had in my life – sister-in-laws, mother-in-laws, friends etc. added with lots of overthinking and overanalysing, so I was putting myself in conflict with my instincts, and worrying a lot! The consequence is that although I was following her in lots of ways, I was not fully trusting my daughter to know what she needed and wanted, and that she was driving her own development. So I really can’t thank the Nature Play hosts enough, and all those who keep nature play going! I have relaxed into myself, and into appreciating Maya for who she is, and found our conversations so helpful, finding like-minded people who I can be myself around. Wonderful people who I treasure also because of the way they speak with and treat my daughter – knowing that she has these adults modelling such respect. Above all just to observe and to witness what the children do when grown-ups let them be, has been my greatest teacher. I think in the background, growing a connection with a place like Sydenham Woods has helped with all this as well, a grounding.” I tried to take what I saw and learnt from nature play into all areas of parenting – it also impacted my husband’s attitude and approach and has led me into being passionate about childhood development in my career! Maya took a long time before she left my side, and started climbing and exploring – the Nature Play hosts helped me to appreciate this, and her, and not to wish it were otherwise. It helped me learn crucial things about Maya – that she needs lots of time to observe everything going on, before choosing and making her way into it. That this is not ‘shy’, or a lack of confidence.“ 

Nature Play Parent.


Testimonies from Nature Play hosts


“I learned to ‘sit’ with myself. To self regulate. This opened up a whole host of research into ‘the uneasiness of observing, the fear of stillness and just being.’ Went down a rabbit hole of learning about how dis-regulation/unresolved traumatic responses show up in myself and others. Still learning. I’m still fascinated.” 

Nature Play Host.


“I definitely saw an impact in confidence – that children became more open to exploring things when they were allowed to do this at their own pace. Also motor skills – very obvious progress in some kids re jumping, climbing.” 

Sabira, Nature Play Host Southeast London.


Director recruitment

Come and be part of our sociocratic, self-directed education community!

There’s a vacancy on the Free We Grow holding team and we are delighted to open this up to individuals who may be interested in taking a more engaged role in ‘holding’ the project.

The Free We Grow holding team is a voluntary team of current and past parents and facilitators who put in extra time every month to support the management of the project. It’s a very rewarding and at times demanding role!  

The team is usually made up of about 7 members. At the end of the summer, Moneer Moukaddem, who had joined the team for one year, stepped down to focus on family and work commitments. He remains a supportive member of the parents’ circle. 

Moneer on a laptop in the park

 Here’s a message from Moneer about his time on the team:

As I conclude my time with Free We Grow’s holding team, I’m filled with gratitude for the relationships and lessons from this special community. It’s been a privilege to support a project that nurtures children with such care and warmth. I’ve learned so much from the authenticity and dedication of this team that truly “holds” our beloved project. My involvement will continue through the parent circles, which continue to grow closer and tighter. Though I will miss the check-ins and wiggly hand gestures of our holding-team meetings, which were some of the most productive yet connecting meetings in my life! Thank you for welcoming me into this community, where adults grow freely, too. I’ve changed for the better. See you all at drop-off!



There are currently 6 members of the FWG holding team. These are (from left to right in the photo) Sara Martins, Mariana Martins, Sara Asadullah, Rowan Salim, Yasmin Poyntz and Anna Hillier. 

Please feel free to email us or to approach any members of the team to enquire more about the position, and we invite expressions of interest by sending a cover letter to

You can find more information about the role in this pdf, but please note that, while it refers to our Finance and Legal team, we are flexible in terms of your specific areas of interest: Finance and Legal circle HT member.docx

We look forward to hearing from you!

The FWG holding team

Free We Grow’s commitment to inclusion

Rowan Salim

When we opened Free We Grow in 2017, myself and three families got together to imagine the project. It was driven by a strong sense of wanting to create an environment where children can grow free and connected. Free to learn and play, and connected to themselves, their community and the more than human world around them. The belief, or hope, is that by doing so, children and communities and the land can grow and be well. What emerged is a community of practice. We are learning how to do this, exchanging practice with other emergent groups, and living joyfully.

As part of this initial gathering, was a promise. The founding team consisted of people with heritage from Iraq, from Britain, from Italy, Columbia, Spain and Germany and it felt important to us that the community that emerged would be an inclusive community. The promise we made 6 years ago was to never turn a family away for financial reasons.  It is easy in today’s world to become siloed. Societal structures have a tendency to agglomerate people with shared characteristics. One way this seems to happen is through a paywall. You can take part in a community so long as you can pay to do so. This inherently felt like a barrier to the ideals of the project.

Currently home education does not get any government funding (email us if this is incorrect!) The solution we have been dancing with over the last 6 years has been to lean into and explore the idea of gift culture. Gift culture is an approach to life which recognises the relationships and reciprocity in all living systems. Money can be part of the currency of a gift culture, but gift culture also recognises other currencies like time and skills and care and joy.

For the first 5 years of the project, our promise held true and somehow we made ends meet by keeping costs low, relying on gifted time for administration and cover, developing an innovative procurement policy, inviting families to contribute in kind through supporting day to day tasks and providing cover, and inviting higher earners to pay forwards into our community fund to cover costs.

In our 6th year our promise took a leap forwards. Whilst families with lower access to money had been applying, we felt that the price associated with the project still put some families off. We also noticed that black and brown families and working class families  were more excluded and we were aware that colonial histories, both overseas and in Britain through the enclosures were at the root of this exclusion.

We decided to become more explicit in our promise and actively invited families who shared this vision and dream of childhood who may not feel able to ask, to go ahead and apply anyway. We knew that this would bring forth a book keeping challenge, but we felt that inclusion and representation were so fundamental to the vision, that we took the leap.

Today we have a beautiful and diverse community, representing so many walks of life and with so much to give and celebrate, that we really feel blessed.

Last year, in order to dive deep into gift culture and try to understand how it might blossom even more, we organized a Giftival. This was a one month festival of gifts where members of the community – children, parents, friends and neighbors –  offered events, workshops and gatherings for free to the local community. We hosted litter picks, story telling, games workshops, art workshops, breathing workshops, food waste events and much more. The Giftival was a month of connection, joy and exchange, and one of the key learnings I take from it, is a re-emphasis that community cannot form behind closed walls. This time the wall was not just the paywall, but the wall or fence around Dacres Wood.



It became apparent that even if our community is inclusive, access to the land is restricted. During the month of the Giftival, we welcomed over 400 people to Dacres Wood Nature Reserve. Many of these visitors lived locally but some had never visited the reserve before. Others didn’t even know it existed. And those who had visited before hardly had enough opportunity to get to develop a caring relationship with the land through regular contact.

We realized that as a community, we are in a privileged position to broaden access, not only to our project, but also to the land. And so, this year, we are looking to work closely with the Friends of Dacres Wood and Lewisham Council to support more regular open days, intergenerational and family friendly events to support people from the broader community to gather in the woods, to care for each other and the land.

All of this still leaves us with the book keeping challenge! Despite keeping costs low, we are still looking to bridge the funding gap created by offering subsidized spaces. The project continues to incur running costs which primarily include rent of the site and facilitators’ salaries.


And so we are exploring 4 avenues for fundraising! Here they are:

1- We have launched a crowdfunder! If you love the project, are inspired by it and have capital to spare, please consider contributing to our crowdfunder which will enable us to continue our promise never to turn anyone away for financial reasons!

2- We are becoming a Community Interest Company! We have always been a not for profit enterprise, but this year we are looking to convert to be a CIC so that we can actively apply for grants. If you know of any grants or foundation which you think would be interested in supporting our project please write to us!

3- We are going to register for OFSTED’s voluntary child care register. This has been a scary process, as we are keen to ensure that children’s freedom is not jeopardised. But following a long period of research, we have come to understand that the voluntary register should not impact on our pedagogical approach but rather focuses on health and safety and safeguarding, which we are confident we adhere to the highest practices.

4 – We will broaden our community events and services. This will include supporting more free open days and offering free or donation based community events. Any funds raised through these will also contribute to our community fund and our effort to maintain our promise. We have just hosted the September Friends of Dacres Wood Open Day and our next event, Soul Sanctuary, is taking place this coming Sunday the 8th of October (in Battersea). Follow this link to find out more!

Thank you for reading this far! We’d love to stay in touch, in which case we invite you to join our community mailing list by pressing this link. Our next open day at Dacres Wood is this September the 30th from 1-4pm where one of the parents will be offering storytelling around the fire! So do come by, have a chat, a walk around the woods and listen to some stories!

Kids and plants: a reflection on education and gardening by Mariana Martins

I have been thinking, while walking around the paths in Dacres Wood, about the similarities we as educators have with botanists and gardeners. Do not get me wrong, I am an experienced educator, but definitely not a great gardener. I  have killed hydrangeas and tomato trees alike. I realize I do not start this text on my best step, really, but when looking around the reserve, though, at any time of the year, you can find plants as much as kids growing in unusual places. This is my point: it feels natural and it’s lovely to see, I never have to guide them or decide for them. Maybe suggest, which may or may not be accepted. Much on the contrary, kids flow and hide, they run and climb, test their capacities to the full. There isn’t a lot of trimming or feeding going on, it definitely is not a tame plot of land, quite the opposite.  Surprisingly, as much as wild blossoms, they do not need to be watered constantly or even fed profusely. Balancing your plans on how to be adults present for children, as carers, parents, or facilitators – do you opt for a more child-led approach? What is the best choice? how do we go about it –  can in reality have the same effect as how you grow flowers or fruit trees in your backyard: it may or may not go according to your plan. What was carefully designed and prepared may not necessarily work and, conversely, what just popped “out of nowhere” and found solutions for itself along the way can be just perfect. How do we get it right? Ooohh, the million-dollar question. I wish I knew. Some hints of how similar they are:

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Goodbye Sally! Hello Anna! Shifts and love in the FWG holding team!

The Free We Grow holding team is a volunteer team of parents, facilitators, friends and founders, who meet regularly to oversee the smooth running of the project, kind of like a board of trustees. We hold our meetings using roundspeak, and take consent based decisions as with the children’s meeting. The holding team helps with all the behind the scenes admin tasks that keep the project going, as well as learning together, staying true to, and helping shape the vision of the project. Over the years, we’ve welcomed new members, said goodbye to those moving on, while keeping them within our close circle of friends.

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The Giftival and exploring what gift culture means to us

By Rowan Salim

For the last few years at Free We Grow, we’ve been exploring what gift culture looks like for us as a community, so that we can hold each other, and this space for the children, and the land we inhabit, with love and reciprocity. When we started, we thought gift culture was about accessibility, but as we explore it, we realise it’s about more than that, it’s a way of being together, and with the land, in relationships of care and trust.

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Using the edges and valuing the margins

by Rowan Salim

This week three of the children discovered The Wall: The enticingly climbable wall between the woods and the courtyard. And of course, they climbed it. They sat on it, and they perched. They wriggled to make room for each other, they worked out their comfy positions, they wobbled. They found their way down, then up again. One of them called out that he was going to fall and die, so Mariana stood nearby and held his foot. Soon, I expect, he’ll be doing it alone.
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The meeting, culture creation, and speaking from the ‘I’

by Rowan Salim

There is a hand gesture which the FWG children made up about 4 years ago to help bring people’s attention back to the meeting. It’s called the ‘cannon ball’ and you do it by putting the tips of your fingers together into a ball above your head. I’m not a fan of the name, but I like the gesture. 10 fingers, 1 circle/ball. The cannon ball in a way symbolizes the meeting. Each person an individual, and when we sit together in a circle, we are one.

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