Volunteering at Mud Pie Explorers was key to my professional development… and lots of fun!

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A picture of Natalia Jarvias, sitting on a tree branch

by Natalia Jarvis, BSc (Hons) Psychology

I spent ten months volunteering for Mud Pie Explorers, a Bristol-based Community Interest Company, that runs Forest School sessions for children in local green spaces. Forest Schools are child-led and offer a holistic way for children to develop skills and improve their confidence in a woodland setting.

My journey to becoming a Forest School Support Volunteer

Whilst looking for a psychology-related volunteering opportunity to enhance my CV, I came across an advert on UWE InfoHub for a Forest School Support volunteer. I would definitely recommend InfoHub as a platform for finding volunteering, work experience or paid jobs, as there are lots of great roles are posted on there – including ones that you can’t find on a generic online search. It is also really easy to use the filters to find what you are looking for.

I had never worked with children before but I love the outdoors and had become really interested in developmental and child psychology, so I thought that this role would be really enjoyable and beneficial to my career pathway too. After successfully applying, I met with Nickie, a Level 3 Forest School Leader and the manager of Mud Pies, who matched me up with two weekly sessions. One for home-educated children with a range of additional needs, and one for girls with autism.

We spotted lots of wildlife at Forest School (I never got a photo of the deer!)

My experience of volunteering with Mud Pies

My role as a volunteer was to work with Nickie to facilitate child-led play. This meant giving the children freedom to explore and let their natural curiosity flourish, rather than deciding what they do or organising structured activities. A typical session for me might involve encouraging a child to climb higher in the tree, supervising them while they practice with a flint and steel, or joining in with their “velociraptor mum” game! It was really rewarding developing relationships with the children and seeing them grow in confidence and ability. I had so much fun at Forest School and it was always something to look forward to in my week.

I loved embracing the outdoors and sharing this with the children; the smiles on their faces when they realised how muddy they had become after “mudsliding” in the rain were just priceless.

What did I gain from my experience?

Becoming a Forest School support volunteer was something completely new to me and a chance to leave my comfort zone, which in itself really built my confidence and self-belief. Volunteering was also a way for me to bring my university studies to life and apply what I had learned. I actually wrote an essay for my Psychology course on the benefits of Forest School for child development.

Volunteering with Mud Pies undoubtedly played a massive part in my success in gaining my sandwich placement, an exciting role working within the clinical therapy team at Cotswold Chine School, which I am hoping will in turn maximise my employment prospects when I graduate. I really believe that being a Forest School volunteer has had a massive positive impact on my professional development, and I loved every minute of it.

Some of the nature art that I attempted at Mud Pies!

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