Forest Nursery Helps People with Dementia Remember Their Roots

An innovative forest school and nursery based in South East Northumberland is branching out with a new partnership involving North East charity MIND Active, so that people with dementia can join in with the children's memory-building exercises.

Footprints on the Moon was established in 2015 by Annie Blight from Cramlington. As a child, she frequently cycled to Plessey Woods to play in the peaceful woodland surroundings while enjoying exciting adventures beneath the trees. It became Annie's mission to help children enjoy nature and learn from the forest, as she had done herself as a child. After running a range of activities at various outdoor locations in Northumberland, Annie's dream came true last year when she set up Footprints on the Moon's permanent base at Plessey Woods Country Park.

Annie says, "I chose the name 'Footprints on the Moon' as I believe that there are no limits to what our children can achieve. Using their imagination and creativity, they can reach the moon and beyond."

The forest school runs activities for all age groups and the nursery caters for two to five-year-olds and is open five days a week. Lessons are based on the great outdoors and nature. With today's urban lifestyles, some children don't see much of the countryside and often only visit their local park or seaside on rare family days out.

The school uniquely uses a giant parachute as a shelter and campfires encourage the children to bond whilst learning basic outdoor Forest Nursery Students with Dementia Sufferercooking skills. Children are able to construct adventure dens, listen to stories in specially constructed areas and relax in hammocks conveniently strung between the trees. In essence, the children are taught to connect with the natural world and create educational memories that will last a lifetime.

Like any traditional nursery, the children enjoy rhymes, songs and story-telling, an experience which is now helping people with dementia to rekindle their own childhood memories, improve their focus and soak up the relaxing atmosphere under the ancient trees.

MIND Active is a registered charity that supports local volunteers who help improve the lives of elderly people in the area. Angela Clark, Project Co-ordinator says,

"We're very excited about working with Footprints on the Moon. Visiting the nursery school and taking part in their activities is the kind of experience that is really beneficial for someone with dementia. Very often, just being around young children can help people with dementia remember details about their own past. Dementia can be a very frustrating condition. Spending time in the tranquil woodland helps relieve that frustration and promotes relaxation. By helping the children with their memory tasks, dementia sufferers are finding that their own minds are positively stimulated. It's also something fun to do which is outside the sometimes-mundane routine of daily life. We're thrilled to be working with Footprints on the Moon and we're confident that this is the start of a long and successful joint venture."

Annie agreed:

"Helping our youngsters with the words of nursery rhymes and songs is great therapy for those with memory difficulties. It helps to ignite childhood reminiscences and the older people love spending time with the kids and the children love having them around."

Footprints on the Moon currently has 4 members of staff and is helped by a small team of volunteers, including students from Newcastle University. The team, including the children's parents, are passionate about letting children make the most out of spending time in a natural environment. Local businesses have also supported the venture with funding provided by the Postcode Lottery and Bedlington Town Council.