It’s a grim, grey, and impeccably Scottish day as I step out of my car, pull on my waterproofs, and head in to Glasgow’s Linn Park. Pretty much everything around me – the ground, the leaves on the trees, the air I’m walking through – is soaking wet, but I’ve got the right clothes, somewhere to be, and a story to tell.

First, however, I need to find it. I’ve been told to follow the path down the hill, then cross the bridge, and my destination should be up ahead. The hill and the bridge are no problem, but when I reach the other side I’ve got several paths in front of me and no other signs of where to go.

And then I hear a voice and notice some movement up ahead – a flash of high-vis flitting through the gloom. I look a little closer, a bit more carefully, and there it is, half-hidden amidst the trees like a children’s den.

Woodland Inspired Learning and Development, or WILD, was founded by Linda Brown and Gillian Sisson. They both worked in a nearby outdoor nursery and, living close to the park, began to wonder if its open spaces and woodland habitats could provide a home for something new: a forest school experience for local children.

Linn Park was, they felt, particularly well-suited to this purpose.

The Herald: WILD in Linn Park, Glasgow. Photo by Gordon Terris.WILD in Linn Park, Glasgow. Photo by Gordon Terris. (Image: Newsquest)

“It’s a bit wilder than some of the other Glasgow parks,” Gill tells me. It’s true that the trees don’t seem quite so manicured, nor the borders quite so defined, as might be the case elsewhere, and the location near the outer edge of city, half an hour or so from Cathkin Braes and the beginning of the countryside, probably adds something to the overall effect. Add in the sibilant sound of the White Cart Water, and even the hopeful tapping of a woodpecker from high in a nearby tree, and it’s easy to see why they felt it had so much potential.

Today, Eesa is one of the first children to arrive. He clearly loves it here and is eager to explain why: “I feel so adventurey and free.” He later adds that the only “boring bit” is stopping for lunch.

As a few more families arrive, I ask his mother, Haira, about the appeal of a service like this one.

“Children aren’t meant to be sitting at a desk all day,” she says, smiling as her son runs off to explore.

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She goes on to explain the positive impact she sees in her son, how happy these experiences make him, and how they inspire him. During a recent visit to a farm park, he spotted some mushrooms growing on the ground and was able to identify them, having learned about them in a forest school session.

It’s an anecdote that seems to sum up the philosophy here rather well, and a sign of success after very humble beginnings.

Initial conversations with park rangers developed into Saturday morning sessions and then registration with the Care Inspectorate, a move which allowed them to offer after-school provision.

The Herald: Youngsters find adventure at forest school. Photo by Gordon Terris.Youngsters find adventure at forest school. Photo by Gordon Terris. (Image: Newsquest)

They now run four Wednesday sessions – two groups of home and flexi-schooled children in the morning, and two groups of after-school in the afternoon – as well as summer holiday programmes on top of those initial Saturday morning events, with plans to begin working with groups of teenagers from March.

The expansion is a reflection of increasing demand for outdoor learning experiences such as those on offer here. In a recent survey by parent group Connect, nearly nine in ten respondents said that opportunities for their child to learn outside are either important or very important, and just 2% felt that their local school is doing too much work on sustainability and the environment.

The success of campaign groups such as Give Them Time, which won guaranteed early nursery funding for children deferring entry to primary 1, and Upstart Scotland, which has sparked an ongoing debate around the school starting age itself, have also had an impact by challenging assumptions about what education and development, especially in the early years, could and should look like.

The groups at WILD sessions are limited to 16 in any one location, a rule established by Glasgow City Council in order to help balance the benefits and environmental impact of their parklands being used in this way. A welcome side effect is a generous adult-to-child ratio.

It doesn’t take long for the dynamics of the environment to begin to emerge. The adults are always available, and extremely attentive, but they are also ‘hands off’ as far as possible. When one girl wants to start setting up the fire space, she gets a quick recap of what is required, a bit of encouragement (“I know you can do it”) and is then allowed to get on with trying to succeed. It takes a few attempts, as it should, and she gets there in the end.

Having done the prep work, she now wants to get to the really fun part: lighting the fire.

The many years I spent in the Scouts means that I know several ways to make a fire, but I also know that few are as much fun for children as the approach involving cotton pads, petroleum jelly and a spark stick.

The Herald: Outdoor adventure at WILD forest school. Photo by Gordon Terris.Outdoor adventure at WILD forest school. Photo by Gordon Terris. (Image: Newsquest)

It takes a bit of perseverance to perfect the grip on the striker, the angle of the spark stick, and the speed of movement required, but she doesn’t seem bothered by this iterative, ‘fail better’ approach. She just keeps watching, and striking, and thinking – until suddenly, just the right movement sends just the right spark to just the right spot, and a little fire flashes into life.

The joy on her face is unmistakeable, and has come from learning that was inspired by wonder and curiosity. Those commodities certainly aren’t in short supply here.

I come across one little boy, wrapped head to toe in warm clothes and waterproofs, and not much higher than my knee, pointing intently at his feet. He tries to explain but I can’t hear properly, so I crouch right down and ask him to tell me again. There’s a brief pause, and then he reaches down even further, and I realise that he is pointing at a tiny fleck of green poking through the earth, an early and oh-so-tentative sign of spring life.

“Growing,” he says, and this time I understand.