THE benefits of getting out in the fresh air and connecting with nature are well documented.

And in North Essex that ethos applies to even the youngest in the community.

Over the past few years there has been a rise in outdoor based toddler groups encouraging parents and their children to enjoy bug hunts, roasting marshmallows on a campfire and jumping in muddy puddles.

Parents Gavin and Christina Parmenter run BWild Adventures in Little Oakley.

Christina, mum of three-year-old Archie and one-year-old Alice, said: "Our little venture was born just over two years ago after we moved to the area from Chelmsford.

"Gavin has worked in the outdoors as an instructor for many years so when I had to give up my career in print to raise our children it seemed only natural to start something that we could do as a family.

"When we first set out our focus was on survival and bushcraft courses and family adventures.

"We soon realised that there was a lack of outdoor activities for children of all ages locally aside from playgrounds and a few local attractions.

"With all the beautiful countryside and wooded areas around us we knew that we should be helping children reconnect with the outdoors using Gavins knowledge and background and my creativity and love for nature."

The couple run from Hamford View Tearooms and say their outdoor base is centred around the theories behind the Forest School ethos.

Risky play is encouraged, dirt is always welcome and bugs are always nearby ready to be discovered.

During term time the sessions are on Thursdays for under 5s and then during holidays this is extended to under 9s.

Christina added: "Making this nature connection so young is key to their development both at pre-school and school and actually lessons learnt now can stay with them for a lifetime.

"When children are exposed to play like this regularly, especially from such a young age, it changes the way that they play and think, they are more confident, inquisitive, questions are more detailed and probing, they empathise with insects and animals by learning about where they live and what they eat.

"Their natural curiosity is just awakened."

The pair have recently launched an after-school club in Great Oakley and special extra adventurous sessions at Thorrington scout camp monthly.

They also run family activities such as bushcraft, foraging and camping.

Kirsty Bartle from Lexden started her business Muddy Boots Forest Adventures in April 2016.

She runs outdoor sessions in Highwoods Country Park, Abberton Manor and at a private residence in Tendring.

The 40-year-old said: "I've been running forest schools since 2013 but started Muddy Boots Forest Adventures in 2016.

"I've worked in early years for 15years.

"At the time I was a deputy manager at a local Montessori nursery.

"I used to take classes for forest school each week and although I loved my job, bringing up 3 young children as well I was struggling with the work life balance.

"I had a lot of parents asking if they could attend with their child but as they were nursery sessions this was not possible and I then saw there was a gap in the market for a new style of toddler group.

"I began thinking I would run just one morning a week but quickly realised the sessions were very popular."

Kirsty says her sessions are completely child led so they can follow what interests them.

She added: "I have things set up around the woodland such as mud kitchen, hammocks, swings, climbing ropes, digging equipment, various tools to try, bug hunting, bird watching, teddy bear den building, tree painting, trolleys and wheelbarrows to collect sticks and leaves.

"I also have adult led nature craft or activities for those who want to take part as well as campfire snacks and hot drinks for the grown ups.

"It's always very relaxed and gives families a chance to step back from their busy lives and enjoy being outdoors.

"I try to blend the Montessori ethos within the forest school and develop each session to benefit the whole child - physical, social, emotional, cognitive."