A number of centres in Highland (South Lodge Nursery, Evanton Playgroup, Milton Nursery, Ardross Nursery, Ankerville Nursery) are making use of the natural environment by using an area of local woodland as their ‘Natural Nursery’ for one session a week. Dressed in their red suits and wellies the children are being given the chance to get some unstructured outdoor play in a natural environment which is improving their physical and emotional development, mental wellbeing and social skills. It is also creating many opportunities for creative learning. The benefits of this type of play were highlighted at the recent Play Matters Seminar. The key note speaker John McKendrick discussed the benefits of providing children with the spaces and opportunities to have free play outdoors; one of the workshops focusing on using natural spaces in communities as ‘spaces to play’.
Once an area within walking distance was identified a comprehensive risk assessment was done by staff and by the children. Clear rules and boundaries were set and the children were safe to ‘assess and manage risk’ for themselves and to explore the area. With the initial paper work (risk assessment, permission letters etc.) done, and a bag packed, the staff and children were ready to go! These sessions in the woods can be treated like any other day in nursery with stories being read (or told), snack eaten etc. The staff can also use the opportunity to make use of the natural, open ended resources to take learning forward, provide challenge and follow the children’s interests in their planning.
Staff from the CALA groups Ardross Nursery and Evanton Playgroup have had training from Simon Harry (from Forest Schools) and are enthusiastic about putting into practice what they learnt during their hands on’ training. South Lodge have been using the same space in the woods for a few years now and the P1 teacher continues to take the children there once a week and can see the many benefits these ‘free play’ sessions have on the children in her class. She hopes that the children will continue to have this experiences as they move up through the school.
The children love the woods sessions and staff have enjoyed seeing the difference being outside can make to some children’s behaviour, confidence and social interaction, as well as the positive impact on children’s learning! The parents’ feedback from South Lodge Nursery has also been very positive and there has been some positive feedback from parents at Milton (despite some initial reservations about the value and the cold!) It will be interesting to see what the feedback from parents and children from other centres is as the sessions continue through the next few terms.
All those involved would be happy to discuss their ‘woods sessions’ with anyone interested in setting up a similar project.
Please contact Jenny Gray (Prinicipal Teacher Pre-School) on 07557566463.