Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Great Outdoors - Forest Kindergartens for Glasgow

photo: spiros2004 via Flicker (because I forgot to take my camera)
For about a year now, an idea had been spinning around in my head. It was a business idea, something I felt passionate about. Yet I lacked the confidence in my ability to take it on and implement it. Still it spun around in my head, like a record baby, right round right round. (Oh, I'm showing my age here...)

In Germany, the Scandinavian concept of a forest kindergarten has been gaining massive popularity. And in spite of my deep UK roots, and I mean constant moaning about rain with that, it sparkled my imagination. Forest kindergartens are basically outdoor nurseries, usually for children 3 years and over. Children spend all day outside, whatever the weather. They build shelters, create stuff with what's around them, explore, move, run, discover, roam. You could call it a romantic tree hugging back to nature hippy idea, but in a world where children are so protected from the elements, kept indoors almost all day for fear of a raindrop or some stranger danger, glued to TV and plastic toys, the idea of a forest kindergarten has a very real appeal to me.

And then there's the fabulous Pollok Country Park in the South Side of Glasgow, a massive urban country park with large wooded areas, the river Cart flowing right through it. A place I go for walks, for runs, for enjoying one of the most amazing art collections of the UK (the Burrell collection), for visiting Pollok House and Gardens, for it's activities and general beauty. The park where I had my allotment for 5 years. I can't think of a better venue for a forest kindergarten.

I never followed my idea up because I have no Early Years related qualification and because I'm not a risk taker. I have a good and exhilerating job, nothing anyone would give up easily for a insecure existence and a little venture. Ok, some people would, but not me.

Then I came across this.
I mean, can you believe it? There's two mums who have this idea of setting up a forest kindergarten in Pollok Country Park and they just did it????
Wow. I'm jealous. You guys stole my idea! And I'm excited of course. There's a real forest kindergarten at my doorstep! And there's even media coverage hot off the press! Apparently, there was something on the Scottish news yesterday, which we missed, doh. Strangely, I missed all the publicity and it was only through my German connections (the Glasgow Goethe Institute who I used to work for) that I found out about it.

So today, I took the afternoon off and visited the woodlands outdoor kindergarten in action with Mr Cartside. Of course, there's no better time to get a flavour of it than autumn. It was wet, but not pouring. The leaves kept us dry, the colours of autumn were beyond words, and we watched the kids build swings, listen to stories under a tarpaulin, use the roots of an overturned tree as a shoot, build dens, and generally climb over fallen trees. No doubt that Cubling would love this, and would finally have a proper outlet for her neverending energy. And yes, I forgot to take my camera. Shame that, but there are lots of images on their website.

The outdoor kindergarten only started three weeks ago and at present, there are 4 to 7 children each day. They don't have a partnership registration yet, so funding for early years provision (in Scotland that means 12.5 hours per week are free for 3 and 4 year olds) isn't available. The children tend to attend 1-2 days and spend the rest of the time in another nursery where they get the funded hours. This works well because particularly for the younger children, more than 2 full days outdoors, with long walks to and from the base, may be bit much.

My initial idea that Cubling could spend the full 4 days a week in the forest kindergarten from when she turns three may not be practicable. Apart form it being tiresome, especially at the start, I don't want to lose out on the funded hours - so that would mean finding a nursery that would take her for the other 2 days. The difficulty is that nurseries are oversubscribed and we currently use a childminder, and if you haven't had your child in a nursery from before 2 years, it's unlikely you will get a place at all. Of course we'll try, no question about it.

Above all, I'm giddy with excitement at this fabulous opportunity, and I can't thank the two parents who set it up enough for getting their act together (unlike me). Here's to nature kindergartens!

Is there a forest/nature kindergarten near you? Have you got any experience or opinions on it? Would you send your child to one?


Mwa said...

I just don't know. I don't know if I would like to be forced to spend that much time outside, especially in Scotland, so I'm not sure I would inflict it on my kids.

littlemummy said...

Sounds amazing, but what about the really freezing winter weather?

zooarchaeologist said...

Yes, Yes, Yes, If I had a helicopter the toddler would be there. Weather is no barrier to outdoors enjoyment. Just think, lots of little Ray Mears all developing their woodcraft skills. FANTASTIC!

Iota said...

Fantastic idea. My kids would have definitely gone if there had been one near me when they were of that age (although I would have had questions about what they did in the freezing winter - but they must have thought of that and have come up with answers).

I think a day or two a week is a good idea. If a child did 5 days outdoors at nursery, how on earth would they cope with school? It would seem very claustrophobic to them.

Christie - Childhood 101 said...

I love the sound of them and actually posted about them in Australia recently. We have the opposite problem, too much heat and sun to be outside all day every day.

clareybabble said...

Sounds like a great idea but being an indoorsy girl makes me think it'd be too cold! But my 2 love running around outside so they'd love it.
There's an award for you at mine x

Metropolitan Mum said...

Being married to a Swede, this household is all for the outdoors. Invested in a pair of wellies already, as little L has to be outside for 2 hours at least every day, otherwise she gets mega cranky.
Good luck with the administrative/organisational side of things. What a great opportunity!
PS: M.I.A. = missing in action. Happy to report that mojo may be wounded but not completely defeated.

Kat said...

Wow, already trying to figure out if I could set one up...

Can she not get her funded hours in a pre-school rather than a nursery which is more about childcare?

Zoe said...

I think this style of nursery is fantastic, although I haven't myself experienced it. The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife is now quite well established - and offers free places (I know - too far to commute for you!). I first read about it in the Guardian - google "Pioneer nursery stays outdoors - in all weathers" and you'll find the original article.

cartside said...

little mummy: if the weather is extreme, they will stay indoors in a church hall. I think you can wrap them up warm for the cold, but hailstone, gales and flooding would count as adverse weather.

Kat, preschool here in Scotland only offers 2 1/2 hrs a day sessions. As I work, that's not practicable. So it has to be a nursery if I want to take advantage of the funded hours.

Mwa, to be honest, it wouldn't be forcing Cubling. She'd be out in any weather, she just loves being outdoors. I also think it'll be a great outlet for her energy, she is still a whirlwind and I do worry how she'd do in a school environment - sitting still is not for her.

Clareybabble: thanks for the award!

MM: OK! one more mystery solved!

Christie - that made me chuckle. To hot? Never!

zooarchaeologist: You can always set one up near you. I'm sure you've got plenty of time for that now that you're back at work.

I think I'll be going for 2 days a week, for a nice balance. So now I only have to find a partnership nursery to make up the other 2 days and not go bankrupt.

Anonymous said...

our little wild thing absolutely loves going to the outdoor kindergarten !. she is 3 1/2 and has been going since it opened in October.she comes home filthy (just as a 3 year old should!) but very happy and looks forward to it all week.
she has never complained about being cold and is very well looked after.
christmas in the forest was just magical, with santa appearing out of the snow while we all sang jingle bells under lantern lit tree's.
she would go every day if we could afford it.

Stuart Bowman said...

If anybody's in Manchester and interested in discussing setting one of these up, please get in touch. I'm at a very early stage but can see it working here. stuartbowman(at)

Stuart Bowman said...

oops, sorry my email's: stuartbowman65(at)

Claire McLean said...

I went to visit The Secret Garden Nursery today and I was googling forest kindergartens and found this old post. Was wondering how it turned out for you?

cartside said...

Hi Claire, it's turned out really well for us, Cubling has been attending 2 days a week from 3 to 31/2, then I went on maternity leave and took her out to join an outdoors playgroup. After my return to work, she rejoined, one day a week as I only need 3 days of childcare (and she gets the other two through a council nursery, indoors). She loves it, I love it and I'm so happy that we have this fabulous forest kindergarten literally around the corner from us! Have you come across my other blog which I sent up to focus on all things nature and kids?



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