For about two months, Cubling has been out in the woods two days a week. She has joined Glasgow's first Scandinavian style outdoor nursery. For anyone not familiar with the concept, it entails going out all day in all kinds of weather. Usually it's aimed at pre-schoolers, with the benefits being a better immune system due to being outdoors a lot, resilience and a better awareness of physical abilities and the ability to manage risks independently.
Above all, it's a lot of fun for any active toddler.
So what does it look like in practice? In the morning, the children gather at a church hall (which is often used as a creche) between 8 and 9.30am, where they can draw, read books and play with a range of natural toys (pine cones, shells, sticks and anything derived from similar items), listen and move to music. They get into their outdoors clothes (which the forest kindergarten organises for a one off payment which is value for money) and at 9.30am a minibus drives them into the local country park, while they sing songs on the way. Once in the woods, they build up a shelter in case of rain (a tarpaulin/tent) and a portable tent toilet. Anything used on the day is brought along and taken back at the end of the day, so as to leave the park as is. During the day, the children explore different aspects of the outdoors, they make mudcakes, mud slides, climb up tree trunks, create shapes with sticks, explore the local community (there's a lot to explore nearby) or even draw pictures. There's quiet time with stories and much more - effectively the full curriculum can be covered outdoors. The children then return for 5pm to the church hall where they can be picked up by parents.
Of course, on the days of awful Scottish weather, I do doubt whether it's a good idea to send Cubling out. But having been to the base I also know that in the woods you are naturally sheltered from wind and rain, and the tent is really rather cozy... Then there's the worry of toilet accidents and we've been rather partial to nappies just in case, especially before the temperature picked up for spring.
Now, after two months, I can see a marked difference in Cubling. She's always been keen to climb and run, but now she does so with a marked increase in confidence. Her urge to climb, balance and master new challenges has increased, and she is much more determined to give new things a good go. Every day we pick her up she is full of excitement and wants to share her experiences with us. She has an increased awareness of the world around her, she sees even more than she used to see, and gets excited about little creatures and is keen to follow them. With all her drive to climb, she has not ever fallen off, instead she is aware of her skills and her limits and takes responsibility herself.
We had some difficulties transitioning from childminder to nursery in general and Cubling did struggle with the lack of one central caretaker who she relates to. However, that transition worked better in the forest kindergarten where she chose to relate to one worker in particular, as well as a few of the children who she quickly called her new friends. Interestingly, she hasn't done either in the indoor nursery: there she doesn't know the name of the children or workers, whereas she'll tell me all about the children and workers at the forest kindergarten. To me this demonstrates that also her social buttons are pressed much more outdoors than indoors. And she is a very social child.
Forest kindergartens are very popular in Scandinavian countries (where they originated) as well as Germany, where I know them from. We opted for it, for at least 2 days out of 4 days a week that Cubling goes to nursery, because she is a very lively and active girl who would forever feel contained in a nursery room. It's amazing to see how her imagination has increased - she now has endless ideas of how to play with very simple items, and keeps surprising us with very unusual activities. She also verbalises risks and how to stay safe much more now, and demonstrates a maturity which really surprises me.
I hope that outdoor nurseries like the Woodlands Outdoor Kindergarten will become a feature across the country and offer an alternative to traditional nursery settings. Here in Glasgow, parents usually choose to send their pre-schoolers (from 2 years 9 months) for one or two days, so that they do also get the experience of "normal" indoor pre-school education (which is also partially funded). There is a lot of support for the development of similar forest kindergartens across Scotland, and a commitment to integrate them into the statutory fundable early years education provision. However, with councils short of money, all the national support may not push things forward quite so swiftly on that front.
Cubling is proud to be a Waldkind, and I hope she'll keep enjoying it as much as she does now: "Climbing, forever trying / .../ getting to where you should be going" to say it in Paul Weller's words.
This post was written for the Best of British Mummy Blogging carnival which will be up on 11th May at A Place of my Own.