Sunday, 5 September 2010

Health and Safety gone too far? Endangered Secret Garden

As some readers may be aware of, Cubling attends a forest kindergarten, a nursery which takes place outdoors regardless of weather. In the morning, the kids meet at an indoor location, get ready and leave at 9am sharp for a full day in the woods, returning at 5pm. The tried and tested forest kindergarten is very popular in Scandinavian countries and in Germany and is proven to do heaps for social skills, resilience, confidence and creativity, to enable children to learn to assess risks and take them responsibly, while simply being great fun and enabling children to be outdoors a lot more than they are these days.

The first such nursery in Scotland is now under threat. In a strange twist of fate, while one government department is extremely supportive of all kinds of outdoor learning and actively encourages the development of forest nurseries, schools and including outdoor learning in the education curriculum where ever possible, another department is concerned that the kids may catch a bug because there aren't that many sinks with soap in the forest where they can wash their hands.

The Secret Garden nursery in Fife has been criticised by the Care Commission (following advice from Health Protection Scotland, for using wipes and antibacterial gel to clean the children's hands, which apparently is not sufficient. Rather, the staff should carry 10 litres of water into the woods and ensure that children wash their hands under running water, with soap:
- after toiletting and nappy changing;
- before and after eating anything;
- before drinking;
- after sneezing, coughing, or blowing their noses;
- whenever the hands are visibly dirty;
- before going home.

Now I don't get why it is more important in an outdoor setting to wash your hands everytime you cough or sneeze (if I did that, I'd probably do little else but stand at the sink), because I don't think that those rules are applied anywhere else in an indoor educational setting.

The bottom line is that it's impractical for the forest kindergarten to carry 10 litres of water into the woods (a 1.5 mile walk) and to go crazy on the hand washing to the extent required by the inspectors, which would effectively mean that about two staff are constantly washing hands of children.

Why are wipes and gel not enough? Am I stupid in thinking that it's more than sufficient? I'm happy to go with that solution, after all I don't carry running water with me when going for a picnic?

Children in Scotland has joined the calls of the nursery, the parents and many others to get real and not overboard with health and safety. It is mindboggling that our risk averse society is threatening to lead to closure of fabulous initiatives of which there are already far too few.

Please support the Secret Garden - you can do so by following them on twitter @secretgardeners for updates, read what blogger Caron's Musings has to say on the matter, or the TES reporting on this farce. Finally, The Guardian has a very enlightening article on exactly why outdoor education is such a great thing.



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