On a crisp Thursday morning I arrived, for the first time, in the quaint town of Letham, Fife. With an open mind and sense of excitement, I entered the park where the children commence and end their day at the Secret Garden. Today, however, the children had already left the park and begun their journey to Letham Woods for their day of learning and discovery.
Instead, I met with Louise, the Senior Practitioner and our guide and trainer for the day, as well as the other participants for In the Woods, an experiential day-long workshop where we would immerse ourselves in the natural environment and develop our own knowledge and understanding of working outdoors with young children. We were an eclectic bunch with a common interest, that of promoting outdoor play and learning for children. Our group included a former parent, a future member of staff, an apprentice early years officer and early years leaders interested in enhancing their service or establishing new outdoor nurseries.
Immediately, it was clear to me that today was going to be that little bit magic. We began with a tune in, to settle us into the environment, then some ice breaker games to settle us into the group. Our journey up the hill was initially filled with reflections on the windy weather of the previous day interspersed with comments on places where the children pause as they make their morning ascent. We began to learn of the many rich traditions that make up a day at the Secret Garden, such as singing a song to the cherry tree on the grass verge and pausing at the Thinking Place to collectively work out the best location based on weather condition and preferences for that day’s camp. As we moved on into the wood, we also moved into quiet time, where we focused on being in the environment, and also being a part of it.
Our day in the woods was an experience that I would recommend to anyone interested in promoting outdoor education, as well as anyone wanting to build a stronger connection with their own roots in nature and community. Louise expertly guided us from partner trust exercises to practical demonstrations, from observing the children at play to curricular conversations, from group tasks to opportunities to be alone in nature and discover what came up inside us when given the space to just BE. Throughout it all, she held a safe space for us to open up and feel and express our thoughts and feelings.
The Secret Garden has the guiding principles of Presence, Nature, Play and I can think of no better words to embody my experience at the workshop. It was a day I will never forget in a location that encourages an affinity for our natural environment. It may have been my first day in the woods, but I suspect it won’t be my last.
Author: Vicky Hobba, Early Years Officer and outdoor learning enthusiast