In the Woods

(Cosy) Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes

(Cosy) Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes

As we extend a warmly gloved hand of welcome to the winter months, our collective thoughts have turned naturally to kit. Specifically, good kit.

Kit that will last and instil in us a sense of confidence and capability, and that will buffer our warm-blooded selves from the capricious meteorological whimsy of the Scottish woods.

Ideally, and certainly in the case of the smaller amongst us, kit that will utilise stylish motifs such as stars, trees or crustaceans. (Note to manufacturers: there is nothing un-grown-up about liking these things!)

Gloves are essential of course. Fleece, (quick to dry) wool (still warm even if they get a bit damp) and waterproof mittens with a fleece lining (singular winner in facilitating realistic shark impressions) are all excellent options.

A special mention must also go to wrist warmers, which may seem a perplexing choice as they apparently leave little digits in the cold, however for anyone with circulatory issues, keeping the pulse points warm in turn warms the hands, and for vital experiments such as ‘Can raindrops caught gently from a branch be balanced on each of my fingernails?’ (Yes) they are unbeatable.

Putting on a pair of gloves is a logic puzzle that ultimately can only be solved by the wearer, and solving it can take a while! All an assistant can do is offer encouragement, reposition fingers that have fused together in the dark alleyways of effort and model the useful habit of looking at what you are doing…this is an excellent season to practice.

On to the neck and shoulders. Double-scarfing is a canny way to keep snug without overheating. One ‘buff’ style scarf (which can be pulled all the way up under a hat) in a thin, breathable material underneath a thicker snood will keep wind and chills out and supports delayering when What’s the Time Mr Wolf? reaches its aerobic crescendo.

I can personally vouch for the adult’s snood from here, there are also lots of nice kid’s woollen options and they seem to understand the necessity of the fleece lining for maximum warmth and minimum ‘argh it’s itchy’:

https://pachamamaknitwear.com

Is that a hat? No, it’s a unicorn/hedgehog/banana!

Undeniably, very good fun while standing around singing, but unfortunately, they can prevent the wearer from celebrating their own alter-egos once in the woods, owing to the tendency of the dangly bits hanging off to hinder play and dip into soup flasks etc.

Fleece or woollen beanies or headbands, easy to shed and re-don, are a valuable addition and any wish to be seen as a hedgehog/unicorn/banana by anyone in any headgear, will always be honoured.

For the top layer, avoid cotton as much as possible. Cool and lightweight, cotton is perfect for a summer day but has no heat retention skills and will act like a wick if exposed to wet weather, sitting uncomfortably next to the skin, stealing precious warmth.

Ideal base layers would be a good set of thermals, often available in discount supermarkets at this time of year, online or from outdoor shops.

I realise that some people have mixed feelings about wearing synthetic fibres such as polyester, lycra, spandex or nylon, and while I’m not going to deny that they do work and are effective for trapping heat, merino and bamboo are viable alternatives and widely available. Ultimately it’s a very personal choice, here are some sites that may be useful for making a decision around which ones would suit you or your child:

https://www.totallywarm.co.uk/thermal-fibres-1-w.asp

https://www.britishthermals.com/

For layers atop the thermals, Secret Garden staff favour a wide range of materials.

Cashmere, fleece, thick or boiled wool in either jumper or cardigan format are all good. Sherpa and teddy fleece are much-loved by the little ones, cosy and quick drying.

On the bottom half over the thermals, thick fleece trousers or fleece-lined leggings are a good option if you are going down the waterproof trousers or waterproof dungarees route.

If you are opting for a waterproof snowsuit lined in fleece, (a fantastic and extremely warm piece of kit) it is very unlikely that this will be removed during the day over the winter months, as even on a day of windless, crispy wintry joy, mud happens, wet leaves happen and feeling damp can cloud the bluest of blue skies.

So if your child is prone to overheating a thinner pair of trousers or leggings may be a better option to go underneath this.

Waterproofs need to be reliable and sturdy, in a material that is up to the task of exposure to prolonged rain and with good wind proofing. Always look at the seams of waterproofs if you can, as the ones that look as if they have been sewn together with sellotape in the least merry Christmas decision imaginable need to be cast aside immediately.

Some good tips and examples can be found here:

https://www.littleadventureshop.co.uk/blogs/news/what-to-know-before-buying-a-kids-waterproof-jacket

https://www.muddypuddles.com

Many kid’s waterproofs have a fleece lining which can be great, though I would argue the quality of the external material is the most important factor, and several warm layers underneath a good quality jacket may be better to maximise dryness and prevent overheating.

Finally, the feet. Snow boots are a clear winner with both adults and children at this time of year, providing warmth, protection and sturdy waterproofing from the elements.

https://www.sorelfootwear.co.uk/

https://muckbootcompany.co.uk/

Wellies are still a good option for exceptionally wet days, provided they fit well and you have extreme confidence in your sock choice. There is an argument to suggest having one pair of warm socks instead of two can be more effective for keeping feet warm, as the second pair can cut off circulation. Has anyone tested this theory, on a short excursion perhaps, with spare socks in hand? I suspect many factors are involved, the lining of the wellies, the quality of the socks, whether you have insoles…do let me know if you have any wisdom in this area.

Personally I favour mohair socks, which are a little pricey, however they are exceptionally warm and comfortable, don’t retain odour even after walking 16,500 steps and therefore only require washing every two to three months. It’s true! See below if you’d like to test this idea…

https://www.thecambridgesockcompany.com/

Some other links that could be useful when searching for kit for various ages:

https://www.cambridgebaby.co.uk/catalog/2-6-yrs/hats-gloves-scarves/gloves-scarves?zenid=h1um5qrdh0co3kc1i7ot3v7da0

https://www.turtle-doves.co.uk

https://www.snowandrock.com/c/kids.html

 

Miscellaneous:

If any of you kind people were considering gifting a headtorch to a Secret Gardener for Christmas, may I please urge you to bring this forward as now is the time to pack them for use at the end of the day. After Solstice on the 21st December the light will be returning (hooray!) and by the time we come back for the new term there may be little use for them then.

Having warm things to eat and drink makes all the difference on a chilly day. We strongly recommend a warm breakfast as well as a warm lunch. Beans, pasta, soup or stew are all good options. If cold food is all your child is willing to eat, a warm drink such as hot chocolate, warm milk or tea would be a good accompaniment.

I have had some disastrous experiences with ‘thermal’ containers so hopefully you don’t have to. In this case original really does seem to be best, so long as the seal doesn’t get lost in the washing up:

https://thermos.com/collections/food-jars/products/stainless-king-food-jar-16oz

I hope this has been at least partly useful! Please let us know if you discover something wonderful, or terrible, that you feel should be included or excluded from the kit list.

Finally, the Secret Garden has several plastic boxes of spare kit which we are always happy to lend out to families until children grow out of it. There are several families who have already started an informal swap shop with clothing, and this is something the nursery is keen to support. Children grow so quickly and good quality kit can be expensive, so passing things on when your child outgrows items and then receiving the next size up from another family, is a great way to reuse valuable items and reduce our consumption.

Many thanks to the Secret Garden community for providing insights and ideas on what to include in this post.

Mazz Brown, November 2021

In the Woods, Uncategorized

Conkers

I wonder if any of you may have upturned a Secret Garden backpack or waterproof lately and, (surprise!) sent a cache of horse chestnut seeds bouncing merrily across the floor?

Conker collection time is here!

These seasonal treasures that gleam so richly and fit so perfectly into a little fist are irresistible, and carry with them many claims of varying credibility, such as:

Keeping a supply in the house will deter spiders.

The ‘horse’ element of the name refers to the supposed medicinal quality of the flowers and seeds, said to prevent horses from coughing.

They are very bitter and will taste horrible if you try to eat them. This is, I’m afraid, definitely true. Conkers contain a chemical called aesculin which is by all accounts disgusting and perhaps not surprisingly, slightly poisonous as well.

Most famously of course, conkers are the main components of the game ‘Conkers,’ in which opposing players attempt to smash each other’s conker to bits, with uproariously fibrous results.

Who will be the conkerer? (Sorry…) It remains to be seen…or does it?

Our far away friends on the Isle of Wight take the enterprising biscuit when it comes to conkers. Not only was the first recorded game of Conkers held there in 1848, look at what these clever folk have more recently discovered:

 https://diaryofafirstchild.com/2020/11/13/how-to-make-conker-soap/

Handwashing in the woods doesn’t get much more ‘woods’ than that! Maybe we could give it a try?

In our Spiral curriculum, the Horse Chestnut symbol represents ‘recognising and appreciating differences and similarities between people’.

This is the stage of the year when the children have had time to get to know one another, forge new friendships and deepen existing ones.

We see them communicating and collaborating, being open to letting others show and share who they are, celebrating the familiar but also engaging with and accepting the new.

Through this openness and acceptance the children are growing in their sense of community and belonging.

Mazz Brown, Woods Practitioner 

In the Woods, Uncategorized

September

…it’s such a magical month, when the only thing that stays the same is the constant change. Petals fall along the row, while our old friend the cherry tree tries on its autumn colours, a few leaves at a time.

‘Hello cherry tree, cherry cherry cherry tree, hello cherry tree, make apple juice for me?’

(Play begins at once, of course. Between the park and here we witness errant monkeys, hungry puppies and a party-organising committee overcome a major diplomatic crisis.)

On the lane the silver dollars glimmer, ethereal amongst nettles grey from dust. Tines of cow parsley parched and bleached to hay are snapped and held aloft like guiding torches snuffed of flame. Onward!

The last of the ladybirds have landed on bramble leaves, not hiding well enough to herald small fingers to the final plump berries that fuel our walk. When the breeze picks up we watch the clouds barrow across the sky above the farmer’s field, our bow to shoot from, where to today?

The answer is, most often: anywhere! Everything still so mild and kind, our many sites beckon, their irregular patchwork an open invitation to explore.

We have days sunlit and windless at Crystal Gnome Den, the bright beech light a clean and green illumination under whose sieve we play, safely held, on ground drained and dried through a long summer.

We have days cocooned in the coolness of the Moonden, air rich with damp, the children take three laps of the leafpile racetrack before returning with crooked fingers of dried pine to help feed our hissing fire.  

Chalked faces dart from trunk to trunk, gathering props. Interactions are glowing with good humour.

‘You’re a silly!’

‘Yes I am!’

‘Where’s that smile?’

‘In my tummy.’

Above the buzzard loops a loop. The sound it makes, a hula-hoop. Spiders ascend and descend trees on a glistening highway of slug trails. Mushrooms bloom on logs cake-soft from rot.

Secretly, red squirrels flick in golden commas through the pines, always in peripheral. The woods are as full as lungs.

Our end of day is still played out in brightness, when it’s lovely to be able to see the joyful smiles of greeting, to show off the treasures found throughout the day without the need of artificial light.

There’s time to send the swings soaring again, to shrug off bags and kick off shoes, to run, free through the warm grass, before home.

 

Mazz Brown (September 2021)

 

Uncategorized

Coronavirus Update

Workshops Cancelled

Due to the heightened situation regarding the spread of Coronavirus we have decided to cancel our upcoming In the Woods Workshop scheduled for the end of March. 

Please note that we have several other dates available for this workshop, the next being June 3rd. 

We are not cancelling any more workshops as of yet but will keep everyone posted of any changes we have to make as the situation continues. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns. 

Many thanks for your understanding. 

The SG Team 

Events

Information Evening Thursday 16th January

The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery warmly invites you to an information evening at our office base in Volunteer House, Crossgate, Cupar 7-9pm.

If you are a parent or carer, and are curious to learn more about our pioneering and award winning nursery, which is based in Letham woods, only five miles from Cupar, then why not pop along and join us for a cup of tea and a chat.

Our staff and some current parents will be on hand to answer questions, and we will have displays, photographs, literature (and hopefully a short film too!) to give you an insight into the unique and wonderful experience we provide for pre-school aged children.

We are also excited to say that our training facilitator, Louise Durrant, will be there to give a short introductory talk on the Hand in Hand Parenting by Connection Approach used by the nursery.

We welcome children from the age of three and are enrolling now for August 2020. We are a funded partner with Fife Council and so accept council pre-school funding and childcare vouchers. Children can attend full time or part time and can split their funded hours between the Secret Garden and another childcare setting.

This is a free, drop-in event, so please do come along and say hello!

Uncategorized

Bingo Fundraiser 27th Nov

A date for your diary 

Please come along and join us for one of our annual fundraising events.  

We’re hosting a Prize Bingo Night FUNdraiser at Duffus Park Bowling Club, Cupar on Wednesday 27th November 2019 from 7pm. All proceeds raised will go towards our work, supporting children’s access to nature in the early years. 

We’ve secured some wonderful prizes which include sets of scatter cushions, craft items, bottles and edible goodies, children’s books, beeswax food wraps (perfect for packed lunches), gift vouchers and much more! 

The entry price of £3 includes tea, coffee, sandwiches & cake. There’s also a bar available. 

Bingo books and raffle tickets will be on sale on the night. 

Tickets are available from Eventbrite and Fife Voluntary Action reception desk (beside Cupar Post Office). 

Eyes Down at 7.30pm – Will you get a Full House? 

All welcome – we’d love to see you, your family and friends there.  

Uncategorized

The Gifts of Wild Weather

Re-post, written in September 2018:

When we sent out the weekly email to parents at the end of this week the subject heading was “The Week of the Storm”. Wednesday was a big weather day, a very big weather day. Most of us living in those parts of the UK and Ireland affected by the storm will have a clear memory of the high winds, perhaps the lashing rain, possibly an encounter with fallen trees or branches or a flying wheelie bin. We’ll have our own storm story, with it’s own mix of exhilaration, awe, inconvenience, worry, possibly danger…

And indeed wild weather and high winds can bring danger. There was an amber warning in place for Fife on Wednesday, from 8am to 6pm. The warnings are there for good reason, and we take them seriously at the Secret Garden. We spend our Secret Garden day in a woodland. The topography of the woodland is varied and we are fortunate to be able to find shelter from the wind in most situations. On the rare occasions that the winds become dangerously high we evacuate the woods and take refuge in the village hall at the bottom of the hill. This happens rarely – maybe once a year. 

So on Tuesday evening we sent an email out to parents to let them know of the amber warning and to say that we were planning at this stage to remain open. I packed a crate of books, toys, crayons, clay and fabric for indoor den-building and put it in my car, just in case. 

When I stepped out of my house at about 8am on Wednesday morning, all was calm and still, a few drops of rain just starting to fall. In the park where the children are dropped off all continued to be calm. Almost no wind. The rain started to fall heavily. We set off up the hill for the woods, telling the parents that we would keep them posted. As we started walking up the hill in the pouring rain I momentarily saw us through the eyes of some of the village residents who were perhaps battening down the hatches in preparation for the coming storm.. “What on earth are they doing?!” What we were doing was having an amazing experience with water. As we walked and the rain tipped down, puddles and streams started to form on the road and track. For the half hour it took us to walk up we were totally absorbed by the water running in sheets and rivulets on the road surface, and the rushing and gurgling in the drains. (We even saw a frog down a drain!)

In the woods we chose a spot that was sheltered from the South and West, the direction that the wind was forecast to come from. We had a parachute tarp for shelter and we made a small fire for warmth and cheer. Some children wanted to go out into the rain that was still beating down, whilst others wanted to cosy round the fire, where we sang songs about ducks and frogs. 

As we were sitting and singing the wind started to get up. Round our fire we were still sheltered, but we could hear and see it in the treetops elsewhere in the woods. My co-worker and I took turns to go to the edge of the wood and see what was going on “out there”, and we kept in touch with a third member of staff, who was working nearby. We decided to have an early lunch (just after 11am!), feeling that we wanted to be ready to be leaving the woods before too long. We ate our lunch around the fire, feeling safe and sheltered and listening to the wind and rain. After lunch the rain stopped and the sun came out, but the wind was still strong, and the gusts were intensifying. We decided it would be a sensible time to leave the woods. 

We walked down across the stubble in the farmer’s field so that we wouldn’t be walking under any trees. The sky was clear with racing clouds. The wind was strong! We all held hands and enjoyed being blown by the wind. The children were grinning and laughing. What a different feel to the walk up! As we carried on down, the road was littered with leaves and small twigs. (No big branches or trees had fallen at that point, though the wind and gusts did intensify through the afternoon and there were some fallen trees and big branches down in the woods the next day). 

Once in the village hall we contacted parents. The children got busy making dens, drawing, playing with farm animals, and building blocks. All was calm, peaceful and contented. We listened to the wind as it gathered strength, howling and battering the windows. 

We all enjoyed our indoor afternoon – a real novelty for the children. But what I loved most was that we had been out in the driving rain and the gusting wind, that we had sat round the fire singing songs, that we had been intrepid explorers and come back with our stories of exhilaration, awe and survival… 

We take our duty of care to these precious children extremely seriously, and the children’s safety is of paramount importance. But had we just followed the weather warnings without using our own common sense and experience, we might have decided not to have gone to the woods at all. The children might have been denied an experience which some of them will possibly remember for a long time, maybe even the whole of their lives. For sure we need to be alert to the dangers. But there is also a danger of over-protection. Children (and adults) need to fully experience the weather, to feel the power of the elements and how they shape the environment, how they move and shape us. We too are wild in our hearts and souls. Let the children feel the wildness of the weather as a call and response to their own wonderful wildness, the vitality that we never want to tame. 

Louise Durrant, the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery.

In the News, Uncategorized

Nursery Wins at NMT Awards!

The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery has won the category Best Forest School/Nature Kindergarten in the Scottish NMT Nursery Awards 2019.

As Scotland’s first ever fully outdoor nursery, a unique and highly acclaimed philosophy and practice has evolved in the woods crafted around the guiding principles – Presence, Nature, Play. 

Winners of the 6thScottish NMT Nursery Awards 2019 were presented with their trophies by Arlene Stuart at the high-profile gala night held on Friday 30thAugust at the Hilton Glasgow Hotel, attended by over 350 guests.

About the Awards: The Scottish NMT Nursery Awards are an annual event organised by Nursery Management Today, the leading business publication in the nursery sector and sponsored by key companies providing services in the sector. The Awards are designed to discover and reward the very best people in the Scottish Nursery Sector.There were 12 categories to enter overall and there were six finalists in each category with two independent judges.

A word from the Judges: The Judges chose The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery because of their embedded belief that nature is the facilitator. They recognised the strong, collaborative relationships the nursery has within the local community and how this supports daily experiences. Presence, nature and play all the way.

Naomi and Sarah travelled through to the Glasgow Hilton, replacing their waterproofs and wellies for skirts and heels, to accept the award on behalf of the nursery.