Blog

In the Woods

With every blossom`s opening, Spring is celebrated

Spring has sprung! And though I type this with rain lashing ceaselessly against the window from a smudged pencil rubber of a sky, the happy signs of the season change are here.

The cherry blossom cracked its neat buds on the Row this week to peek out from its unzipped jackets. It will only be a matter of time before we are singing under those white, swaying boughs…

Daffodils abound, the birds are in fine voice, and new lambs are prancing in the field next to the Squirrel Run where the grass, thick and green and lush, cushions the horizon.

And Easter is imminent…a time of revival, renewal, and joyfully misjudging how much chocolate is a bit too much.

Easter egg hunts originated in medieval times, when abstinence from animal products during Lent necessitated boiling any fresh eggs to keep them edible. At the end of the Lent period the men of the village would hide the eggs for the women to find.

As fun as I’m sure that was, I must admit I am thankful that over time this has evolved into hiding chocolate eggs instead, as I suspect a 40 day old boiled egg wouldn’t incite the same appreciation in these modern times…or perhaps it would?

The Secret Garden children have been demonstrating their superior sleuthing skills this week in a series of egg-hunts around the various sites in the woods. It has been clear to see that no Easter egg can escape the attentions of a group of children so thoroughly versed in Hide and Seek.

Scotland is also a devout follower of the pace-eggin’ tradition, in which eggs are hard-boiled and beautifully decorated prior to being sent careering down a suitable hill.  There is some argument about where this practice originated, so if you are taking part in the pace-eggin’ but also the argument, beware of this reaching the point where you are distracted to the point of missing where your egg ends up!

For those of you venturing out and about this weekend here are some festive events happening nearby:

https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/easter

Finally, some news that isn’t so sweet. You may have heard some whispers about the dubious ethical practices of certain chocolate companies. For information on some kinder choices, here are some sites that could be useful:

https://www.slavefreechocolate.org/ethical-chocolate-companies

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/shopping-guide/easter-eggs

Wishing you all a very happy Easter weekend, and if you are enjoying outdoor spaces, watch out for errant eggs underfoot!

Written by Mazz Brown. 

In the Woods

Breathe Deep and Stretch- Mindfulness for Kids

For all ages, the past two years have at times been strange and hard.

While we are firmly landed in the dormant months, with their crisp-air, hard ground and bare trees, it can feel as if the woods are holding their breath for the big sigh and limb-shake of spring.

The everyday tasks of life can feel heavy. Waking up just slightly before you feel ready. Donning endless layers. The icy claw of the dustbin handle. The sun, though bright, reluctant to rise from a low droop in the sky.

So what can we do?

Mindfulness is a not-always-helpful blanket term used to describe many helpful things. I’m sure many of you already know the benefits of meditation, yoga and breathwork and perhaps you use these regularly in managing stress, soothing anxiety and bolstering confidence and self-esteem.

(Topically, there are also arguments to suggest incorporating some sort of mindfulness practice can boost the immune system https://www.mindful.org/train-brain-boost-immune-system/.)

For the early years, who live in the exhilarating but exhausting world of the immediate, the attention span may not be as long but the need is still there. It’s easy to forget that children of this age can feel stress and the burden of responsibility relative to them, and as such mindfulness tools can and should be adapted to meet their needs too.

The Secret Garden’s use of the Hand in Hand listening tools, (in particular Staylistening and Playlistening), support and allow the children to recognise and express their feelings in an unhurried, non-judgemental way, and are among its many valuable functions a concession to the power of mindfulness, and as such an appropriate introduction to it for this age group.

Helpful in delivering this support to the children is a basic understanding of the amygdala, the part of the brain located in the limbic system that detects stress and is linked to the prefrontal cortex, which governs emotional response.

Keeping the amygdala happy is enjoyable work. (And let’s also remember, child’s ‘play’ is actually highly important, exhausting and often complex, work.) Amygdala-soothing activities involve games, laughter, and social activity with people that are liked and trusted.

When a child is overly stressed, they can experience an ‘amygdala hijack.’ The limbic system fires up and cortisol and adrenaline start flowing freely to mitigate the danger. The flight, fight or freeze response kicks in.

(Not to be confused with the game ‘Fire, Flood or Freeze,’ which contrastingly is another excellent way to soothe the amygdala, as well as introducing children to the concept of ‘stillness’ in a way they find rewarding, and could perhaps plant the subliminal seed that mindful pause has its uses! This is an example of excellent ‘Playlistening.’)

In a hijack, the child’s reasoning brain shuts down. This type of situation will most likely sound familiar and it is every bit as unpleasant as it sounds for the child in question, who will need to express big feelings to clear the emotional ‘block’ the hijack will have caused. Staylistening is self-explanatory, staying and listening with minimal talking or interruption. Though gently encouraging the child to keep breathing deeply will keep them grounded and help to calm their nervous system.

Recognising triggers for this state is useful. If these can be removed or intercepted, and the child can be given the time, space and guidance to rebalance themselves, their recognition of and resilience to stress and other amygdala hijacks can build incrementally over time.

We know that pausing to breathe is a powerful tool. Deliberate, deep breaths which can be sighed, hissed or even roared out can be a huge help in challenging circumstances. If this sounds obvious that’s because it absolutely is. Isn’t it extraordinary how regularly we forget to do it? Even a brief period of concentrated breathing can truly ‘change your mind.’

If you can convince children to give it a try before their blood pressure starts to rise, they may discover this for themselves and add it to their toolkit of emotional management strategies. A more in-depth look at brain chemistry and a mindfulness success story for a little one: https://blissfulkids.com/mindfulness-and-the-brain-how-to-explain-it-to-children/.

Yoga is also excellent, and has the added child-friendly bonus of being a bit less boring as it involves some movement and interaction. Appropriately, Child’s Pose is one of the best for stress-relief and encouraging a couple of moments of stillness in comfort.

Adaptable for practice either alone, with a parent/carer or in a larger group, yoga is a good option for bonding with your child, or for the amygdala-soothing effect that group-based exercise has.

Some options for children’s yoga, depending on your preference: https://cosmickids.com/and https://gozen.com/8-yoga-poses-for-stress-relief-for-kids/

For purposes of balance, it is essential to acknowledge the importance of mindlessness for kids as well.

Those moments we witness when children are not being asked to think or to listen, and can experience the freedom of sailing to and fro on a swing; spinning a circle in a trance, or sinking their hands into a rich squidge of mud, (perhaps using it to idly redecorate a nearby friend/important document/car) minds delightfully and obviously unoccupied, are precious and worthy of protection.

I think perhaps the closest adults can get to emulating this happily brainless state is most likely in the supermarket queue, when we hover, amoeba-like, our gaze fixed on the middle distance, all cogent thought temporarily yet deliciously, lost…

 

By Mazz Brown, with many thanks to Claudia Ortiz, fellow Secret Garden practitioner, for her kind contribution.

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.