In the Woods

Staying Warm, Dry, and in Good Spirits.

Updated winter Care of Children. Writen by Mazz Brown with many thanks to Claire McGarrie, Karen McLean and the Secret Garden team for their input and contributions.

We reach that time of year again when our staff meetings, training, and discussions with parents in the park (headtorch-illuminated or lit by a sun set to a low wick) turn to how best to care for the children and ourselves as we move through winter in the woods.

From a staffing perspective, winter is a season of high strategy, in which we rely on and revel in our culture of consistent, warm and respectful communication to ensure safe spaces can be held and maintained.

This is a season to value attention to small details; as much as possible giving ourselves space and time to prepare, checking the forecast, keeping it simple in our duty to provide attentive care, and never, ever, packing ourselves a mediocre lunch.

The children always have and always will be involved in decision-making at the Secret Garden, and winter is a time when this can really flourish. Circle times, intrinsic to our daily structure, can multiply to pre-empt or press pause on play if the elements renegotiate the terms.

‘It’s stopped/raining/stopped/hailing/snowing/stopped/the sun is out/gone/the wind has gone/picked up! What will we need today? What do you think we should do?’

Unfailingly gifted in noticing changes in weather patterns and what this could entail, the nursery community may need to decamp or regroup, pack or unpack, reassess their clothing needs, change a game from static to mobile or help a friend to find a glove.

This ‘supervised survival’ reads to the children as adventure of the purest kind, and develops skills in problem-solving, adaptability, flexibility and confidence.

No two winters are ever the same, and we are continually bemused, delighted, buffeted and humbled by a meteorological backdrop of endless change. Although collectively we do have many years of experience, and have found that paying particular attention to the following has had a great impact on our enjoyment of these wintry days outside.


· Every type of weather offers up play opportunities that other types cannot, and we put a great emphasis on role modelling positive attitudes to whatever is shone, showered, whistled, iced, misted or flurried our way.

· Weather apps or websites such as the Met Office are a useful resource for giving hour-by-hour information on how the weather may change as the day progresses, and deciding how much and what sort of kit may be needed.

· Wet or windy days will typically call for more layers, and it can be useful to have some of these be quick-drying such as fleece.


· Warm and comfortable layers are key. The Secret Garden day has periods of high and low exertion, activity and stillness. A warm/waterproof hat or a cosy hood and a buff/snood are ideal for keeping the wind at bay.

· Thermal, fleece, or woollen materials are far superior to cotton, which likes to soak up water and is a trickster, acquiring the shape of warmer garments like hoodies or jumpers while providing minimal heat. This is especially important for socks too.

· Staff are predictably well padded up themselves at this time of year so happy to discuss good clothing/layering options if there is any uncertainty around what is best.

· Waterproof mittens with a strap or zip* are a good choice as they are ideal for all weathers and enable uninterrupted access to messy play, though the child’s individual preference should be taken into account, as they are then more likely to be worn. Please choose gloves that fit your child well.

· Insulated wellies keep toes toasty and dry.

· Arriving in the park fully dressed ensures a speedy entrance into play and a smooth exit up the hill. If your child has a waterproof with braces, its best if this is the last layer, to help with easy toileting. Our journey involves some reliably wonderful puddles. Waterproofs over wellies please!

· Charity shops and second hand clothing apps such as Vinted have some great finds and we can loan out clothing and boots to our Secret Gardeners. Members of our Secret Gardeners Facebook group often offer outgrown clothing as well (ask us for the link as it`s private).


· The side pockets are best used for accessible gloves and a water bottle*

· A ziplock or dry waterproof bag for spare clothing/nappies is always a good idea. Even if your child is toilet trained, winter in the woods can throw up some surprises and it is entirely normal for this to sometimes take a step back.

· Lunch at the top of the bag is optimal. (Generally this is the first thing your child will need to access once we are in the woods.)

· A clean pair of ‘lunch gloves’ (not waterproof mittens) inside the lunch box* is a good idea too, for keeping fingers cosy while sitting.

· A hat with a torch built in or headtorch* for going down the hill in the dark.


· If possible, a warm breakfast before arrival in the park is ideal.

· A warm lunch in a thermos is also highly recommended. If your child really resists warm foods, having a thermos of whatever warm drink they like (chocolate, milk, juice etc.) alongside a cold lunch will be a great help in keeping cosy at lunchtime.

· Appealing, energy dense-foods that are likely to be enjoyed by your child are the best choice for woods days. Pasta, beans, leftovers from dinner, dried fruit and nuts, home baking, porridge and soup are all good options.

* These ideas we feel are especially helpful for promoting independence and building confidence in children’s self-care skills.

Further reading and resources:

In the Woods

Stepping Forward to Step Back-Winter Care of Children

As much as possible, when facilitating play for children at the Secret Garden we try to hold the space without taking ownership of it, in a culture of  ‘stepping back,’  a gentle yet powerful tool.

One intuitive practitioner worded it perfectly when she said she felt we should be ‘like trees.’ This puts us just outside the frame of play, protective but unobtrusive, not interrupting or directing, and simply maintaining a respectfully distant, quiet watch.

This approach is in concession to the fact that children seemingly at play are actually working hard-creating, testing, inventing and negotiating without adult input is where bonds form, links are made and minor triumphs tot up to major achievements, in social and physical development, and in a healthy trickle of pride, contentment and self-worth.

In every season it can sometimes be necessary to breach this code and step forward again if children need support to interact with each other safely and respectfully, but in the winter months this can increase for a variety of reasons; most presciently there is just simply a need for more 1:1 care.

Ensuring gloves and hats are on, mats are sat on and children are warm and dry, wellies and waterproofs are secured with socks free from leaf-litter or other uncomfy detritus, innovative strategies for pins and needles communicated and tissues distributed, the woods in winter can be thrilling and beautiful but equipping ourselves against the elements and modelling good self-care is vital to maintain equilibrium.  

Keeping spirits up and positive associations with nature ticking along are equally vital, particularly for new Secret Gardeners who haven’t yet experienced a full year in the woods and therefore have not yet been through a full seasonal learning cycle.

So we adapt…beginning with our daily routines. Knowing one of the best ways to stay cosy and rosy is to generate some of your own heat, in the park we try and discourage too much sitting on the swings and to encourage chasing games or climbing and clambering.

We try to keep a good pace walking up and down the hill to the woods, and try to make sure that everyone is kitted out comfortably, to their individual preferences, before setting off. Some children will often feel cold, some hardly ever will.

Warm lunches or a warm drink with lunch are highly recommended, so if children have brought flasks these will be met with great enthusiasm. Post-lunch, the story will often be short and sweet, or incorporate more actions or song, to get the blood moving and muscles engaged after a period of stillness.

Yoga or ‘adventures’ to other parts of the woods are good afternoon activities if children are struggling to zip back into play. 

Laughter and fun being the most warming of all, this is also the time of year when staff and children can really revel in the joy of games. Scavenger hunts, Hide and Seek…Flood, Fire or Freeze…What’s the Time Mr. Wolf?  and many others devised by one of our especially inventive practitioners not only warm the body but also the soul, reinforce connections with the children, and can provide a wonderful distraction from conditions that some may find challenging.

Winter is also fantastic for giving the children the opportunity to help with seasonally-appropriate jobs. Dragging a trug and collecting sticks on a crisp day, learning to saw, hammering rocks or spreading straw all introduce an element of fun, risk, and physical exertion, inspiring confidence via a selection of achievable challenges.

In our Spiral Curriculum, there are a few symbols that glow particularly brightly at this time of year. Ivy (willingness to express needs and ask for support) Silver Birch (showing signs of being confident and feeling safe with others, using assertive and responsible strategies) and Squirrel (sometimes taking initiative with ideas and leading others).

As practitioners, we try to nurture these by modelling warmth in our words and our deeds.

‘Are you nice and cosy?’ has proven to be an inspirational little couplet for encouraging Ivy and Silver Birch moments- it is head, heart and hand-warming to witness children helping themselves and each other with finding and putting on hats, jackets and gloves.

In the post-lunchtime hubbub we might dial up a couple of notches from our usual Whispering Practitioner volume to announce ‘I’m just going to put another layer on as I’ve been sitting still for a while and I want to be nice and cosy.’   

Nice and cosy…nice and cosy…reminders, gentle, consistent and demonstrable, of how to stay comfortable and therefore stay curious-are peppered throughout the day.

Extra layers quietly placed behind children as they eat, clean gloves put on after handwashing, warm fires to sing into and a blanket-lined tent for anyone who needs a rest in a quiet corner… there are so many ways to stay happy in the wild and once established these echo through the days and weeks to circle back again in lovely Squirrel moments.

The children can and do learn the limits of their own comfort and start to manage it on their own terms, inspiring others to do the same.

Staying comfortable enables us to stay curious, and to keep seeking out experiences in the open air-be that icy, wet, or blustery-that reward and fortify us. Looking back once more to the Spirals, the Scots Pine symbol represents ‘a sense of wonder and willingness to explore and engage with new places.’ A tree, and an idea, which is evergreen, and a reassuring constant throughout the year.

Written by Mazz Brown.

In the Woods

The Secret Gardener’s Story 2022 

This story is a collation of all the incredible play the children at the Secret Garden have been engaging in over the past year. Weaving in moments of nature connection, numeracy, literacy and our Spiral curriculum, all of the ideas are the children’s own, all of the quotations are theirs too.  

A great many thanks to the children for the endless inspiration, and to the staff team for their wonderful observations.  

Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year. 

Mazz Brown December 2022.  

Once upon a time, some children went to play in the woods.  

On the way they noticed some icy puddles, which some of them wanted to break, but others said the ghosts could catch them if they did that.  

They visited the lambs. They patted one that had only been born that morning, helped to feed another one, and helped to bed the sheep with new straw. And they sat in the tractor! 

When they arrived, the children were busy. Some of them made a fire, collecting wood, sorting the sticks and even making a fire safety circle.  

One was riding on her unicorn and a couple more were talking about a birthday party. “We’re going to play pass the parcel’, ‘and I am going to be 4.’ 

‘You’ll need 15 layers for that and I am 4 and ¾.’ 

From the woods, they could see smoke coming out of the new yurt chimney for the first time.  

They made shapes behind the tarp as the sun was shining on it. They acted out animals, while the others guessed what they were.  

Two children made a stick bus with log seats. The rest enjoyed rides in their bus-it had a round steering wheel made out of branches. 

At lunchtime, there were six strawberry cakes. And for the bad guys, hazelnut soup (it’s poisonous!) Some crumbs were fed to the birds, and the children discovered rhyming words. Tickle and pickle, bear and pear – please and cheese – cat, mat, hat. 

Someone said: ‘If you eat your crusts you’ll get hair on your hands!’ 

Then kittens and dogs were jumping into the swimming pool. 

‘We’re swimming in a sea of leaves!’ one child said. 

A pack of puppies were being walked on their leads. A sloth hung from a tree and a beautiful mural appeared on the woodshed. 

Two ladybirds sunbathed on a twig, and when the sun went in, the ladybirds crawled under the bark.  

There were snowdrops to count, and snow, and snowmen. A den that needed moss putting inside, with a door and a booby trap. And a trip to the zoo to feed pandas, penguins and elephants. 

Someone spent a long time watching a queen bumble bee crawling slowly up a tree…someone else watched a pheasant in the field. 

Once upon another time, the children noticed tulips on the walk up. What colour would they be when they opened?  

Bamboo was needed (for koalas) and plants from different parts of the woods. Curled fern fronds were found, they looked like mini broccoli! Someone drew a big spiral in the leaves, then made wings to turn it into a bee. 

Two children planted seeds they found, discussing how they would need water, sunshine and special wishes to make them grow. 

 ‘I wish, I wish, I wish my plant will grow,’ they said. 

Two others led a yoga class. Workers rebuilt the den, and one made soup for them to have afterwards. It needed more water-it was a bit too thick! 

Then came the new soft beech leaves…two children collected nectar to make green honey.  

The speedboat needed to be fixed to get to Edinburgh zoo. Some other children went to a funfair through a magic gate on a motorcycle, and others on a minibeast adventure…a couple more had toast and butter on the train to Dundee. 

Two children sorted grass. Which was the longest, shortest, medium size? Someone else used sticks to check and compare the height of her baby reindeers. Another found a V-shaped stick. 

‘It could be a triangle or bunny ears,’ they thought. 

‘Or antlers,’ said another.  

‘Or legs for Stickman,’ someone else suggested.  

Others threaded found items onto a woollen ‘loom’ between the trees. 

‘This tree is so tall, taller than me, taller than all of us, taller than the Eiffel tower in Paris,’ somebody said. 

The children saw 11 bees fly out of a hole in the ground, and made a protective area around it to warn others. 

There was a big adventure to Monimail, where there was a stream with green water snakes, and they made garlic soup.  

Someone said: 

‘It was the best day ever.’ 

Once upon another time, there was a Tree Blood Farm, with bark to pick off a fallen tree.  

Some children made a cosy safe nest for a robin, and there were baby wolves, pirates with leaves for treasure, and a pen built for some guinea fowl. 

‘They have wings but can’t fly,’ someone explained. 

Pizza was made and there were races, with children running around the outside of the quarry, and saying ‘well done!’ to each other.  

One child found a tickly ladybird, who opened its wings and flew onto his hand. Another child found a moth, and gently took it on a leaf, telling his friends,  

‘Shh…’ as he showed them. 

Some children decided it was time to rebuild the den again, while others were chatting about the crocodiles in the swamp. Another, while strimming, discovered lots of ripe brambles. 

There was a 5th birthday party with lots of cakes. But then one million Gruffalos tried to crash the party & were scared off with sticks!  

Once upon another time, the children heard a loud noise just as they arrived. Perhaps a deer? Where was it? Where was it coming from? 

There was a new ice cream shop, singing, and musical instruments being played. Some children collected water in the tarp to make potions, some others learnt to count in Dutch. 

One child was galloping along on their uncontrollable horse with cannon booster power. Spaceships were built, and there was ballroom dancing… 

A hairdressing salon, with haircuts, colouring, washing, conditioner and a mega dryer opened.  There was also a Bake Off competition, with some of the children making cakes, and one of them the judge. 

One afternoon, there was a lovely visit from the moth man. He came to show the children different moths he had caught. One of the children also found a moth, she was very gentle moving it. When it flew away another child said, 

‘It’s going back to nature.’ 

The children were invited to collect cooking apples from an apple tree, and they enjoyed freshly picked pears given to them by a kind neighbour in the village. 

One child opened a sweet shop. She had lots of customers! 

The children saw that the leaves were changing colour on the cherry tree, from red to yellow and brown. They saw the geese flying overhead.  

‘It’s like a bow and arrow.’ 

‘It’s like a smiley face.’ 

‘It’s like a Pterodactyl,’ they said.  

The children cooked fish biscuits and blueberry-flavoured sausages, and someone found the smallest baby ladybird ever. Some children went on a trip on the aeroplane but it needed some repairs before it could take off. 

Almost everyone made conker people. Pumpkin soup was made on the fire, and a couple of children visited a funfair and went on a rollercoaster which got out of control…they had to be rescued!  

Others went on a boat ride, and another group worked in a chocolate factory, making treats for all.  There were also autumn raspberries…and lemon balm… 

Once upon another time, the children saw the trees looked bare ‘without their leaves.’  

They watched the wind blow leaves off trees, they listened to the sound of wind, comparing it to the sea. One said, 

‘The wind is tickling me.’ 

Some children weaved willow shapes from broken willow they had found on the ground, wrapping string round to hold them. Others were farmers, ploughing the land.  

Some made Christmas decorations using yarn over a cut out cardboard Christmas tree, and Christmas cards which they delivered, singing. 

‘It’s an adventuring kind of day,’ one child said. 

The snow returned. Snowballs were thrown and some children made a ramp to sledge off a straw bale. They sledged in the field. They even sledged their way home. 

Somebody said: 

‘Giddy up Rudolph!’ 

(Not) The End…  

In the Woods

Watch Out, But Go For It!  

The Benefits of Risky Play 

We have seen many children arrive at the Secret Garden, often having just celebrated their third birthday, and not only get to grips with our unique entry into the nursery day (waterproofs on, backpacks on, playpark interlude, then a half-mile hike up to the woods) but also with the unique terrain, and the risky play opportunities this provides.   

Although everything exciting has some element of risk involved, denying children the right to discover what they are capable of is to deny them vital opportunities to develop and thrive on their own terms. By taking chances in their play, children learn valuable lifelong skills; how to risk-assess independently, how to support, communicate and negotiate with others, how to navigate the sometime-turbulent waters of getting mixed results…  

Naturally, there are limits. The safety of both staff and children is taken very seriously, with risk assessments regularly updated for all of the locations we go to, and through. (Deliberately titled ‘Benefit Risk Assessments’ in acknowledgement that great gains can be made from giving activities with an element of risk a go.) Adults are aware, always watchful, nearby and on hand should they need to step in. 

But in the main, the parameters are set by the child. Although physical dexterity, judgement and observation skills differ, children are naturally primed for survival and intrinsically aware of their own boundaries, capable of measuring risks and making sound judgements. Many children are skilled at self-regulation, with an instinctive sense of their own capabilities. It would be careless to overlook this and prevent them from shaping their individual approach to risk. 

We also have a responsibility to respect and nurture the children’s natural curiosity, enabling and facilitating play that rewards them in the pursuit of it. This cannot exclude risky play, with levels available for all. For every tree that can offer a challenging climb six feet off the ground, (this, we feel, is a comfortable limit) there is a log that can provide a balancing opportunity of just a few inches.  

We believe strongly in helping children to recognise and set their own limits when it comes to assessing and tackling risky play. For example, a child asking a grown up to lift them up into a tree or onto a swing is perhaps not quite ready for a challenge of that size. Which is perfectly fine. With a trusted adult closeby, holding the space for them, often we find this same child will be ready later that day. Or later that hour, or even after a few more minutes of considering, evaluating, emboldening…  

Witnessing first-hand the obvious triumph and pride a child gains by ascending one branch higher, whizzing down a mudslide or landing deftly on top of a hay bale is like seeing a fire suddenly catch. The accomplishment is electrifying, and the child will often whoop, beaming, or run about as a sudden rush of joy powers through them. 

Launching out into the wilderness is exciting. Testing oneself in the wilderness is exhilarating, and returning from the wilderness buoyant from the experience is life-affirming, building independence, confidence, and fanning the flames of self-belief.  

In the Woods

Found Food: Foraging at the Secret Garden 

Lush and bountiful were the words that came to mind as we took temporary leave of our beloved woods for the summer break. 

The bright watercolour leaves of spring had deepened to a richer palette with chlorophyll in strong evidence. Woodland plants growing side by side exuded a delicious cocktail of scent in the warmth of the sun, and for a few weeks the soundtrack of laughing children was swapped out for the soft hum of bees, the rustle of willow and vibrant, multivocal birdcall. 

At the Secret Garden we are so fortunate to have the facilities for both cultivated and wild plant growth and appreciation. The children nurture their relationship with the natural world as they nurture the plants in our nursery garden, witnessing growth cycles, identifying species and whenever possible sampling edible varieties, each experience reinforcing that magical link between seed to soil to shoot to plant. 

For children in the early years, the sensory experience of picking and eating food growing wild is a primal and powerful thing, lingers long in the memory and brings them real joy, and so if at all possible, this is something that we try to respect, educate on, responsibly encourage and not deny.     

In a spirit of open communication, the children are supported to understand that any plant we forage must first be identified by an adult. Resources such as field guides and ID charts are provided to increase knowledge and inspire their interest, while certain things are left well alone. We never, for instance, pick mushrooms. 

Aspiring to exist synergistically with the other life that calls the woods home, gentle yet consistent reminders to notice and appreciate the foraging habits of other creatures, as well as the needs of plants and trees, are a chance to communicate playfully as well as learn. 

‘Do you think that ladybird might be about to eat their lunch?’ 

Our last few weeks were greatly enhanced with the foraging opportunities of the season, and the children loved literally seeing the fruits of all the gardening labours emerge in the strawberry patch and the blackcurrant bushes; particularly abundant this year. 

Mint, lemon balm and fennel had been thriving thanks to the careful attentions of our gardener and herbalist dream team, keeping the younger fresh in breath and the older refreshed with fragrant infusions. 

Elsewhere, the play spaces are awash! Amiable plantain, with little cheerful wands that can be steamed and eaten like a vegetable, and leaves that can be picked and thoroughly squashed release a juice that soothes nettle stings even more effectively than the traditional dock. 

We also have a sizeable plantation of comfrey, another known for its healing properties. Historically used to treat wounds, comfrey can be mashed to a poultice and applied to sprains and breaks, and makes a great natural bandage.  

Earlier in the year, the fresh, lemony tang of young beech leaves were enjoyed as we were on the move between play sites (is it a coincidence two of our stopping places are beech trees?) and wild garlic and raspberries were also in abundance.  

More recently the Cleavers, (or Sticky Willy), reappeared to claim their annual crown of adhesive all-star, appropriately playing a starring role in the birthday crowns we make for the children.  

These multifaceted marvels are a natural detoxifier and the freshly-picked leaves, rinsed well and left overnight in a jug of water, make a wonderful lymphatic tonic. Tasting vaguely herbal and grassy, its effects, it must be mentioned, are allegedly diuretic too. 

Then once dried out, they can be used for lighting fires when the burrs have turned to brrrs….and they more or less gather themselves! Kitted out in natural fibres and in the excellent company of a Secret Gardener, I believe you will be able to make it home with a bunch entirely hands-free.   

In the trees and hedgerows, the brambles and plums hold back until autumn, but the milky beechnuts are already falling and the waving cherries glow from a faint blush to magenta.  

The season continues to turn like notches on a dimmer switch, moving through each subtle shade.   

By Mazz Brown, with thanks to Anna Kinross for her kind contributions. 

In the Woods

A story for Spring- The don`t be silly kingdom

A photo of a woods practitioner laughing with two children

Stories, widely loved and shared by all ages, are a treasured ritual in the Secret Garden, ingrained into our daily routine when the adult in the ‘Snack Bag’ role will tell a tale after lunch. Although impromptu storytelling can and does occur at other points in the day, this is a carefully chosen moment, when the children are able to relax and concentrate before they embark on the essential task of the afternoon’s play.

The stories we tell and how we tell them can be hugely impactful for the early years. Stories not only provide abundant literacy and numeracy opportunities through the use of rhyme, rhythm, counting and measurement, they also encourage a sense of community and kinship, and introduce and develop pertinent themes such as friendship, kindness, resilience and social inclusion. (This list is not exhaustive!)

Many factors influence our story choices; observing particular points of interest in the children’s play, our use of the Hand in Hand tools and the Spiral Curriculum, and our Seasonal Learning Cycle, which mark the transitions the children will be making as the year progresses. This gives us a lovely wide scope for selecting stories that will resonate and inspire, as well as a framework for approaching the act of storytelling in a spirit of empathy, nurture and fun.

Thinking about how to support children with pre-school nerves/self-esteem struggles over the past few months, I’ve written a story in celebration of silliness and good humour…

The Don’t Be Silly Kingdom-a story for the Secret Garden children.

Once upon a time there was a land where everybody was very serious. Nobody was allowed to laugh. And this was because the Lord of the land did not like laughing. Or even smiling. Because sometimes you smile before you laugh, don’t you?

So all through the streets, and in the parks, and on all the lampposts, were big signs that said:


There were swings and a slide and a roundabout in the park, but when the children played on them it wasn’t very fun. They couldn’t swing too high on the swings, in case it was too much fun. The roundabout had to go very slowly, or it might be too much fun. If the slide got wet in the rain it was CLOSED, because it would be far too easy to whoosh down and say ‘Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!’ And then what might happen? They might LAUGH.

There were no funfairs or circuses or birthday parties. The shopkeepers weren’t even allowed to sell bananas, because one day someone had dropped a banana skin and the postwoman had slipped and fallen on her bottom, and this had made her laugh so much that bananas were forever BANNED.

One day a new family arrived in the land. There was a little boy, a little girl, and a mummy and daddy, and they wanted to open a joke shop. They had lots of things with them that were a bit funny…pretend glasses and pretend noses, and pretend biscuits made of rubber that you could put next to someone’s cup of tea and TRICK them, so when they bit into it they said ‘Blerrrk!’ instead of ‘Yum!’

They had itching powder and soap that made your face dirty instead of clean. And they had whoopee cushions…

When they told the people of the land that they wanted to open a joke shop, the people said, very seriously: ‘Oh no no no no no. The Lord of the land will not allow it! He doesn’t like jokes.’

‘But why?’ the family asked. And the people of the land pointed to the signs and said:

‘Jokes make people laugh! The Lord of the land doesn’t like laughing!’

The new family were very confused. The little girl asked:

‘Why doesn’t he like laughing?’

The little boy asked:

‘What is his name?’

And these were questions that no one could answer. When the people heard them they tucked their lips in and shook their heads and some of them even ran away, hiding their faces in their sleeves!

‘Right, that’s it. We’re going to see the Lord,’ the family decided.

They walked all the way up the hill to the big castle where the Lord lived. They knocked on the big door: ka-boom-ka-boom-ka-boom.

The door swung open and two very tall, very serious guards stood over them.

‘Yes, what do you want?’ they boomed.

‘We want to see the Lord!’ the family said.

The guards looked at each other and said:

‘Follow me.’

So into the castle they went. It was very dark. There were no pictures on the wall or flowers on the tables. They followed the guards up to the highest room and waited while they knocked on the door.

‘Come in!’ said a very serious-sounding voice. The door opened.

Inside, on a beautiful chair, on a big squashy cushion, sat the Lord of the land.

He was wearing the most wonderful clothes. He wore a top hat and a bright velvet jacket. He wore polka-dotted pantaloons and on his feet were enormous shoes like a clown. But the Lord didn’t know this, because no circus had ever been to the land, he had never even seen a clown!

The Lord’s clothes were so cheerful and bright, the family were finding it very hard not to smile. They squeezed their cheeks together and said:

‘We have just arrived in the land and we would like to open a joke shop, please, if you wouldn’t mind?’

The Lord snorted.

‘NO,’ he snapped. ‘I absolutely WOULD mind. Hasn’t anyone told you I don’t like jokes?’ He looked very cross. He folded his arms in front of his chest and he glared at them.

‘Yes,’ the little girl said, ‘but no one will tell us WHY.’

‘Yes,’ the little boy said, ‘and no one will tell us your NAME.’

The Lord looked even more cross! He stood up out of his chair and stuck his hands on his polka-dotted hips.

‘NO one,’ he boomed, ‘has told you my NAME?’

The family shook their heads.

The Lord puffed out his chest and took a deep breath.

‘My name…is…’

‘LORD BAZOOKA BANANA ROOTY TOOT TOOT!’ he shouted, sticking one finger in the air and looking at them all one by one. ‘The FIRST!’ he added, proudly.

Well. What do you think happened next?

Have you ever tried to stop yourself laughing when you’re not supposed to laugh? It is really, really, hard. A great big wave of laughter rose and rose within them, until the whole family went:


Lord Bazooka Banana Rooty Toot Toot stamped his big clown shoes and clenched his fists.

‘Stop it stop it stop it!’ he shouted. But the family couldn’t stop. It was just too funny.


The Lord called his guards.

‘General Toothbrush! General Toothpaste! Take them AWAY!’

General Toothbrush and General Toothpaste tried to grab the mummy and daddy by the arms, but the little girl jumped up behind them and sprinkled itching powder all down their backs!

‘Aaiieieeeeeee!’ they shrieked and straight away they let the mummy and daddy go and started scratching, leaping up and down like a couple of frogs.

Lord Bazooka Banana Rooty Toot Toot was very distracted by all of this. He was so distracted, he didn’t notice the little boy had ducked down to hide, so that he could secretly blow up a whoopee cushion.

The little boy snuck up behind the Lord’s chair. He hid it under the big squashy cushion and ran back to his family.

‘Stop laughing stop laughing stop laughing!’ the Lord was shouting. He clapped his hands over his ears.

The little girl looked at him very closely. She saw that he actually looked a little bit sad.

‘Stop laughing AT ME!’ the Lord wailed.

Now, the family loved to laugh and joke, but they were also very kind. The little girl walked up to the Lord and held out her hand to shake his hand.

‘Lord Bazooka Banana Rooty Toot Toot,’ she said seriously, ‘it is so lovely to meet you.’

The little boy walked over too, and held out his hand to shake the Lord’s hand.

‘Your name is a bit funny,’ the little boy said. ‘But it is a BRILLIANT name. It might be the best, most brilliant name I have ever heard!’

The mummy and daddy also held out their hands to shake.

‘We didn’t mean to upset you. We just love to laugh! Maybe you could try it sometime? It can make you feel happy,’ they said.

And the Lord looked at the little girl, and the little boy, and the mummy and daddy, and their open hands. And very slowly, he shook each one.

And then, very slowly, he smiled. He had a lovely smile!

And then he sat back down. On his chair. And what happened?

PPPPPRRRRRRRRRPPPPPPPPPPP said the whoopee cushion!

Nobody moved. Nobody breathed. Even General Toothbrush and General Toothpaste stopped scratching and leaping. Everyone looked at the Lord and waited…

And waited….

Lord Bazooka Banana Rooty Toot Toot the First threw back his head and ROARED with laughter.


And the family knew that this time, it was okay to join in.


They laughed until their sides ached. They laughed until tears ran down their cheeks.

So after this, things were very different. All the ‘No Laughing’ and ‘No Smiling’ signs were taken down. People were allowed to have birthday parties. The funfair came! And then the circus! Bananas were back in the shops and the family were able to open their joke shop. They called it ‘The Do Be Silly Kingdom.’

General Toothbrush and General Toothpaste shook off all the itching powder, decided it had actually been quite funny after all, and went back to buy some more…

And the land was a much happier, smiley place to live. Now you can hear the laughter for miles.

Oh! I almost forgot to tell you the family’s names. The little girl was called Bingle Bongle. The little boy was called Pingle Pongle. And the mummy and daddy were called Mr. and Mrs. Onglebongle.

The End.

Copyright Mazz Brown

May 2022

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:

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:

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

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:

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:

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’:

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:

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:

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.

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…

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



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:

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


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:

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