Nursery News

In the Woods, a participant’s experience

On a crisp Thursday morning I arrived, for the first time, in the quaint town of Letham, Fife. With an open mind and sense of excitement, I entered the park where the children commence and end their day at the Secret Garden. Today, however, the children had already left the park and begun their journey to Letham Woods for their day of learning and discovery.

Instead, I met with Louise, the Senior Practitioner and our guide and trainer for the day, as well as the other participants for In the Woods, an experiential day-long workshop where we would immerse ourselves in the natural environment and develop our own knowledge and understanding of working outdoors with young children. We were an eclectic bunch with a common interest, that of promoting outdoor play and learning for children. Our group included a former parent, a future member of staff, an apprentice early years officer and early years leaders interested in enhancing their service or establishing new outdoor nurseries.

Immediately, it was clear to me that today was going to be that little bit magic. We began with a tune in, to settle us into the environment, then some ice breaker games to settle us into the group. Our journey up the hill was initially filled with reflections on the windy weather of the previous day interspersed with comments on places where the children pause as they make their morning ascent. We began to learn of the many rich traditions that make up a day at the Secret Garden, such as singing a song to the cherry tree on the grass verge and pausing at the Thinking Place to collectively work out the best location based on weather condition and preferences for that day’s camp. As we moved on into the wood, we also moved into quiet time, where we focused on being in the environment, and also being a part of it.

Our day in the woods was an experience that I would recommend to anyone interested in promoting outdoor education, as well as anyone wanting to build a stronger connection with their own roots in nature and community. Louise expertly guided us from partner trust exercises to practical demonstrations, from observing the children at play to curricular conversations, from group tasks to opportunities to be alone in nature and discover what came up inside us when given the space to just BE. Throughout it all, she held a safe space for us to open up and feel and express our thoughts and feelings.

The Secret Garden has the guiding principles of Presence, Nature, Play and I can think of no better words to embody my experience at the workshop. It was a day I will never forget in a location that encourages an affinity for our natural environment. It may have been my first day in the woods, but I suspect it won’t be my last.

 

Author: Vicky Hobba, Early Years Officer and outdoor learning enthusiast

Nursery News

The Gifts of Wild Weather

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.

 

Author: Louise Durrant, Senior Practitioner.