We are almost at the halfway point for 2021 registration season and to say things are a little different this year is an understatement. Human beings are an incredibly adaptive species, and of course necessity is the mother of invention! So it is that Stramash (the outdoors, muddy kids, loose parts people) have ‘gone digital’, and amazingly not totally crazy in the process!
We are super excited to announce a new project we have been working on recently and will be launching really soon. ‘Puddle Patter’ is our series of ‘in conversation’ interviews with our Fort William Team Leader and Head of Training for Stramash Cameron Sprague and various friends from our industry.
Initially a seed of an idea designed to explain a little more about why we do things the way we do, explain our overarching mission and values and give people a little more depth of insight into the science behind why what we do works. As we started to develop the idea however it became clear that this was an opportunity to amplify the voices of people in our industry, to share our collective message and for us to use our platform as a ‘window into this world’, ‘show our working out’, lean into our Social Enterprise philosophy and create something that keeps the conversation going at a time when it could not be more needed.
It goes a little further and a little more in depth than perhaps we’ve gone before, and we are here for it! Anyone who’s ever invited us to a party will know that the most dangerous question to ask us is ‘so what do you do?’…we are lucky to still have friends! Fortunately some of those friends have agreed to come chat with us, including a pretty famous blogging teacher! **no spoilers**
Jokes aside, this is not only for the uber nerds (like us!) or only the people who work in childcare and/or the outdoors (although you are of course more than welcome!). We also want families to watch these and to feel validated in their decision to choose us and settings like ours. We want prospective parents to watch these and feel emboldened to consider something they may not have done before and reassured that their concerns are totally natural and now eased. Fundamentally we want people to keep talking about and considering outdoor nursery as the legitimate early years choice it is.
The internet is full of experts (and videos, and videos of experts!) So why watch these? When filming them we really got a sense that these are reflective of the conversations that are happening all the time (well in ‘normal times!) At conferences, in muddy fields and in government board rooms. Since C19 we have seen an increase in interest in outdoor provision, we believe that what has historically been seen as a cottage industry, a phase or a fad is here to stay and for all the right reasons.
These videos facilitate another core value of ours ‘accessibility’. Information about what’s best for your child should be available to parents, all parents. In a variety of formats, in the places they are. Not only those with certain economic, social, cultural or educational backgrounds. You should be able to make an informed choice, how can you do that if you need a forest school qualification or to be working in education or early years to have access to this information, to be a part of these conversations?
We want people to see and understand that when we say that we are ‘child led’ it goes beyond a learning model ethos – although that is without a doubt critical to our delivery. This value is at the very core of Stramash. We believe that all children should have access to an early years outdoors, in a nurturing and play filled environment.
Sadly we believe it is more critical than ever that these environments are available for our children. The full social, psychological and physical effects of the pandemic on our youngest members of society are yet to be fully realised. For some children due to start nursery this year they will have lived ⅓ of their life under lockdown…take that in for a minute. ⅓ of their life with extremely limited social interaction, very little time spent with peers, with wider society, in the wider world, social distancing, stay at home orders, face coverings and for some families serious economic and health impacts in the home too. It would not be a stretch to consider this is a nationwide traumatic event.
Two things re-gifted to us by this time? Appreciation of the natural world and recognising how much we need human contact. The healing and comfort that nature and the outdoors can provide, the chance to play, learn and be a child in this environment is something we are privileged to be able to offer. We also know (another episode of Puddle Patter will cover this) that the key mitigating factor in the ability to move through adverse childhood experiences is the development of resilience – the ‘bounce-back-ability’ to get back up from failure and keep on going, to endure hardship and persevere. Outdoor nurseries like ours are key in developing this critical skill-set. Our settings, our teams and the natural world are ready to welcome these children, to support them to cultivate inner safety, resilience, regulation and to fully experience childhood.
Outdoor nursery and other settings that value connection, play and self directed learning need to own their place in the world. Not only as the perceived ‘fun option’ (even though it undoubtedly is!) But as the legitimate, developmentally appropriate, optimal for learning, early years environments that they are. We need to keep breaking out of our own echo chambers if we are to truly create change in the lives of children and childhood, as other countries have done before us (also featured in in an episode of Puddle Patter) These conversations seek to go some way to doing that.
Our branching out into new ways to communicate our message digitally, has not been without its setbacks. What story of determination and ‘resilience in the face of failure’ does not include a grown woman having to take several deep breaths and not throw her computer from the nearest window in the face of not one but two interviews disappearing into the ether!? It’s a good job that I’ve spent so much time in outdoor nursery! So after several cups of tea and some problem solving we prevailed. Puddle Patter is the result and we can’t wait to share it with you…stay tuned!
So how do you maintain children’s health and wellbeing during a global pandemic? Is outdoor nursery part of the answer? Well it’s certainly a big (wellyboot’d) step in the right direction – and not only for the reasons you might think.
Life in the time of C19 has been well termed) ‘a coronacoaster’, describing the unique blend of ups and downs experienced when living in the midst of a global pandemic. At Stramash, we have been incredibly pleased to be able to continue to provide a key worker service to children and families throughout lockdown, and now that things are returning to ‘something like’ normal, we are reflecting on all that we have learned.
Children need to play
We know that we are a bit of a broken record on this one but it’s a fundamental truth that forms the cornerstone of our approach. Children need to play and will always find a way to play, it is ‘The work of childhood’ (a phrase termed by Piaget). However, just as you might have found it challenging to work during the crisis and maintain the usual high levels of productivity, children restricted to only a home environment will not have had the same opportunities for play (and, therefore, learning and development) as they would have when they are also spending time in other dynamic and enriching environments (such as nursery).
Children also use play as a way to process big thoughts and emotions – critical at times of crisis such as these.
We need each other
We know that for most children home is their absolute safe space and the people in it their very favourite humans. We expected children returning to nursery to have some resistance, to struggle initially with the separation from their caregivers, despite entering our nurturing environments. This has happily not been the case, children are thrilled to be reunited with their peers and nursery ‘grown ups’. Due to the restrictions many have not had peer play opportunities during lockdown, they seem to be relishing in their friendships and the opportunities to nurture their social and emotional development – key life skills.
Friendships and time spent in peer play improves overall wellbeing and health.
We need nature
You don’t know what you have until it’s gone! Having our outside time restricted to just an hour a day for several weeks really made us all recognise the benefits of time spent in nature. Equally the fact that even in the midst of a global pandemic and the unprecedented act to ask us to all ‘stay at home to save lives’, the importance of time spent outside for mental and physical health and wellbeing was recognised in this allowance. There are innumerable studies and articles on the benefits of time spent in nature but needless to say we are glad to be back out, and we know the children are too.
The natural environment is a healthier place to be and it improves mood, health and wellbeing too!
The future is uncertain – but we’re not
The likelihood is that we will be living alongside this situation in some way for at least the immediate future. We have adapted our protocols and continue to follow government guidance to ensure that we can keep our environments accessible and as safe as possible under these new challenges. This is unlikely to be the last ‘novel virus’ or challenge we face collectively. But with all that said, our values remain the same and have never been stronger. Our goals and intentions have been bought into sharper focus; to provide high quality care and meaningful interactions, nurturing environments, stimulating learning opportunities and connection with the natural world for children.
It’s good to be back.
If you are local to one of our settings and considering outdoor nursery, maybe for the first time in the light of all the recent changes, you can get in touch via our homepage here using the contact form at the top.
Sobel Post 3, Special Places: I started writing my Sobel posts with the best will in the world and of course life, running a busy nursery, and a hectic training schedule put them to the back of my mind. I was reminded in March about these posts with full intention of starting back up again and then a worldwide pandemic started lockdown and I’m sure you all are aware of the impacts that has had on all of us.
Life at Stramash Fort William has continued as a hub for frontline workers. My staff have given me lots of moments to be proud since we opened in 2014. However, maybe stepping up to put themselves on the frontline of this pandemic to give children an opportunity to be outdoors and to give of themselves so openingly and willingly to these children might have made me the proudest. We stepped up to take children under 2 for the first time (scary, but has turned out to be amazing), and with the onset of summer holidays are supporting upper primary aged children to be cared for as well.
As always the site and it’s layout, design, function, and most importantly it’s impact on children’s play is constantly churning at the back of my mind. Always alongside that process Sobel’s Children and Nature Design Principles percolate through my thoughts and ultimately the actions that I take with the children. When restarting the process of these blog posts Sobel’s Principle of Special Places has jumped to mind.
To Sobel special places are secret places, ones that are controlled by children free from adult influence, but also they are places that children are connected to and feel a part of. Many people can relate to having a place that they visited continually during their formative years that they can reflect on and hold dear to their heart. Our commitment to place-based learning makes me hope that our setting in general is a special place to children, but through their experiences and play we can create even more special places for them.
Some of the work on those special places is spearheaded by us such as the work we have put into our shelter in terms of a homely, nurturing feel, and with learning from our friends at Highway Farm in Cornwall to also add transitional space to our shelter to support children accessing this space. We have also taken the steps to build a gatehouse at our entrance that we have used lockdown to start finishing by adding things like peep holes, mirrors at child height, and wind chimes have started to transform a space that could be essentially a cover to one that creates wonder, awe, and curiosity in our children.
The children who have attended through lockdown have been fascinated by our building processes and wanting to build new structures and adapt the ones that we have in place already. My favourite project that we have undertaken together was adapting a wooden pallet structure that was called a “castle” by the children. Nearing its functioning end we put it to the children what could we do to make the structure better? Using the children’s ideas we added a balcony, steps, a shelf, and ultimately not one, but two slides! This has made a space that children now gather, hang out in both in, on top of, underneath, and every which way you can think of. At times they want to eat their lunch there, at others they just want to take a break and talk to each other. Sometimes they may include adults in those breaks, but often it’s an adult free zone for the children to talk to each other without outside influence.
Although, it may not necessarily seem like it, but the moments when children are speaking and talking without adults potentially will have the greatest impact on their literacy development. If children are unable to tell stories how will they go on into their learning and write stories? By keeping our spaces open-ended we enable their play and imagination to take spaces in any direction and of course that means their chat will go in any direction as well. Never to be underestimated is the impact that using tools, helping to hold and move materials, climbing and scampering up spaces, will have on a child’s overall physical development. This physical literacy and to explain that simply; it is really just building your body from the foundation up so that your body is ready to write when it’s reached a developmentally appropriate age to write.
Reading and writing really isn’t one of those things that is benefited by sooner, faster, and quicker. If we push letters before children’s bodies are physically ready then really what we are risking is that for the sake of writing their name earlier, they grow up to someone who reads the newspaper, but doesn’t necessarily grow up to be someone who reads books. To me that is an important distinction and something I strive for with the children who attend my setting. For us we will continue to champion story, song, rhyme, and an environment that is well thought out and diverse that gives children’s play the most opportunities to create their own stories and to develop their bodies so physically they are ready to learn. Hanging our hat on Sobel’s principles allows us to do that and constantly be self-auditing what we are doing.
Working in a fully outdoor nursery is truly a job like no other. We often talk about the benefits to children (and rightly so!) But what you may not realise is that many of these benefits also apply to practitioners and those working in our environments.
Time in nature
Proven to reduce stress and anxiety and increase feelings of wellbeing, rather than typically noisy, chaotic indoor nursery spaces. As we spend 90% of our time outdoors we are getting these benefits over a sustained period of time.
The nature of working in an outdoor environment means you are constantly on the go and moving around. All EY practitioners are the same, outdoor nursery provides more physical challenge – uneven surfaces, weather, climbing, building, playing chase games – our practitioners enjoy all the health and well-being effects of being physically active all day.
There is also a lower rate of infection from common colds and general EY lurgies! Fewer surfaces and toys and lots of fresh air (and sunlight hopefully) mean that viruses and illnesses are not so easily spread – meaning we have fewer instances of related illness from working with children than perhaps our indoor colleagues.
Also mud is great for building immunity!
Diversity of colleagues
A ‘typical’ outdoor practitioner doesn’t really exist. Diversity of professional backgrounds: play, Forest School, outdoor adventurous activities, environmental sectors, not just early years. Furthermore no one approach or philosophy is considered better than another. All have strengths and weaknesses that help meet children’s care and learning needs outside.
This blend of expertise tends to work very well because of the outdoor nature of the job. When Early years practitioners alone are employed there’s a greater tendency to offer “indoor nursery” approaches. It is also the case that slightly higher numbers of men are represented in the workforce. This diversity allows us all to learn and grow together and from one another, while providing fantastic environments and care for our children.
Do cool stuff!
Now it would be unrealistic to say that every day is going to feel like your bank holiday camping trip! That being said working in our outdoor nurseries does mean you get to do and learn some pretty cool stuff as part of your job!
- Build fires
- Chop wood
- Make shelters – with tarps and natural materials
- Make swings
- Build semi permanent play structures
- Use tools
- Care for animals (no that’s not what we call the children…actual animals)
- Put up tents
- Identify nature items & tracks
- Cook on campfires & wood stoves
- Grow food
- Observe wildlife
- Site maintenance
There’s a definite sense of community within the outdoor nursery world. Whilst what we are doing is in some ways as old as time – learning alongside and from nature, it has also been somewhat ‘forgotten’ in our?:-) technological age until more recent years. Our families are advocates for what we do and nothing bonds a team quite like experiencing the seasons year round outdoors together – rain or shine (or snow and high winds!)
Our teams are forged from a collective of passionate practitioners, who recognise that we are stronger together than individually. Our families are our advocates and strongest supporters and you can expect many parents to feel a strong emotional bond to our settings; this was a considered choice for them.
Child centric, trauma informed, progressive approach
Stramash prides itself on our values, mission and remaining true to our vision – you can read more about it on our website here: https://stramash.org.uk/home/vision-mission-values/
We’ve already talked about the individuality of our practitioners and their skill sets, what unites us is our progressive, child centred, play rich approach. Quality, meaningful, learning rich interactions and creating nurturing, supportive environments for our children to thrive in is what gets us all out of bed in the morning!
Living wage employer
Whilst many in the childcare sector are still offering a basic salary of minimum wage, Stramash is a recognised living wage employer.
We are also a social enterprise so profits are reinvested into our business to ensure our sustainability.
Is anyone still out there?! We’ve been a bit absent from this blog haven’t we?!
We are back with a doozy of a post though from our very own Cameron Sprague, team leader extraordinarie at Fort William, all about Sobel’s design Principles – this week principles 1&2.
“The team for a while have been thinking about how we can share the ways children learn through play while with us. One of several ways that we plan and develop our nursery space is through David Sobel’s Children and Nature Design Principles. By taking a theoretical approach to the way we plan our environment this enables us to ensure that children’s play is as varied, poignant, and promotes their progression as much as possible. Over the next few months I plan on writing a post for each of the 7 principles to further explain them. As we are looking at literacy as part of our improvement plan I will take a literacy slant to my posts.
First principle: Adventure!
Sobel argues that children need to have a sense of adventure and namely risk within their lives. If you think of our site you will see numerous swings, areas of height to climb, and know that we regularly use fire and tools with our children. Risk is the key to emotional regulation. If you think about the feeling you get in your stomach when doing something out of your comfort zone also think about what you do in response to that. You may take a deep breath, or count down backwards from ten, or close your eyes and think of something else. These are all examples of how you have learned coping strategies to deal with this stress response.
Recognising this feeling in your body and then being able to use coping strategies to calm yourself down will not only allow you to be successful in school, but it will also allow you to be more successful in life.
Adventure and risk also allow you to fail and sometimes it maybe multiple times before you succeed. One of our best examples is the rope ladder on the sleeping pod which has turned into a real rite of passage on site. Learning to climb it can be emotional, it’s scary, it’s difficult to master, and usually takes time and practice. By allowing children to fail, but then emotionally supporting them after we are once again helping them to better understand and regulate their emotions. We are also teaching children failure is ok. Why are people afraid to ask questions in class? Usually it’s fear of looking bad or fear of failure, but by the way we work we are programming children to not be afraid of failing.
Now for the literacy slant! If you are wanting to write and develop stories you first need to have something to actually write about. Authors first writing usually is inspired by what they know. If you haven’t had the experiences and adventures to write about…how could you possibly be expected to write? We are building a backlog of memories, feelings, and experiences that will hopefully influence their writing for years to come.
David Sobel Children and Nature Design Principles Part 2: Fantasy!
Fantasy is in a lot of ways is the easiest principle to understand. Who doesn’t know a child that spends half their life pretending they are someone or somewhere else? I often use as an example my cousin who spent three years pretending she was a cat. She had a cat name, spent a lot of time on all fours, and constantly battled my aunt and uncle to eat her meals on the floor.
As feral as some people think we may make children… I’m not saying we want children to live like little Mowglis wild in the field. However, the opportunity to pretend, be imaginative, and be someone else is extremely important for children for a variety of reasons.
First of all is creativity, a lot of people compare our field to a junk yard, but really we are fine purveyors of loose parts. To make the magic of loose parts work to its fullest potential you need to bear in mind two words; affordance and abundance. Which plainly stated means as many varieties of loose part and as many of them as you can possibly collect. In the pictures I included you can see a very large boat the children constructed this week (my son helped and is proudly dabbing his appreciation of it).
While working on the yurkie porch over several days I watched the children basically never leave the boat and they even had their meals in it! I could hear lots of shouts of mum, dad, baby etc as the children all pretended to fill various roles in an ever deepening game and fantasy.
If we had purchased or put in a boat for the children the level of creativity and play would never had been as deep as it was. The children had stoves, beds, toilets, and everything else you could possibly think of constructed in loose parts. A purchased boat or fixed built boat never would have afforded the same possibilities.
This is the kind of creativity we are constantly fostering. There is a really interesting Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson which is worth a listen. His topic is about the education system and the way he feels it currently negatively impacts creativity. The quote that always sticks with me is “99% of children enter school as creative genius and only 3% leaving school can be labeled the same.’ If you want to listen you can find it here: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity/up-next?language=en
In fantasy play children are also developing empathy for the people around them. Pretending to be someone else, living and breathing as them, helps you to develop an understanding and appreciation for someone other than yourself. We all know Frozen 2 is coming and I’m expecting a lot of Elsa’s to be strutting our field shortly! When a child is pretending to be someone else this gives staff opportunities to ask them questions like would spiderman hurt his friends? Children may initially give a flippant response like I’m hitting them because they are bad guys. This gives staff opportunity to discuss this more with children about how others would be feeling so that maybe the next time staff ask they may pause and say no he wouldn’t. That’s understanding and that’s why we persevere with it!
Fantasy play is also one of the best times for our staff to challenge gender conventions. I take great joy in telling the children that I want to be rapunzel (not just because I enjoy a tea party) as it immediately allows us to have the conversation about why can’t boys be queens and why can’t girls be Iron Man? We need to have these conversations early and often as we have a lot of marketing and societal expectations to combat. At a talk I gave recently a gentleman told me a story of his daughter wanting paw patrol pants but not wanting to buy them because she knew the pants were in the boys section of the shop. 4 year olds shouldn’t have this worry or be put in the you should like unicorns and you should play with cars box ever, but especially at such a young age. Outdoor learning is an equaliser on so many levels, but smashing gender expectations is maybe the most important.
Finally from a literacy perspective how can children write creatively about characters if they haven’t explored characters through their play? The more varied experiences to pretend but also to relate to characters the bigger impact it will have on their stories. It’s a big reason why we are persevering with story scribing this year.
So with all that in mind we will continue to put out capes, collect loose parts, and make decisions that bring whimsy and provocation for all your wee ones!
Children at Stramash Outdoor Nursery Elgin, which is one of a chain of four social enterprise nurseries in North-East Scotland, are not strangers to the art of den-building and creating secret hideaways. In fact, since moving to their new site earlier this year, they, together with staff, have transformed a one-acre open field into a space that houses dens for all occasions.
The temporary structures include ‘the cave’, which started off as a chicken coop but was so popular that the children reconfigured the wooden pallets and moved it to space near the mud kitchen. Another favourite is the giant nest, which was created out of fallen branches from the adjoining woodland, and was such an inviting area that it was used for daily circle time.
‘All the structures on the site – the washing area, the cloakroom, the nappy changing area, the rest area – are made by us with wooden pallets and tarpaulin for shelter,’ explains team leader Alastair Davidson. ‘The children are involved in daily safety checks and help us sand down wood, repair broken pieces of pallet and use the tools like hand saws to make new structures. It’s second nature to them and they often initiate new ideas for temporary dens based on their interests.’
Read the full article by downloading the pdf below 👇
Stramash was recently featured as a case study in Nursery World Magazine talking about the importance of non verbal communication.
“What we say to children in their formative years can influence their thoughts and feelings about themselves, but our behaviour towards them, each other and the world in general has even more of an impact, says Jess Greenhill, outdoor practitioner at Stramash Social Enterprise, which runs four outdoor nurseries in Scotland.
Stramash practitioners keep a close eye on children to give advice where needed, but ensure their body language gives a child the message that they are trusted. ‘With rough-and-tumble play, for example, we would observe, maybe get a bit closer, checking everyone is still consenting, but not wade in straight away,’ she says. ‘We are saying we are here, you are in a safe space, if you are not happy you can catch my eye and I will step in.’
A practitioner’s behaviour and body language will depend on how a child is feeling in a specific situation. ‘On one day a child might want to explore alone, on another day they might want to hold a hand – we are not pushing them into something they are not ready for.’
At Stramash, practitioners model resilience and self-care by their behaviour, for example around their reactions to weather conditions. ‘If it is raining, we put our hoods up and carry on as normal, showing we can still have fun in more challenging weather,’ says Ms Greenhill.
Young children are natural scientists, and an adult’s reaction to the natural world can either nurture that scientific curiosity or encourage fear and disgust. ‘We sometimes come across dead animals,’ says Ms Greenhill. ‘You could be freaked out, but how we react in that moment is an incredible opportunity for learning. Assuming it is not too far gone, I will put gloves on, explain to the children why you don’t pick it up with bare hands, and we will take an up-close look at it, and discuss what might have happened, like a mini-CSI.’
If you have a nursery world subscription the online version is here with lots of great photos : Non verbal communication
Or you can see the full print article here: 032-NW-NonVerbal-Communication-3to5
Read our news release in full below:
Only 20% of employers in the childcare sector offer the real living wage to all their staff and Argyll-based Stramash is proud to be one of them.
The non-profit social enterprise was established in May 2009, starting as a spin-off from Argyll and Bute Council, to provide outdoor activities to local communities around Oban.
In 2012, Stramash opened its first outdoor nursery at Oban, followed by Fort William in 2014, Elgin in 2015 and Tornagrain in 2018. Stramash applied to be registered as an Accredited Scottish Living Wage Employer in 2015 when the organisation was seeking to recruit high-quality candidates to the new team in Elgin.
As well as outdoor nursery provision, Stramash also provides a range of outdoor services to groups of primary school children with the aim of building pupils’ confidence in their learning, raising their attainment and improving their wellbeing and resilience.
In addition, the organisation provides a small number of training programmes and events on outdoor learning and care, including running a two-year apprenticeship programme for candidates seeking an SVQ Level 3 qualification in professional childcare in the early years.
“Our vision is to inspire children through outdoor play and learning,” said CEO Maggie Tierney. “The priority outcomes we seek are embedding child-led play into every aspect of our approach to nurturing our children, so that their creativity, confidence, health, wellbeing, language and communication skills and capacity to form and maintain positive relationships are secured. We also seek to play our part in developing the quality and quantity of outdoor nurseries and other forms of outdoor learning for primary school age children in Scotland.
“Through our apprentice and other training programmes, and through ‘role modelling’ to local communities how well outdoor provision can work even in Scotland’s dark, chilly, wet winters, we contribute to expanding the pool of qualified and experienced outdoor practitioners. This is especially the case in support of sustaining good quality employment opportunities in some of Scotland’s rural towns.”
Stramash is governed by a seven-strong board and the nursery services support over 300 families and a number of primary schools.
The organisation currently employs 31 staff including five Modern Apprentices. Stramash also regularly calls on a pool of around 13-15 bank staff and some freelancers for nursery cover when needed or to support delivery of various programmes for schools.
“Our highly valued staff possess skills and experience which are in rising demand in Scotland, especially with the Scottish Government’s commitment to expand funded childcare to 1140 hours by 2020,” said Stramash chair Robbie Drummond who is also MD of Calmac ferries.
“They are undoubtedly our best asset. We want to attract and keep, and continue to develop them. We’re proud, too, to belong within the 20% of employers in the childcare sector who do offer the living wage to all their staff.
“The work we ask our staff to do with the children who attend Stramash and their families demands that they are highly skilled, creative and motivated. They deserve nothing less than fair pay.
“The benefits for us are that we have an engaged and committed outdoor team working in all four of our settings. The Care Inspectorate reports we received last year for the quality of our services was never less than ‘Good’ for any category in all our settings and was scored as ‘Excellent’, the highest score, in some.”
Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd, said:
“As part of the expansion in funded Early Learning and Childcare entitlement to 1140 hours, the Scottish Government is committed to promoting and encouraging fair work practices.
“This includes providing, as part of the new Funding Follows the Child approach, investment to enable payment of the ‘real’ Living Wage to all childcare workers delivering the funded hours from 2020.
“I hope other early learning and childcare providers will see the benefits of paying the ‘real’ Living Wage, which evidence shows can lead to increased productivity, better morale and higher retention rates.”
What are transitions?
Transitions are the ‘going from and to’ – another word for a change or shift, in activity, situation or environment. They might happen in small ways throughout the day for example going from playing to sitting down to lunch or be more significant e.g. starting nursery
More significant transitions – Milestone Events
Milestone transitions are the major changes that occur throughout a child’s life – family move, siblings born, starting nursery/school etc. These have an effect on the child, how children experience transitions lays the foundations for how positively children accept change throughout the rest of their lives.
The home:nursery transition is one which we consider to be a major transition for children, especially when they are joining us for the first few times. We often find children come to visit and get stuck straight in, their parents are amazed at how independent they are, climbing and playing in the space with barely a backward glance! In fact sometimes there are even tears when they try to leave! So there will be no problem on their first day then?
Handled sensitively and with kindness, transitions can be a smooth and positive experience, but it’s important to understand that it’s also normal for some children to find them more challenging.
Imagine going to an amazing place, you visit with your family & had the best time. Now imagine being taken there again, but this time your family don’t come in with you, they leave. You have no idea when they are coming back. You have no frame of reference and no experience as to how long you will be there or what will happen, maybe you don’t have full speech yet either. You might understandably panic.
This can be an emotional and anxious time for children and parents and it’s key that we get transitions right to ensure that the experience and process (because it is a process and not a one off event) are as positive as possible for children, families and practitioners. Preparing children for transitions at home and within nursery gives us the best chance of success.
Of course children are all individual and so the degree to which we need to support transitions will vary from child to child. The below list is our ‘toolkit’ whilst all of these will be utilised for all children, for how long and to what degree will vary depending on the unique needs of the child and family.
How to we support children during Transitions at Stramash – Starting Nursery
- Visits to nursery site with family
- Key worker allocated and introduced to child
- Settling in sessions with parent/guardian and key worker – opportunity to meet, play and hopefully bond a little with child while parent is still present
- Marvellous Me form – completed and returned to nursery – giving in depth knowledge about the child (likes, dislikes, home life, potential causes of stress, what settles them/makes them happy) – see link to our MM form
- Photos of the team who will be caring for the child available – either posted to the child or on the notice board and website for parents to access and discuss with their child ahead of starting nursery some of our settings send a welcome letter addressed to the child
- Communication – emails, facebook groups for each site and website detailing nursery info and inviting new families into our community – videos available to watch with children which show the site, a day in the life etc
- Transition plans drawn up between parents and team bespoke to the individual child – sharing of information, what works/doesn’t any concerns raised at home, usual settling time etc
- Joined up services – working with other heath/social service/education professionals working with a child if required
On the first day of drop off (and for as long as it takes a child to settle with us)
- Child is welcomed at the gate by their key worker
- Parents are welcome to come and hang up bags with the child and say goodbye, explaining when they will be back
- Children are welcome to bring in a ‘transition toy’ from home while they are settling (blanket, teddy etc)
- Child will be closely observed throughout session, with lots of support, cuddles (if wanted) and interactive play with their key worker and/or other practitioners
- Open door policy – parents are welcome to return at any time – we respond with sensitivity and empathy when discussing any parents concerns
- Texts/calls to parents to update them on their child’s progress if required
- Feedback at pick up time as to how the session went for child – how long to settle, what they did etc
- ILD – online observations for parents to access – settling days observations completed within first 2 weeks
Peer support and learning
It should not be underestimated what a gift our older children are when welcoming new members to our nursery family. Children greatly enjoy the responsibility of supporting their new friends and showing them ‘the ropes’ (sometimes literally!)
Supportive, friendly and helpful children are often less intimidating than us ‘grown ups’ and making friends always helps our new children settle in faster.
Resurgence of difficulty transitioning
Sometimes for seemingly no reason or perhaps after a holiday or break, children will start to struggle leaving their caregivers once more, after many weeks or months happily strolling through the nursery gate.
This is perfectly normal for some children. Getting to the bottom of any concerns is something we take seriously – has something happened in nursery? Or has there been a change at home?
Home is their safe place, parents are their safe space. Nursery (life outside the home) is effort, its positive effort but it takes energy and resilience and involves developing and challenging physical and social skills, sometimes that can feel overwhelming to a child. We all feel that resistance even as adults, we have just developed coping strategies…or else we wouldn’t be there either!
This empathy is our superpower. We get it, we care and we are ready to help our children and their families through managing this transition again.
This is the next educational milestone transition which children face, we’ll back with blog dedicated to this topic later in the year.
New base for outdoor nursery at Tornagrain
Children at Torngrain’s outdoor nursery watched their new building take shape earlier this week.
Social enterprise and outdoor learning specialists Stramash set up a nursery in the woods at Tornagrain in the middle of August and now have 15 children aged three to five.
The new nursery building will act as a base with most of the nursery’s activities still taking place outdoors in the woods. It will also allow Stramash Tornagrain to be the first outdoor nursery in the UK to take children from 0-5 years old from January 2019.
Outdoor nurseries are well established in Scandinavia with research showing that young children learn well and thrive in an outdoor setting. Team leader Alastair Davidson explains:“Outdoor nurseries for very young children is new to the UK but in Scandinavian countries it’s quite common for babies to play and even sleep outside during their naps, getting the benefits of fresh air and nature from an early age. With suitable bedding, equipment and supervision there’s no danger and many positives. Having this new building as a base will mean we can be well prepared for all weathers and the individual needs of each child, regardless of age.”
Nicole Petrie, Moray Estate’s Tornagrain development manager, said: “We’re delighted that the outdoor nursery in the woods is already such a success. Tornagrain was designed to be a special place to live and being home to an innovative concept like outdoor childcare fits perfectly with that aim.”
Increasing the amount of time children spend outdoors as part of their funded early learning and childcare entitlement is one of the ambitions of the Scottish Government’s expansion. The Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd has visited one such setting, who have been championing an immersive, nature based, outdoor nursery since 2009.
Stramash Social Enterprise an established outdoor provider, welcomed news of the near £1 million recent Scottish Government investment to encourage and support greater use of outdoor learning in the early years, and were keen to show the Minister how this can be delivered in practice.
In her visit to Stramash Oban, the Minister met a range of childcare representatives and parents during the visit and discussed how to provide a high quality, outdoors care and learning experience for more Scottish children.
Ms Todd said “It’s been an absolute pleasure to visit Stramash today and to see the children so full of fun and obviously enjoying the outdoors. We know playing and learning outdoors improves mental wellbeing, health and fitness, confidence levels and resilience and we saw lots of that in action here today. We believe that the almost doubling of funded hours by 2020 provides a fantastic opportunity for us to redefine the way that early learning and childcare is delivered in Scotland, with a real focus on outdoor play.”
Stramash aims to connect children and young people with nature through outdoor-based nurseries in Inverness, Oban, Fort William and Elgin, along with providing tailored outdoor projects for schools.
Robbie Drummond, Chair of the Stramash board said ‘The case for outdoor learning and play has been made, we know the benefits include improved health and wellbeing, developing resilience and increased connection to the natural world. We believe that an early years experience in Scotland’s wild spaces can support healthy child development and contribute to closing the attainment gap. We have seen it for ourselves and want as many children to have access to those benefits as possible, however that best works for individual families.
Stramash are encouraging a hybrid approach to learning giving parents the opportunity to split their children’s learning between conventional and fully outdoor provision.
Maggie Tierney CEO said “It was a great pleasure to welcome Ms Todd to our inspiring nursery setting in Oban. It is our privilege to be part of providing a nature rich childhood for over 300 children and families across Scotland. We are excited to show more of the nuts and bolts of how it is done and what unique opportunities it provides, so that outdoor play and learning can be part of a ‘new normal’ in Scotland’s Early Years’