Market Research Results

Firstly a massive thank you to all those who answered our online survey. We had a total of 104 responses from across Scotland.

This is a small sample in research terms but still provides interesting insight. We are trying to build up a picture of what childcare in Scotland looks like right now, a snapshot if you will before 1140 kicks in; how families are using the variety of options available to them, funded/private, outdoor or indoor,  for how long and why?

It has also revealed many genuine concerns from families about use of outdoor nursery settings. We can extol the virtues as much as we like but without addressing these valid viewpoints, more children will miss out on this great early years experience. We are still analysing the results, future blog material for sure!

The data can be found below.

Childcare Scotland Research 2018 (Responses) (1)


Read all about it!

We were featured in yesterdays Press & Journal regarding how inward migration has positive benefits within our organisation and nursery communities.


For easier reading, the full article can be downloaded below in high resolution:

Read about our children & teams from around the world


ACE’s – Show your hand

How Stramash Outdoor Nursery uses ACE awareness to support children & families living with ACE’s 

In our previous ACE’s blog we discussed how a grass roots movement is on target to make Scotland the first ‘Fully ACE aware nation’. We are a part of a much wider network of health, education, legal, social and care workers, parents and people who are using this knowledge of ACE’s to better support our communities and do the very best by Scotland’s children.

Outdoor nursery provides a unique environment for learning and play. We believe it also provides unique opportunities for mitigating the effects of ACE’s – adverse childhood experiences as discussed in this post here >>Smokin’ ACE’s

A problem shared…

In our original post we discussed what ACE’s were and how it is ‘Toxic Stress’ – living with stress (as a result of ACE’s) and feeling that you cannot tell anyone (that you must cope with all this alone) which has the most detrimental effect in terms of health.

Today i’d like to dig a bit deeper into how Stramash has begun to integrate ACE awareness to act as a ‘childhood equaliser’ to further mitigate the effects of ACE’s in our young people and their families.


Approach and ethos – non outdoor specific

  1. We prioritise relationships – we are reliable, emotionally stable and available adults caring for children and supporting families
  2. We keep communication open – no judgement, flexible family centric care, consistent approach. We organise family events and stay and play sessions to regularly reinforce our Stramash family bonds
  3. We don’t do blame, shame or punishment and seek to understand behaviour as communication (always as separate to the child)
  4. We support children in directing their own learning – increased engagement develops self motivated learners via more immersive activities which provides higher levels of wellbeing – http://wels.open.ac.uk/research-project/caren/node/939
  5. We further our understanding of child development, neuroplasticity and child psychology to provide a nurturing, safe and developmentally supportive setting for all our children
  6. Joined up services – where possible we seek to have good and responsive relationships with all members of a child’s team – be they family, social or care workers, their medical and health professionals and later their school teacher. We share relevant information to deliver best outcomes for our children, ensuring a consistent approach and so no valuable information is lost.

Outdoor Specific

  1. The natural world for mindfulness – a stimulating yet nurturing and calming environment leads to reduced feelings of stress which provides an opportunity for cortisol levels to decrease. We understand that it is the body remaining on ‘high alert’ for extended periods of time which causes ongoing health problems from ACE’s. We are exploring the possibilities of developing mindfulness as a practice & this is an ongoing area of development within our settings.
  2. Our sites give access to a variety of natural materials, spaces and play opportunities and are designed to provide a choice for children to access what they want/need, when they want/need it – this might be a quiet space to sit or room to rough and tumble play with their friends, loose parts to build and create or somewhere to climb and challenge their physical bodies. This variety provides choice, which raises self esteem, develops a child’s sense of self and increases wellbeing.
  3. Space and bespoke support to develop effective and positive self regulation methods of stress responses, in a way that does not undermine the child or their emotions
  4. The opportunity to be active all day – shown to reduce cortisol and the negative effects of stress on the mind and body
  5. We offer appropriate challenge and opportunities for risky play – increasing children’s confidence, problem solving abilities, self esteem and resilience


Cameron is the Team Leader at our Fort William site, they hosted a screening of Resilience and a discussion on ACE’s after. Here are his thoughts:

“I would say being ACE aware and acting ACE aware really boils down to two things.  

  1. Putting relationships at the heart of what you do
  2. As a professional continuously developing your knowledge of child development,  brain development, and trauma to broaden your own personal skill set.

I always tell families that are thinking about Stramash I want you to feel like your signing up for a community rather than a nursery.  By creating a community feel it gives children, staff, and parents a shared purpose and sense of belonging.

Stramash is very lucky to have a diverse and experienced staff team (our greatest asset!), but one thing I’ve particularly enjoyed about working with Alastair (Elgin and Tornagrain Team Leader) is learning about the Gaelic connection that is in all Scots to the land and place they are in.  I hope that at all our Stramash locations, the nursery community feels that same connection.

Essentially,  I think that is what makes outdoor learning special and so important to ACEs in general.  Our school years for many people can be an intimidating time and many of us have difficult memories of our experience there.  Learning in the outdoors is an equaliser for many many reasons. In terms of ACEs talking over a fence is more neighbourly and easier for most people to do rather than across a desk or in an office.  For children it’s that shared experience through good weather and bad we are in it together always there to greet them with a smile and a cuddle if needed.

What both situations do is allow us to build positive caring relationships with parents and children in a way that is approachable for all. If we could all greet each other with a smiley face and a compassionate ear we would go a long way to combating ACEs in our nation,  but as professionals we owe it to our children and families to do more. For example this year in Fort William we are working with Highland Psychological service to make our provision more nurturing. We have undertaken brain development, attachment, nurturing principles training already and with more sessions planned. This is an investment by Stramash not only in our staff, but also to build the outcomes for our current and future children.  

Stramash everyday are giving children the opportunity to play and learn outside while being supported by a caring, loving, and professional staff team. Through the outdoors we give them positive steady relationships and through our approach to risk allow them to build self-esteem and confidence in a place that they feel belonging to.  What better way to give a child the skills to say I can do this and I know where to go if I need help. A Maya Angelou quote that came across me via twitter this winter was “do the best you can until you know better, when you know better do better” that I think is Stramash in a nutshell. Never accepting that we are perfect but always looking to be better and do better for our children and families.”



Gender roles in our nursery settings

Today’s blog focuses on how we approach gender ‘norms’ with our children to best support and inspire them throughout their time with us. We want all our children to feel capable, confident and have a healthy sense of self esteem.

No Gendered toys or gender defined role play:

Girls playing with dumper trucks or cars, getting muddy, climbing trees – Yes!

Boys caring for a baby – Absolutely!

Girls being super hero’s – You bet!

Boys being nurses to their cuddly toys – totally great!

In fairness we don’t have many ‘toys’ in our settings, other than items the children might bring in occasionally (which are generally discarded for more exciting things like wheelbarrows or because you need both hands to climb) so can avoid the wash of ‘pink and blue’ plastic that often sends these subliminal messages to children.

As practitioners we remain mindful when children engage us in their imaginative play to not perpetuate gender roles within that play – for example if ‘daddy’ is taking care of the baby saying “shall I look after the baby while you go to work?”

The below (firmly tongue in cheek) infographic can be helpful when deciding what toys are suitable for boys or girls!



How we speak to children and the expectations we have of their behaviour

This is probably the behaviour which takes the most conscious effort. Your words to a child throughout their formative early years become that child’s inner monologue as they grow and develop. You are programming their hardware, influencing their thoughts and feelings about themselves long into the future.

What do you want played back? That boys must be strong and brave, aren’t allowed to express emotions or cry? Maybe that girls need to be careful, not take as many risks, or must ‘be nice’? Boys will engage in rough play but girls prefer creative play?

We are the product of our own programming, layered with societal norms depending on our own social and cultural upbringing. But if we want to optimally support the next generation of children growing up we need to create environments where children are able to express themselves fully and authentically.

We take a holistic approach, emotions across the spectrum and regardless of gender are allowed and worked through together. The individual interests, drives, wants and needs of each child are observed and encouraged; regardless of gender.



Division of labour = everybody takes part in tidy up time! 

How we implicitly or explicitly reinforce gender roles requires us to reflect on how we as practitioners interact with children every day, this includes how we talk about their families. When something gets broken do we say ‘don’t worry dad will fix it’ or if something gets dirty ‘don’t worry mummy can wash it’?

How we talk to girls & boys facing challenge also varies:

This study Link found that parents are nearly four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful. The same study cited earlier research which found that parents of both genders used “directives” when teaching their 2- to 4-year-old sons how to climb down a playground pole but offered extensive “explanations” to daughters.

You look so pretty!

Girls can often be praised for their physical appearance, which is entirely out of their control & places their sense of worth purely on physical characteristics (not healthy or helpful). Where as boys might be praised for their strength or activity which they can take personal responsibility and credit for – raising self esteem.

By offering positive reinforcement to children on their effort, their talents, their skills rather than their physical attributes we empower children to find their sense of self and worth in the things they have the ability to control, to develop and improve (if they want!) We want to help raise capable and confident humans who believe in themselves and have the resilience to try, maybe fail and then keep trying, to achieve their goals.

Studies have shown Link this perception of what boys v girls were capable of and associated ‘gender talk’ can start to affect our perceptions of children developmentally, as boys are encouraged/expected to do more activities which strengthen gross motor development whereas girls are encouraged to follow calmer and more fine motor activities, while perceived as being less physically able – possibly contributing to some of the gender attainment gaps observed in school.

Non standard practitioner gender roles – modelling

Stramash prides itself on being an equal opportunities employer – with both male and female practitioners, apprentices and managers involved in caring roles for children. Our male practitioners change nappies or comfort a crying child and our female practitioners build semi permanent structures and know their way round a tool shed (most have their own!) We all do all parts of the job, and it would never occur to any of us not to do that.

Stramash is also a living wage employer, when historically the child care sector (which is predominantly weighted in favour of female workers) has been amongst the lowest paid work available. Which in turn may reflect society’s view of the value in early years education and child care inside and outside the home (but that conversation is for another day!)

So with all that being said, let’s take a moment to highlight one of our fabulous Oban team, a great example of challenging gender stereotypes in sport.

Lets hand over to Laura MacCormick – Oban practitioner & Rugby Player & Captain

“I am currently Captain of Oban Lorne Ladies & we have just finished the 2017/18 season. We have had the most successful season in our teams 15 year history. Not only did we win our league (National League 2) undefeated, we only had 5 try’s scored against us all season.  We won the BT National Bowl Final at Murrayfield beating teams in a higher league in the semi final & final. We also won the Queens of 10s tournament at the beginning of the season & the Majorca Beach rugby Plate Final too.

We train 2-3 times a week however in the run up to the final that was increased to 5, it was not easy. As a mum of 3 girls, who all love rugby, my 2 oldest girls play for Oban Mini’s which I also help coach on a Wednesday, rugby is a big part of our family & I am very lucky that they enjoy it as much as me. The girls love going to the rugby club & everyone knows them, it like having an extended family. Rugby is such a team sport & no matter your age, shape, fitness ability there is a position for everyone, it is very inclusive & that’s what I love about it.”



Smokin’ ACE’s

As part of our commitment to both ourselves as an organisation, the young people we nurture and the families and communities we support, we (Stramash) are forever students. We might share what we have learned along the way, how we do things at the moment and why (in fact that is the very nature of this blog) but we are never ‘done learning’. Our practice and journey, like yours is ever evolving; the more we learn, the better we understand. The better we understand, the better support and care we can provide for our people.


12 months ago marked the first screening in Scotland of the film Resilience. This film tackles the awareness of ACE scores – Adverse Childhood Experiences – and the relationship between ACES and physical and emotional health. Stramash Fort William held a screening and discussion of the film a few weeks ago and I attended a similar screening in Inverness this week. We want Stramash to be ACE aware, and extend that awareness as far as we can reach!

It is widely accepted that a challenging or unstable childhood environment with parents who are perhaps in poverty, drug or alcohol dependent or suffering with mental health conditions will have a psychological impact on a child, but a physical one? Living in a domestic abuse household would certainly affect your mind and sense of wellbeing, but could it also give you cancer?

The ‘smoking gun’ of the health and Social Care crisis of the modern western world, ACE scores have been found to impact everything from likelihood of depression, smoking or diabetes to heart disease and cancer.

“When exposed to stressful situations, the “fight, flight or freeze” response floods our brain with corticotrophin-releasing hormones (CRH), which usually forms part of a normal and protective response that subsides once the stressful situation passes.  However, when repeatedly exposed to ACEs, CRH is continually produced by the brain, which results in the child remaining permanently in this heightened state of alert and unable to return to their natural relaxed and recovered state. Children and young people who are exposed to ACEs therefore have increased – and sustained – levels of stress. In this heightened neurological state a young person is unable to think rationally and it is physiologically impossible for them to learn.” – Blackburn.gov who also carried out a similar study.

This toxic stress also inhibits the bodies natural ability to regenerate and heal itself, contributing to physical illness in later life.

What makes the study which forms the cornerstone of the film so interesting, is the people surveyed were not ‘from the other side of town’, from areas of high social or economic deprivation, they were from middle class suburbs, all were college educated with jobs and great healthcare. In a replica study carried out in the UK in 2015 (Bellis et al) found that almost half (47%) of the adult population in England had at least 1 ACE, while 14% had 4 or more. As was the case in the original study, there was a strong link between number of ACEs and health outcomes. Individuals with 4 or more ACEs were 3 times more likely to smoke, 7 times more likely to have been involved in violence in the past year and 11 times more likely to have ever been in prison. We can no longer claim that this is something that happens to ‘other people’.

ACES change our bodies and our brains

Behaviour is Biology. Behaviour is communication. I was called out for putting my head in my hands during the discussion after the film, when a comment was made about how a child had been described as ‘such a bad kid’ (I’ve never been great at hiding my feelings!) Children don’t want to be ‘badly behaved’. No child is bad. What awareness of ACEs can do is to further assist us in reframing that behaviour and translating what that child is trying to say. What is their behaviour telling us about the toxic stress that child may be under, that they can’t find the words for? Better yet, how can we help them?

Because that is the ace up your sleeve. It is not our job to use ACE scores (as we like to use so many other labels) to explain away, to justify or to diagnose just for the sake of it. To write off ‘oh well what do you expect, he’s a 6 ACEer’. It is to further inform how we go about identifying and focusing on the repair process. The children who need that nurturing and supportive adult to listen are often the ones who are making it the hardest to reach them. Maybe that looks really loud and aggressive or maybe it looks quiet and withdrawn.

However the message is getting to us, early intervention is key to mitigating the effects of ACEs. Getting families the right support early; providing strong parental buffering can reduce the effects of ACEs for children in later life. Because that’s the point, parents have ACE scores, their parents have ACE scores….we are a product of our attachments and upbringing and ‘Trauma is not about what’s wrong with you, it’s about what’s happened to you.’ This is not about judging, this is about recognising all the complexities of the human experience and supporting families (in all their varying forms) to provide safe and loving environments to raise their children; reducing the dosage of trauma and disrupting the cycle of adversity.


Making yourself available to listen is one of the most loving acts we can provide to our children. The Miss Kendra Curriculum which also features in the film, provides a framework for children to learn what is acceptable behaviour towards them (Miss Kendra’s list) because we must remember that however bad a situation might be making a child feel, if they have grown up in this environment all their lives, this is normalised. How would they know that this isn’t going on in every house? That this isn’t what it is to be a child? It also provides opportunities for children to tell their worries to Miss Kendra, providing valuable insight for their carers.

We can’t support what we don’t know about

As practitioners we can get so caught up in the provision element of our jobs – the learning and development, the focus children and the delivery. While this is an essential and worthwhile use of our time I am reminded (again) how important it is to make time to just be present. To ask questions, to discuss the life and experience that these children are having. How are they feeling? What are their fears? What is their favourite time of day? These relationships are the foundation of building resilience.

Whilst we are all trained in Safeguarding, ACE and trauma awareness is somewhat more nuanced (although there is clearly an overlap) and I welcome the slight shift in focus of this grass roots movement to use what we know both anecdotally and from scientific study, to support and heal trauma multi-generationally.

ACE of hearts

As is often the way the discussion following the screening was as illuminating as the movie. I was in Suzanne’s camp, I could have stayed till 5pm too but David had a date with ‘a life’ (remind me what that is again as I sit writing this on a Sunday afternoon?!)

It was wonderful to be in a room of passionate and engaged people who truly cared about getting things right for children and families. I am mindful though that this knowledge and understanding ripples out, rather than remaining within the pool of people whose lives and work are in the childcare/education field. We have a habit of viewing ourselves as underdogs and getting frustrated that policy makers aren’t listening or making changes that we know to be the most beneficial. We use acronyms and have a myriad of policies and programmes which might seem intimidating to those outside our circle.

We become ‘them’, when really we need to be ‘us’.

ACEs affect all of us. ACEs are a societal issue not merely political or educational, therefore we do not need to wait for permission to start changing things now! We are society, we create our shared reality.  When we remember that, it becomes easier to apply essential human compassion and empathy to one another. There is more that unites us than divides us in this human experience.

Let’s change the narrative from Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be The verse’ to something more hopeful! Lets get rid of parental blame and shame culture, lets stop pretending that ACEs are things that happen to other people, in other communities and unite to create a more loving and supportive environment to raise all our young people.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela.


References & further info links:

ACE study summary

Blackburn ACE info

This be the Verse – Philip Larkin

Suzanne Zeedyk

The Real David Cameron



Build It & They Will Come

Taking a break from our Setting the Standards posts today for something a little Hands On!

Something we pride ourselves on at Stramash are our efforts towards true sustainability, particularly in our Outdoor Nursery settings. It informs our everyday practice and is a cornerstone philosophy in how we design and interact with our spaces and our people – all our children know the words to the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle song!

From an organisation wide stand point, operating as a social enterprise means applying commercial strategies to our organisation to best grow and succeed, then reinvesting our profits back into the organisation, our teams, places, apprenticeship and schools programmes, children and provision, for maximised positive social and environmental impact.

On a day to day basis in our settings, this means utilising any and all materials that might have reached the end of their original life, and repurposing them to add value to our space, learning & development opportunities for our children.

Two of our nursery settings started life as little more than a barren field. They were a far cry from the enriching and inspiring play spaces you would see if you visited today.

How did we get there? We planned, designed and built it…

With the children!

The learning opportunities are endless when planning and building semi permanent structures – and that’s before they even get round to playing on them!

  • Maths (measuring, forces, angles, weight, lateral thinking, mathematical problem solving, length, distance…)
  • Communication
  • Teamwork & community values – building for a shared experience & for the benefit of all
  • Language & literacy – discussing the movement of something, does it need to be higher? Is it low enough? Describing materials, actions, how sturdy it is?
  • Dynamic risk assessment – children learning how to observe, measure and assess risk and take responsibility for keeping themselves and each other safe
  • Gross motor skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Tool grip and early hand writing skills/hand & arm muscle development
  • Spacial awareness
  • Mapping and designing
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Coordination
  • Problem solving
  • Resource & space sharing
  • Changes – how does the weather effect process or use
  • Attitude – self starter mentality – if our children want something they don’t just assume you have to buy it!
  • Self sufficiency – sustainability values
  • Adaptability
  • Resilience – if at first it falls down, try and try again!
  • Confidence & Self Esteem – process over product, completion of a task, pride in their efforts, important part of a team

I think i’ll stop there or I’ll be here all week!

Lets take a closer look at our semi permanent structures and how our children interact with them.

One of the great benefits of these structures is how truly open ended they are. Several play frames can be running simultaneously on the same structure; it might be a house, a vets, a rocket ship or provide a more utilitarian function all at the same time!


Whilst it may look a little ‘post apocalyptic’ these are inspiring play spaces, all the way from the planning and building to daily use.

We know it can be a bit intimidating starting from scratch or introducing this type of resource or activity to your setting. I struggled with a flat pack book case before learning from my experienced team!

Which is why we wanted to share our skills with a wider audience and have designed a CPD course tailored around creating exciting and engaging play spaces in the outdoors environment.

It hasn’t been released yet (and I’m probably not supposed to tell you about it!) but as we get emails most days specifically about this very issue, it makes sense to provide something tangible to help people seeking info on temporary structures and loose parts play…and to let you guys know that its on the way!

If you’d like more info or to register your interest please complete the webform below.




Now say you’re sorry!

Continuing with our ‘Setting the Standards’ blog series today we look at how we manage the ‘fall out’ of conflict in our nursery settings.

2: I am fully involved in all decisions about my care and support.

2:8 Compassion: I am supported to communicate in a way that’s right for me, at my own pace, by people who are sensitive to me and my needs.

2:15 Be Included: I am enabled to resolve conflict, agree rules and build positive relationships with other people as much as I can.

Health & Social Care Standards June 2017


When children interact and play together conflict is inevitable. It is not something to be avoided or feared and can be a great learning opportunity for them. After all conflict is present in the adult world too! Developing the skills to manage those times in their early years, sets our children up for success.

In two of our nursery settings we have children from 2-5 years old (the other has 3-5year olds) and as you know the developmental stage of a 2 year old is physically and emotionally very different to that of a 5 year old. So our challenge is to develop an ethos and way of respectfully caring for children that is developmentally appropriate across the span of children we work with.

Each child (whatever their age) is considered an equal and valuable member of our nursery community (if you’ve read our previous blogs you’ll know we’ve talked about this before – if not, why not?! Only joking) so how do we manage conflict when this is the case?

Lets take an example of a ‘physical altercation’ scenario where a 2 year old has hit or pushed over a 3 year old. The 3 year old is crying. What do you do?

Obviously we comfort the upset child and make sure they are not physically hurt or in need of any immediate medical care. But what then? How do we make sure the 2 year old knows that this behaviour is not acceptable? How do we make them feel sorry? Should we make them say sorry?

2 year olds are generally not sorry.

I’m being a little tongue in cheek here, but the reality is that they live very much in the moment. There will have been a legitimate and very rudimentary reason as to why they chose that course of action be it frustration, to meet an end, to achieve their goal faster or just to see what the cause and effect would be (like dropping food off a high chair or poking something down a tube). Maybe they are just hungry and are yet to develop the skills to control their impulses and recognise the signs in their own body.

It is in essence a very normal and experimental thing to do, perfectly age and stage appropriate behaviour.

There is a line of thought that says socially educating children should be a kind of ‘fake it till you make it’ scenario – make them say sorry even though they don’t mean it, often with a measurable ‘consequence/punishment’ (time out/thinking time). At some point (the advice is never quite clear about when) children will learn that ‘negative actions’ have consequences they don’t want, and that you have to say sorry if you have hurt someone.

“But I said SORRY!”

Ever met the kid who expects to use “sorry” as a ‘get out of jail free card’? Or the one who punches their brother in the face, then puts themself in a timeout – thinking, ‘ it was worth it, I’ll keep my head down, do my time and be out in 7’ (minutes!)

Children are smart. Really smart. So how can we help them develop not only the nuts and bolts of how to behave with kindness and compassion but to genuinely understand why?

We develop empathy.

We have a multi pronged approach on this.

  • We develop a culture of kindness and respect within our settings and we discuss the kinds of behaviours and interactions we want to experience as a group, suggested and agreed on by the children.
  • We use circle time to discuss ‘gentle hands’ (not using your hands to hurt another child)  and ‘kind words’ – not to give them a hard time but to be clear about our expectations and why it’s important.
  • We have utilised ‘The Bucket Story’ to discuss doing kind things for and to each other and how when we do unkind things to each other it ’empties our buckets’ – and the feelings that might be attached to that.
  • We provide strategies to children including ‘make some space’ whereby if they are not comfortable or beginning to feel frustrated they can walk away, play somewhere else or just ‘put a bit if space between them and the thing/person at the source of their frustration’ – we are in a privileged position to do this with no walls and roofed only by the sky (all hail the outdoor nursery!)
  • We model appropriate behaviour to children and to each other as a team.
  • We also have clear and fair ‘rules’ in place about sharing as discussed here That’s MY stick!

So back to our scenario, what would we do?

We choose not to enforce an insincere apology.

It is never acceptable for a child to physically assault another, if this is still happening we would separate the children and calmly make it clear that ‘I will not let you hurt/hit child X’

Listening to both sides without judgement. Ask what happened and review both sides with the children “So child X came into your space while you were playing and didn’t move when you asked them to, Child Y you didn’t hear him ask so you didn’t move, child X you got annoyed he wasn’t listening to you so you hit him”

Be clear about separating the behaviour from the child – the action is not acceptable, the child is always accepted. We don’t use wording like wrong, bad, naughty etc We might use ‘I can understand you were frustrated, but it is not ok to hit them’.

If the child is non verbal or limited verbal they may not respond. That is ok, we give them the opportunity to be heard and still involve them in the resolution. If we have seen the situation occur we can often verbalize it for them.

For a young child we can model caring behaviour without judgement. We might say sorry ‘for the child’ – while comforting child X “I’m sorry child Y hit you, are you ok? What can I do to make you feel better?” Then give the other child the opportunity to join in with this or see it taking place.

If the child is older/developmentally more advanced we might involve them more actively in finding a solution, by sportscasting what happened, reviewing the situation without bias and then asking child Y “what might we be able to do to make child X feel better?”

We also support the ‘hit child’ to feel safe in our community (we will not allow them to be hurt in our care) but to not view the situation as ‘victim and perpetrator’ (as this is rarely helpful for either party) and give them strategies to take control of their own safety too “maybe we can give children a bit more space in future too” or “next time maybe check its ok to be that close”.

It’s not an exact science, childhood rarely is! But again it works for us, we do not see many incidents like the scenario described and the general feel in our settings is calm and supportive. We also avoid the trap of managing behaviour with shame or punishment, which would damage relationships and the children’s self esteem. All whilst keeping children of different ages and stages learning and playing together.




Ref: The Bucket Story – by Carol McCloud


That’s MY stick!

Today we focus on another of the Health and Social Care Standards, in relation to the day to day ethos of life at Stramash Outdoor Nursery.

  1. I have Confidence in the organisation providing my care and support

Wellbeing: 4.25 I am confident that people are encouraged to be innovative in the way they support and care for me.


“The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way’.”

Grace Hopper


Care of children is an evolving landscape. Our attitudes towards children as a society (and I speak from a western bias as cultural norms are somewhat unique) has changed a lot over the last 150 years. We are no longer sending children down mines or into mills, and have appropriate protection for children and childhood in the form of the Childcare Act 2006 and the UN Rights of The Child 1998 amongst others.

However, let it never be said that our evolution is over. That all children are now safe, protected, cared for, happy and learning at optimum levels. As research continues, enlightening us to new information and evidence and our own individual experience as parents and practitioners develops, so too should our approach.

It is ok to change your mind. It is ok to do something that your own parents didn’t. It is ok to say ‘Actually this works for us, so we are going to do that’ even if that is not currently the ‘mainstream thinking’ on a matter.


Our kids don’t have to share.


There, I’ve said it. It’s in big, bold, middle of the page type! No sand timers, clocks or beepers.

Just for a moment think about something you really value. Maybe it’s your car, or your home, your favourite book given to you as a small child, or even your spouse! You are happily going about your business, driving your car or reading your book and another adult approaches you. They want what you’ve got. They might start by asking nicely “but I said please!” or they might just push you and grab it off you.

You (quite understandably) get very upset. You might cry or fight back to protect what’s yours.

At this point another adult intervenes. They seem to understand and they attempt to calm the situation down, they are loving and comforting and you feel better for a moment. However now they are saying that you have to ‘share’. So because someone else wants what you have, you are obliged to let them have it. You don’t get a choice, that’s ‘what’s fair’.

Is it?

Do we have to share things as adults if we don’t want to? How would we feel about the person we were forced to share with if that were the case?

When we were growing up my sister and I used to drive my mother insane. We were always ‘borrowing’ each others things (not always with the consent of the other – ok rarely with the consent of the other) on discovery of such treachery all hell would break loose and my mother would be made judge and jury to preside over the trial. Her argument was always “You would give your sister a kidney if she needed it, why are you getting so upset about a t-shirt?”

She was right of course, but that didn’t make us any more likely to share in the future. This constant battle also drove a wedge between us that took a fair amount of time to grow out of (don’t worry, we’re good pals now – and besides I don’t fit in her clothes anymore!)

Our understanding of children both from a social and Neuro scientific understanding is improving all the time. We are beginning to understand that forcing or shaming them into compliance with arbitrary rules (that will not apply as they reach adulthood) maybe isn’t the solid foundation we are trying to create.

Building Empathy

You can’t teach empathy. Another bold statement I know, but go with me for a minute. Empathy (being able to see things from another’s perspective and have that adjust your approach or behaviour) is a learned skill. We have to experience it, have the opportunity to practice it and observe it in others.


One of the techniques we’ve found really helpful when dealing with sharing conflicts with children is sportscasting – describing the actions, feelings and emotions we can see projected from both parties during a disagreement.

E.g. Child A is playing with a watering can, child B wants watering can, child A refuses to give it to them

To child A “You are busy playing with the watering can and child B has tried to take it from you. This has made you upset”

To child B “You really want the watering can and child A has it. This is making you frustrated. You don’t want to wait until he’s finished”

At this point we have a choice – and it will depend on the age, stage of development and how experienced your child/ren are at independently problem solving – for example if they have been forced to share for some time they may have developed some pretty strong resource guarding instincts.

We might ask the children if they can come up with a solution which makes everyone happy, whilst reiterating gently that ‘child A is using that just now, I’m sure you can use it when they’ve finished, could we find you another one/something else to complete the task’?

Or we might take a more direct approach

To child A “I see that you are still busy with the watering can and are not ready to give it to child B yet. Do you think child B could use it when you are finished?”

To child B “It can feel like a long time when we’re waiting for something, shall we go and do something else while we’re waiting?”

This approach allows both children to hear how the other is experiencing the situation. It might not change their own feelings on it in that moment, but they are getting to experience ‘empathy in action’. This learning opportunity would be completely missed if one was to set a timer or enforce turn taking, they would also learn to look to someone else (an adult) to resolve conflict.

In our experience It also removes the heightened emotion from the situation. A child immersed in play is respected and does not need to fear losing the resource, the anxiety is not building as they watch the sand fall through the timer, this allows them to relax and play through the cycle – often abandoning a resource faster and moving on to something else than they would have previously. This in turn (along with a sufficient number of resources and play spaces) reduces these sorts of incidents in general.

As the philosophy becomes more ingrained children are more able to resolve their own conflicts at a superior emotional level – confidently but respectfully. It becomes habit to find something else to do or just calmly sit and wait for your turn on the swing. We have also seen older children more readily share, offer an alternative or take a shorter turn because they understand being ‘the waiter’.

As you start the process you may get children who become stuck in their own emotions of the situation, this is perfectly normal (they REALLY want the watering can!) We just gently remind them that we totally understand how they feel, we are not going to take it away from child A, and we are here if they want some help finding a substitute or company while they’re waiting.

We began implementing our ‘no forced sharing’ policy about 9 months ago and can honestly say we would never go back. So here’s to more innovative and organically developing practice.

And if you’re thinking “You cannot compare a watering can in the hands of a toddler to my car!” then check out this great video below.

Why do we become so attached to our things


Setting the Standards

“The Standards are underpinned by five principles: dignity and respect, compassion, be included, responsive care, and support and wellbeing”

The new Health & Social Care standards are designed to complement, not replace the ‘old standards’ which were previously called National Care Standards and laid out what someone could expect when accessing care, health and social services; to add further depth and detail. These ethos driven and holistic Standards offer a more comprehensive review, when combined or overlaid with the existing legislation and best practice of those working in the Health and Social Care fields.

So why are we excited? These are some of the most progressive and human centric standards anywhere in the world, focused on the individual in receipt of the service. But mostly we are excited because we recognise our setting in those standards, they are speaking our language! The things we do and the choices we make every day, as a result of our vision and shared values are reflected in this new document. That, is pretty exciting!

Over the next few blogs we’re going to look at the Standards and select a few things (relevant to our setting) and discuss how we aim to deliver them, in real terms, day to day in Nursery.

Standard 1: I experience high quality care and support that is right for me.

1:6 Compassion: I get the most out of life because the people and organisation who support and care for me have an enabling attitude and believe in my potential.

Well of course! I hear you cry. Everyone believes in the potential of children! However, our actions (however well intentioned or as a result of time or other pressures) sometimes undermine this belief.

How does that look in our setting? You’d expect it to be all about tree climbing or some other ‘risky play’ thing right? Well it might look for example, like spending 10 minutes coaching a wee one on how to open their cereal bar themselves (over the 10 seconds it takes to take it away and do it yourself!) Such a simple thing, but we believe in remaining mindful of the messages we send the children through our everyday actions.

So yes, we are their number one cheerleaders when they are climbing a tree or counting to 100, we truly believe in the environment (outdoors) being able to enrich our practice and support us in supporting the children to achieve their potential; it is the vehicle not the driver of what we do. Often those ‘wow moments’ are interspersed with the more ‘ordinary’ moments; the eating and the toiletting and such like. But there is no such thing as Ordinary in a Stramash nursery!

These moments are not just an opportunity to support our learners to develop key skills for life (like getting into packets, putting a jacket on or wiping their own bums!) They also provide us as their carers the chance to show the children that we truly do believe in their ability, we know they can do it, we are there to support, encourage and guide but ultimately ‘they got this!’ Whatever ‘this’ is, consistently.

It’s the same reason we don’t have ‘rooms’ or separate the children based on age. Yes of course at different times and stages each child will require different support, equipment or resources to challenge or extend their learning and development  and unique support to achieve their potential, it is our sincere pleasure to do that. However a child of 2 is an equal member of our nursery community, with the same intrinsic value, rights and respect as anyone else.

Our team want the children in our care to be their best selves, to develop independence, resilience and self esteem. It takes time, it cannot be rushed, there isn’t a shortcut. It is not always glamorous or the stuff you’ll find pictures of on Pinterest! What matters is that children feel empowered, capable and supported.

Rolling Snack
The key components of our ‘snack ethos’ is that we ‘open snack’ when the first child comes to us to say they’re hungry and close it when the children are done/tidy up time (whichever comes first).

Throughout this time practitioners will gently remind children that ‘snack is open’ and they can self assess if they are hungry. If they are, they collect their things and head to the tipi or snack area, if not they carry on playing.

The only time we would ‘steer’ a child towards snack is if we see ‘behaviour as communication’ – we know our children well and observe closely and can generally predict if a child needs to eat. However we have seen far fewer instances of this too since our new system.

This gives us smaller groups at snack so we are able to spend more 121 time chatting and (more importantly listening) to children about all manner of things; building a sense of community and a positive relationship with eating and food.

It also affords us the time to spend coaching them in the techniques to open their packaging/put their things away, do zips, work water bottles etc. Rather than doing it for them out of efficiency needs. Therefore we have 2,3 and 4 year olds who can confidently peel an orange or open a foil bag.

We have seen a marked improvement in independence and confidence, as well as children supporting each other and ‘showing off their new yoghurt opening skills’ for their friends! Along with this it feels like a much more natural fit with our ethos of bodily autonomy, encouraging children to problem solve and develop the skills they need for life.

Children can also choose what they eat, how much and in what order… I know right?

Don’t tell me, this couldn’t happen in your house/setting because children would ONLY eat the exciting stuff and then leave all the healthy stuff! I mean we only eat salads as adults, if we are promised a biscuit after, no?

Well no, that’s not our experience. Sure it takes the support of our families, who make sure kids have a box full of healthy food, so whatever they choose doesn’t need ‘labelling’ as good or bad or used as a reward for doing something they don’t want to – because really, those words and emotions have no place being around food and our relationship to it anyway.

So if a child wants to eat their sandwiches at 10:20 thats fine, they soon understand that once they’re gone they aren’t coming back! If they are hungry, they eat. Some children will not come to morning snack, but will sit for almost an hour eating in afternoon snack. That’s ok. They are listening to their bodies, they are fuelling their bodies and brains and recognising the effects that food has on their energy, emotions and sense of wellbeing. They are taking control of their own learning.

So no arguments, bribery, tears or tantrums, while all the time we are communicating to our children that we respect them and we trust them, to know their own bodies and minds.









Taking off with Helicopter Stories!

Our very first blog on our brand new website, what an exciting time!

Today’s blog is an introduction to the kind of thing you can expect to see here; a bit of a ‘behind the scenes look at what goes on, and most importantly why we do things the way we do.

As you’ve found our website, you probably know that we are a Social Enterprise in Scotland. Our aim is to reconnect children and families with nature and the outdoors via our Outdoor Nurseries, Schools Programmes, Holiday Club, Apprenticeships, and Training for practitioners. Meeting developmental and learning outcomes whilst nurturing creativity and increased wellbeing.

I love a mission statement, but if you’re like me you’ll want to know how we’re doing that; In practice, everyday.

A fairly recent and very welcome addition to our setting is Helicopter Stories.

Stramash Outdoor Nursery and St. Sylvesters Primary School created a partnership in November 2017 to explore an early literacy project, in the outdoors, using the ‘Helicopter Stories’ approach. We decided to use this approach as it was recognised that a number of children in St. Sylvesters P1 class had English and an additional language and that the technique could be used indoors and out as well as a tool to bridge the transition from pre-school to P1.

Helicopter Stories is tried, tested and proven to have significant impact on children’s literacy and communications skills, their confidence and social and emotional development. In simple terms it is an inclusive approach to storytelling, story scribing and story acting. (Lee, T. Helicopter Stories, 2016) (https://stramash.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/318d6-helicoptertechniqueevaluation.pdf)

Every child has their own book in which a practitioner or teacher scribes a story for them, exactly as told to them by the child. As part of the routine of the nursery a practitioner is available to scribe stories during the session, they are then acted out by the whole group during reflection at the conclusion of the session. We have been able to track developing vocabulary as well as stories that are created in response to place (in this case the woodland environment) and play. Children’s confidence is growing and the quietest of pupils are able to have their voice heard and story told. Some P1 pupils have started to write their own stories.

Improving early literacy and the development of vocabulary is seen as one of the key drivers of raising attainment – children from low income households are more likely to have below average vocabulary as well as below average problem solving skills by aged 5. (http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00486755.pdf). We feel that adopting Helicopter Stories as an approach could have many benefits including improving literacy and joining up learning between early learning centres, primary schools and homes.

Within our Elgin nursery setting, children now choose to have their helicopter stories scribed every day. Whilst the benefits to children have been evidential (increased confidence, word recognition and other early literacy indicators) we have also been given some true insight into the hearts and minds of our children.

Sure we get a lot of walk on parts for Iron Man, but we have also seen recent learning or experiences written into the children’s stories. As they continue to write, so too do they develop the characters emotions, what they see and do. Giving us valuable insight into the lives, thoughts and feelings of our children.

With this information we are able to care for, support and develop our children better, and in a more bespoke way. When you are committed to a wholly child led practice it can sometimes be a challenge to measure the amount of info retained or the learning taking place.

Children have built a stage for their performances and whilst previously some were ‘reluctant circle timers’, now the enthusiasm to tidy up and get together is a profound change.

If you think helicopter stories could be a benefit to your school or setting we are hosting a training at our Elgin site with Trisha Lee!

Details can be found here: Training Calendar

For more information about Trisha Lee