We opened our first Outdoor Nursery in Oban in 2012. Since then, we have opened settings in Fort William, Elgin and most recently Tornagrain near Inverness. Each site has a unique topography (natural features, elevation, weather singularities etc) and as such the challenges and opportunities at each site are somewhat unique.
In July 2018 we asked families in a survey about their nursery choices what their main concerns around outdoor nursery were. Some had children at outdoor nursery already but many did not. This page takes you through some of those concerns and our solutions to them.
“What do you do when it’s ***insert extreme weather** this is Scotland and they are only little?”
Weather is a common concern and we like to take a two pronged approach!
Gear: The right clothing makes a BIG difference to a child’s comfort, safety and ultimately enjoyment of the experience of outdoor nursery. Layers, waterproofs and spares are essential most of the year round, as are things like hats and gloves in winter and summer hats, sunscreen and extra water in the summer.
We have produced a gear guide here Gear Guide to support parents in making sure they are investing in the right stuff for their Stramasher. We also keep multiple spares on site and if gear is a barrier to you accessing us just get in touch and we can chat about it & help.
Balance: This is not a toddler survival challenge! Distressed children cannot play and learn and so we balance the opportunities provided by weather like rain, wind, snow and sun (it can be a lot of fun to splash in puddles or make your own kites) with plenty of opportunity to warm up, dry out or shelter from the sun in our covered areas and permanent structures with cosy spaces; read books with a grown up or play with your friends. Wood burning stoves provide heat and warm water in winter and children attending all day can expect to change any really wet clothes at least once a session to make sure they stay warm and comfortable.
We are a nursery, care of your children is our priority. Of course we want them to have fun and to learn, but they won’t do either if they are not comfortable. The children learn much from being out in all weathers and gain resilience (a key life skill) it is important as they grow up that they do not see rainy days as ‘bad’ and become ‘solar powered’ waiting for only a certain set of conditions to be happy.
“How do they cope when transitioning to a school environment – will they know how to sit at a desk?!”
Taking this question at face value, in our experience all the children who have gone on to P1 from our nursery settings have settled in to school life like a dream. They have advanced social, communication and emotional skills meaning they make friends easily, they are also adept problem solvers with hungry minds; enthusiastic students ready to learn and begin their school life. None so far have refused to sit at a desk!
Transitions in the final term are managed sensitively with visits from a child’s new class teacher out to our sites and support offered to families should they want it. We use Helicopter stories as a transition tool in Moray to good effect and a significant O.L.I transition in Oban, based around a book which all nurseries use.
That’s not to say the children don’t still enjoy being outdoors, we would hope the foundation they have had with us has given them a deep love of being in the natural world, but in our experience they don’t seem to struggle when transitioning to school. However, we would always argue that P1 should be preparing for nursery children and not the other way round, play based learning is still the most effective ‘teaching method’ for P1 and P2.
We understand that parents are concerned with ‘school readiness’ and we are always happy to discuss your child and their individual progress with you.
We focus on giving our children the richest possible learning and play filled early years experience every day, preparing them for a future (in education but also in life!) that we might not even be able to visualise yet. They don’t need practice to sit at a desk or hold a pen, they need to develop their self esteem, practice their social skills and learn to work with others to achieve a goal, move their bodies and supercharge their learner minds, the rest will follow.
Of course you also have the option to choose a ‘shared placement’ where your child also attends another nursery setting – often their school feeder nursery or a more ‘typical’ indoor nursery setting if you feel this is appropriate. You can use your funded childcare hours in both and we can help you with the paperwork, just ask!
Safety “Don’t you have fires and use sharp tools? What about strangers being able to access the setting? Do they ever just wander off with no walls or doors?!”
We do utilise fires and tools as mankind has for millennia, to keep warm and to build. Children learn with careful guidance to respect both the fire safety rules and the tool use guidelines that we have in place. Stoves and open fires have many benefits which the children also share in such as getting cosy, drying clothes, cooking and eating together. We model best practice and safety around the children and gently remind them to keep themselves and others safe.
Tool use is another opportunity for children to learn and take ownership of their own learning and experience, ratios are kept low so all children can be supported and supervised effectively when using tools, and can be advised how to use them and care for them safely.
We apply a risk:benefit model to all activities and this includes fire and tool use as well as our sites. This method weighs up the potential risks and steps to mitigate those risks but also considers the benefits of the activity, it is important to balance thinking on ‘risky play’ as this has been shown to be developmentally essential for children to engage in.
Fundamentally the benefits always outweigh the risks.
Practitioners are always observing children, there is good line of sight across all our settings and children are always under the watchful eye of our practitioners – they need to be close by to extend learning opportunities, provide resources and join in the fun too! Each child has a password and photographs of the people who are allowed to collect them on our database, if It’s not the usual carer collecting the child they will be asked for the password, if the password cannot be given the child will remain with us until we can contact the parent or carer to verify.
Children learn the boundaries of the site within the first few weeks, under the careful guidance of practitioners, they generally want to play with their peers so wandering away from a group is rare. However as above, all children are supervised whilst in our care and regular headcounts and communication between staff mean no child can wander off alone. We also take time to explain why we have the rules and boundaries we do, that it’s our job to keep ourselves and each other safe. It has been our experience that children enjoy the responsibility of looking out for each other too.
We might not have bolted keycode doors or 10 foot walls but your children are safe, and fully supervised in our care.
Lack of literacy opportunities
Literacy is embedded in our day to day routines with the children as we spend our days together. Talking and chatting with them, extending vocabulary and sentence structure, describing what they are doing at play, assisting in conflict resolution and ‘speaking feelings’, sportscasting…the list goes on.
The ever changing natural environment gives us a unique opportunity for language and our visceral understanding of words. Weather is not just a picture on a card but the feeling of warm sun on your face or the sound of rain drumming on a plastic tarp. The landscape is ever changing which encourages interest and discussion, for example we are not looking at Autumn in a book but experiencing its crunchy leaves and changing colours.
Our children are exposed to many opportunities for early literacy via resources provided which are age and stage appropriate but most significantly are relevant to their interests and activities in the moment, thus encouraging a deeper level of engagement and learning. Below is a small example of the kinds of resources we have available daily which the children utilise and integrate into play.
- Mark making tools
- Books – fiction available daily
- Books read aloud – daily
- Books non fiction – natural world,bird and beast identification etc
- Helicopter stories – weekly – link blog post
- Songs/Nursery Rhymes
- Sign in – name recognition
- Story stones
- Letter stones
- Regular Bookbug sessions
- Craft resources (scissors, pens, glue, paper etc)
This one is perfectly understandable, horrible little beasties potentially carrying something even more nasty.
We have a robust tick policy and advice for all parents and carers – link here Tick Advice
All our teams are trained to remove them in full using the twister and are eagle eyed at spotting them too. We stay up to date with best practice and advice and do not take unnecessary risks – long trousers, tucked in etc.
Toilets and Toilet Training
It is perfectly ok with us if your child is not fully toilet trained before starting at Stramash, we will work with you to accomplish this when the time is right for your child.
We utilise portable toilets/camping toilets on site which are actually great for kids as they are easier to get on and off themselves than normal toilets. Your child will always have someone available to support them with clothing or ‘the technical side’ of getting cleaned up and if accidents happen then they will be helped to change and get comfortable again, no drama.
Still in nappies? No problem, full changing facilities are in all our sites.
“What about naps?”
How does a nap in a hammock sound? Or on a portable bed with a 4 seasons sleeping bag? Or perhaps in a cosy corner with a blanket? We don’t do ‘nap time for all’ – how can you assume that all children will want/need sleep at the same time each day?! However as is our approach to all things, if the child needs/wants to sleep we will facilitate that absolutely.
This is the view from our Elgin nursery sleep hammock.
All children are monitored regularly during sleep & we ensure they are warm and comfortable (or cool and comfortable in summer) throughout.
“What about winter? Are you still open/outdoors in the dark?”
All our outdoor nursery settings operate 8:30am – 5:30pm all year round, offering continued high quality care and learning for our families. We have cosy indoor spaces which we can utilise at the end of the day should we choose to or the weather is particularly extreme.
There is surprising fun & many learning benefits to be had ‘after dark’! Here’s a link to our own board member Juliet Robertson’s blog on that very thing.
If you have more questions dont hesitate to get in touch, or arrange a visit with one of our settings to see it for yourself!