The oak is one of my favourite trees. They tower above with a stillness and a quiet confidence that comes from a life well-lived. They have strong roots and stand tall under their own weight, gently cradling those who climb, sit and occasionally swing amongst their branches.
The oak is the perfect metaphor for what I hope to create through FossoPLAY. The idea of its’ growth and development, strong roots, of its’ resilience and fortitude to withstand the elements and the challenges it must face as it grows. This all chimes with the ethos and ambition of the nursery.
I say nursery, but like the oak we have big ideas… Perhaps I’ll stick with FossoPLAY for now, it feels broader, less prescribed.
FossoPLAY is the niggle that’s developed in the back of my mind since I began working with children, it’s the voice that’s been getting progressively louder since the birth of my children and is now the ringing alarm sounding in my ears daily.
The alarm comes from seeing children (my own included) peering over the top of tablets, smart phones and other nondescript screens, from seeing seemingly happy children morph into Tasmanian Devils at the switch of a socket and, more sobering, from watching the steady increase in children considered overweight and obese and the pervasive mental health epidemic sweeping across our country’s youth.
These examples are the ‘stick’. I’ve used them to scare myself into action but they are not the reason I want there to be a FossoPLAY – that’s far more to do with the ‘carrot’ (that’s a healthy eating reference, see what I did there).
It’s my own children and my childhood that motivates me. It’s easy to fall in to the trap of focusing on the bad, the tabloid fear of zombie kids and over weight wains’ but I don’t belive in being motivated by negativity – what if things get better, where’s your motivation then?
My motivation comes from remembering my own childhood outside building fires on the beach and dens by the loch behind where we lived. I consider myself (and the research backs me up) to be part of the last generation to grow up with relative freedom and the opportunity to roam ….unsupervised! The last generation of kids without the internet – although we did have the Venga Boys and Noel’s House Party so ‘swings and roundabouts’ (that’s a play reference, keep up).
Jokes aside, it’s important. As a child I felt free, I met up with my friends face to face and we connected, sometimes we argued but we were connected and engaged in a common goal. I had freedom to find my play and my interests with no expectation of how ‘fun’ it should be. I was left to get bored, an important step in the creative process, and I got to take risks and push my own boundaries.
I didn’t feel I was academic but i was coordinated, with good balance and a head for heights and I took huge confidence from being good at the physical stuff, a confidence I still carry to this day – although it’s more a “when i was your age i could…” kind of middle-aged, retrospective confidence now.
To this day if I’m stressed or feel the weight of the world is on my shoulders, I take a deep breath and go for a walk or set myself to a job on the yard and the stress lifts, I find my perspective, my family comes into view and my life feels familiar again.
We’re very fortunate to live where we do, we have acres of space, literally, and I can watch my kids outside playing on hay bales and scrabbling in the dirt and stones and they’re completely lost in their play. They’re laughing and planning and negotiating and shouting and a million other things, and I feel like those are the moments, as a parent where I’m getting it right…. I’m not doing anything, other than consciously leaving them to work it out for themselves. Those are the moments when I see the people I hope they’ll grow into – happy, engaged, creative and dynamic young adults.
In my day job I’m often invited in to help the staff with behavioral issues. I’m by no means an expert but I have some experience and an interest that means I’ve done my research into child behaviours, trauma and attachment. I would go in to see the staff and always end up asking the same question “have you tried taking them outside?” It’s not rocket science, I’m aware, but it’s had a 100% success rate. I’m not saying it cured all ills but it gave the kids the space they needed to cope with their emotions and gave the staff a strategy that allowed them to cope and to manage their emotions too.
So, why all the rambling above… because what I’m clumsily trying to explain is that time and time again I’ve seen how the outdoors brings balance and perspective, how it provides risk and reward, how it grounds us like the roots of the great oak and teaches us about our own inner strength and resilience. Through all that it instills a quiet confidence, that alluring quality that some people have; humility mixed with unwavering resolve and self-belief.
Now why wouldn’t we want every child to have that? Isn’t that really what we all want for our children, happiness and the ability to cope with whatever life through at them with a quite determination and a smile.
Great oaks from little acorns grow…..
OK, so that’s the values and aspirational bit, how that becomes reality, well, that’s what I need to work out over the next few months (and years). I hope some of you might even be willing to help me figure it out along the way. To me it’s more than just a nursery it’s part of a movement, but oddly a movement that takes us back in time in order to move forwards for our kids (that’s a Back to the Future reference… just because).
As the cold weather arrives we have a habit of retreating inside. Its easy and convenient and there’s nothing wrong with that but there are so many advantages to getting outside in the winter. Warm clothing and staying active means that even the littlest of children can spend hours having fun out in the fresh air (and they’ll sleep like little logs at bedtime as a result – bonus!).
Here are 10 of our favourite things to do when the trees have gone bare and the snow begins to fall…
1. Snow Painting
There’s lots of ways to be creative in winter but when the snow lays it creates the biggest blank canvas there is. A little food colouring in some water makes great ‘snow paint’. It can be sprinkled or splashed onto crisp white snow or you can make it extra fun by filling water pistols and letting your kids spray their visions onto the snowy canvas.
2. Build a Snowman
It’s just not something you can do at any other time of the year (thankfully!) Be creative – how about a snow dog? a snow horse? a snow house? Let the kids come up with the ideas, let them name their snowman and own the process. Got lots of snow? Go big!
Super-slidey fun for all the family. Choose your slope wisely but sliding down the side of a snowy hill is fantastic fun and can challenge kid’s ideas about what they can and can’t do. The sense of excitement and achievement they’ll feel at the bottom will keep them climbing back up time and time again.
4. Roast Marshmallows by a Fire
Nothing quite warms the cockles like sitting by a fire, wrapped up in blankets and roasting marshmallows! Kids love it and it instills a sense of adventure in them. Trust us, they’ll remember evenings like this and be excited tell all their friends at school and nursery.
5. Snow sculpting
Snow is a brilliant material for sculpting, that’s why snowmen are so popular, but it’s also great for creating smaller masterpieces. Using tools and moulds, the same way you would at the beach when building a sand castle, is great fun and very effective. Think of anything that would act as a mould even your hand can create a detailed sculpture. Have a go and see how creative you can get. Use idea number 1 (Snow Painting) to add colour to your creations.
6. Make Snow-Angels
Wrap up warm and roll around in the snow – what other shapes can you make? As adults, we’re often keen to stay inside and warm when it’s cold outside, but a snowy garden or park can be magical for children. Let them roll around in the snow, just have them wrapped up warm and be ready with a hot drink when you’re done.
7. Winter Woodland Bingo
Create a scavenger hunt sheet and head out into the woods and see what you can find…. A pine cone? A robin? What else? There’s lots still to see in the woods over winter, in fact without so much foliage on the trees, you can often see more. This is a great activity to help earn about wildlife while having a good walk in the fresh air.
8. Feed the Birds
The birds welcome any extra food at this time of year and setting up a bird feeding station at home is a lovely way to learn about the birds that visit the garden as well as teaching the kids about caring for animals and the environment.
9. Animal Tracking in the Snow
As much fun as it is making footprints in the snow we aren’t the only ones who leave a print. The woodland floor or even in your back garden if the perfect place to hone your tracking skills. The children will be amazed at the number of print they’ll find if they look closely enough. Help the children follow and photograph the prints then you can try to identify the animals that left them. Imagine what the animals might have been doing and let their imaginations run wild with the stories they create.
10. Snowball Fights
It’s been the classic snow activity of children for centuries. There are few things to do in the snow that are more fun! The secret to a good snowball fight is having good quality gloves that keep little hands warm and dry and keeping a good distance for throwing, meaning no one get a ‘stinger’.
Snowball fights have had some bad-press in recent times, with many schools banning them from their playgrounds all together. Activities like these always carry some risk and no one wants to see their children get hurt, but don’t underestimate the benefits of such activities; physical movement, co-ordination, strategy, negotiation skills, mathematics (trajectory vs force), peer agreement and challenge. There is a multitude of learning and fun experiences to be had during a snowball fight so get out and enjoy the snow – it doesn’t tend to hang around for long!
Anyone hearing about outdoor nurseries for the first time would be forgiven for questioning why open one in Scotland? It’s cold, wet, windy and dreich, and that’s just between 8am and 9am! Spain, fair enough, the Caribbean, sure, but Scotland? Well the reality is we actually have quite a temperate climate, it might deviate a little but on the whole it’s pretty predictable and benign. The current outdoor nursery model, or Nature Kindergarten, actually originates form the nordic countries who share a very similar climate to ours, if not slightly colder in the winter and they manage…
However, during our more extreme weather conditions there’s an absolutely justified concern from parents; whether it’s ok to have children outdoors all day? As a parent your natural instinct is to keep your child sheltered and protected from the elements, we think they won’t be able to cope for long periods outside so the thought of all day in the woods, in freezing temperatures, seems a bit counter-intuitive. As parents ourselves we share this instinct. Our own children, who love being outside, will wilt in the freezing conditions if they are left just standing around just like any other.
So, there are some important factors we’d like to share to reassure you and hopefully ease those concerns…
It’s an absolutely legitimate concern to be worried about the impacts of extreme cold, wet and windy conditions and one that we as professionals, and parents ourselves, take very seriously. There are things we need to make happen in order to ensure the children stay cozy and happy. We do however, whole-heartedly believe that the benefits of having the children outdoors, experiencing and learning from their natural environment, far outweighs the efforts required to keep them happy and protected from the harsher winter conditions.
If you have any questions about our approach and how we intend to manage in the winter months please browse our website and feel free to get in touch via our Contact Us page. Alternatively you can message us directly at our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/fossoplayoutdoornursery/