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Outdoor education August 19, 2007

Filed under: parenting articles — paulabrown @ 10:34 am

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Fresh back from the wilds of the English Borders – we’ve been camping in Northumberland – and the kids have been outside all day every day, exploring castles (from ruins to grandeur), making pictures from pebbles and grass ‘skiing’ headfirst down steep castle embankments. A friend we visited in Newcastle sent me this (her dad made her play outside all day every day, no TV til she was 6! Thanks for sharing Ange!).

Out in all weathers: Britain’s secret garden nursery

In the past year and a half, childminder Cathy Bache hasn’t spent a single day indoors with any of the 17 toddlers in her care.Instead, in rain or shine, hail or snow, they spend all day every day playing in the garden, running in the woods, picnicking in the tree-house or building mud dams on the stream. With 22 years’ experience of teaching young children, Bache is convinced outdoor education is the way forward, and now she plans to open Britain’s first totally open-air nursery in Scotland, one of the coldest areas of the country. “As a nursery teacher, I found that being indoors with small children with very little space was stressful for me as an adult, so I imagine for a child it’s even worse,” Bache says.

“You can’t really get more egocentric than a three-year-old — and indoors they’re all so close together, they bump into each other and get upset, and there are all those toys to fight over.”

“Outdoors there’s a lot of space, a lot of freedom and a lot of independence.”

The Secret Garden, will be in an old walled orchard in the grounds of a restored mediaeval tower which once formed part of the summer palace for the bishops of the nearby ancient town of St Andrews. It will have compost toilets and no toys just what nature provides… sticks and leaves, mud and rainwater, fir cones and acorns.

The only shelter will be a wattle and daub structure with no walls. Next door, the Monimail Tower community of environmentalists seeks a sustainable lifestyle.They will eat outside, use outdoor compost toilets, and learn about vegetable gardening and rearing chickens.

“We’ll do a lot of walking, a lot of climbing trees, a lot of physical things — as well as putting them in risky situations they have to suss out themselves,” Bache told Reuters. “They are given the freedom to make choices about what do to and the risks that they should take.”

Bache firmly believes there is no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing, and she says children love being out in all weathers.

Asked if a child ever whimpers about the cold, she says brightly: “Ah, well that’s when we light the bonfire and make toast or bake potatoes.”

This is largely a Norwegian import – Grete Haug, an advisor at Norway’s Directorate for Education and Training, says outdoor education is widespread in Scandinavia, and growing all the time.

Many primary schools aim to spend at least one day a week outside, she says, and there are some completely outdoor kindergartens.

“There are great health benefits from being outside all the time, engaging in physical activity, getting stronger, breathing all that fresh air.”

Both Haug and Bache believe outdoor education could provide an answer to concerns voiced by educational psychologists that modern children lack the ability to assess risk, and the confidence to make the right decisions.“One child fell in the stream about 3 weeks ago,” Bache says. “And we went back to that same stream again today. I could see his caution. The stream was cold. He is only three, but he was learning.”

If you’re interested in this area also take a look at Sue Palmer’s brand new book called ‘Detoxing Childhood’ – she has done a lot of research about how the lack of outdoor play has hindered children’s development.

Also check out the emerging forest schools – Google it as there’s quite a bit on them out there in the ether. Also, if you’re city-bound as we are consider joining or starting a Woodcraft Folk group – a environmentally-based scout / guide equivalent. We’re starting one in Bristol for ages 4-6.

Let me know your thoughts!

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