Mindstretchers opened the first outdoor Nature Kindergarten in Scotland in 2006 and 2008 with the underlying philosophy of Claire Warden as defined in her book Nature Kindergartens. These Kindergartens were run under the direction and management of Claire Warden and Niki Buchan who have a huge amount of experience as teachers, consultants and nursery managers and a great love of nature and the outdoors. At Auchlone, children from the age of 2 years spend about 80% of the day outdoors in all weathers. They have access to the very naturalistic garden and to the wilder woods attached to the Kindergartens where they use tools to build dens, cook on fire and explore nature.
Auchlone Nature Kindergarten
"Imagine a world where the lines were harsh and unyielding, the textures were consistent and variation is unheard of. Does it inspire you? Now imagine a place where the carpet changes every day, the ceiling is a myriad of different colours, light, shadow and movement. The feelings and movement completely surround you, sometimes breezy, sometimes cold, others warm. Unexpected wonders fly by, sometimes full of colour and sometimes full of noise and movement. If we really want children to thrive we need to let their connection to nature nurture them."
(Nurture Through Nature, Claire Warden 2007)
The enthusiastic implementation of the Nature Kindergarten philosophy has resulted in centres of excellence that are considered sector leading and recognized internationally. HMIE Report.
The Nature Kindergartens offers the best of all worlds to allow children the opportunity to build childhood memories - a secure natural space inside, a gently challenging outdoor investigative zone which supports young children to develop emotional confidence and skills, and then the wild wood where they can feel the freedom of a fully natural environment. Children from the age of 2 years spend the majority of the day outdoors in all weathers, either in the very naturalistic garden or in the woodlands where they build dens and bird hides using tools such as saws and loppers, make fires to cook their own snacks, climb trees and generally explore the wonders that the woodlands have to offer.
Our Kindergarten aims to:
- provide a safe and stimulating environment in which children can feel happy and secure.
- provide children with a very naturalistic environment indoors, in the garden and in the
- wild woods where they are encouraged and supported to take risks and become the risk assessors.
- encourage the emotional, social, physical, creative and intellectual development of children both indoors and outdoors.
- promote the welfare of children and encourage their independence through the use of appropriate praise and reassurance.
- encourage positive attitudes to self and others, and develop confidence and self-esteem.
- create opportunities for both indoor and outdoor play which, at times, is challenging both physically and mentally.
- encourage children to explore, appreciate and respect their environment.
- provide opportunities to stimulate interest and imagination.
- extend children's abilities to communicate ideas and feelings in a variety of ways.
- promote a close relationship with parents and the community.
- promote liaison between the Kindergarten and local Primary schools.
About our Nature Kindergarten
We spend about 80% of our day outdoors with children and adults appropriately dressed. We offer a highly consultative environment where children are involved in the planning process and experiences on offer are relevant and led by children's interests.
Nature provides a range of purposeful contexts that the children can really become involved in. The planting and harvesting of vegetables, the creation of habitat piles to increase biodiversity in the area and the use of natural streams to explore the properties of water all give children tangible ways of working with and in nature to increase their connection to it. Children are able to explore nature in depth in nature time so some investigations might take a year or more.
Children's voices and the process of learning are recorded in Talking and Thinking Floorbooks™, a method developed by Claire Warden. These books are created with the children; they share their ideas and contribute their understanding at their own level. They document group learning experiences and consultations and value each child as an individual recording their progress and understanding throughout. Families are invited to come in regularly and share the Floorbooks with their children. Talking Tubs™ are created by adults and children on subjects that children have initiated to stimulate discussion.
Assessment is an integral part of the planning for children's learning in the Kindergarten. It is achieved through careful and informal observation of, listening to, and interaction with, the children. The last should happen only when it is appropriate to lead or challenge their thinking through well- chosen questions. Careful records of children's development are kept and updated regularly. These are used to evaluate children's learning, plan future teaching and report progress to parents. Written reports are issued at the end of term one (December) and term three (June).
Children also have portfolios with observations, assessment s and previous reports. The children all have individual learning stories which include documentation of their learning journeys. Families are encouraged to share these with their child.
Working Together with Families - the link between the family and the nursery is of vital importance for the child's progress. Families know their child best and so communication between parents and staff is crucial. Care is taken to involve parents/carers in all aspects of children's progress through:
- being encouraged to look at displays of children's work
- availability of Talking and Thinking Floorbooks™
- recording children's group learning
- contributing items for craft and topic work
- being encouraged to visit the Kindergarten
- parents evening and social gathering
Families are kept informed of Kindergarten activities through a Parents' Notice Board, regular newsletters, photographs and letters before specific events. Families also have the opportunity for informal discussion daily when they bring and collect their child. Families are encouraged to help evaluate the service and the opportunities children are being offered.
From Home to Kindergarten - This step is recognised as being of great importance and staff work to ensure that starting nursery is a happy experience for both child and parent. To help ensure a smooth start we offer a flexible settling in programme and are happy to co-operate with parents during this process. A pre-entry visit is arranged to familiarise parents and children with the Kindergarten environment. Every effort is made to ensure that a new child feels welcome and soon has a sense of "belonging" to the Kindergarten.
Each child is an individual - In the diverse world we live in families may have differing values and practices and every child has differing abilities, strengths and needs. During observations, assessments and planning we identify areas for development and next steps for all children. When opportunities present themselves through children's interests we develop opportunities to investigate different cultures and global perspectives and celebrations. We invite families to come in and share various aspects of their culture with the staff and children.
Valuing the work your child creates - we create creators! We celebrate the process of creativity and not just the end product. Children of this age are still developing their gross and fine motor skills and manipulating small tools take time and effort. As an environmentally friendly nursery we encourage transient art and children can produce amazingly intricate displays with natural materials which are photographed to record the process. Creativity may also be displayed in the construction room through complex structures.
Curriculum - our curriculum is nature based, following the "Birth to Three Matters" (link) for children aged 2 to 3 years and the new Scottish "Curriculum for Excellence" (link) for children from 3 to 18 years. The majority of our learning takes place outside where children can explore the concepts and achieve the expected outcomes in a very practical, sensorial, active and contextual manner as recommended in the new curriculum. Our highly consultative environment encourages children to explore curricular concepts using higher order thinking, problem solving, self risk assessing and complex language. Collecting wood for the fire involves estimation, measuring, sorting by complex criteria, science, keeping safe, sharing, taking turns, developing manual dexterity, discussion, etc. Physical development of both gross motor and fine motor control is naturally encouraged in this environment. The skill of our practitioners lies in identifying the learning and recording this in the Talking and Thinking Floorbooks™ as well as the child's personal file. Families are encouraged to share these documents with their child.
Staff - To achieve a high quality environment we need to have teams of motivated adults to work with children. The selection process is based around several systems that include interviews, observation of staff interactions, references, relevant qualifications, and personality. Parents are invited to be part of the selection process; children are consulted to find out what is important to them. The current team had to "give good cuddles", be "smiley" and "someone from Mama Mia" (not all of the children's ideas are achievable)!
Kindergarten hours - Auchlone Nature Kindergarten offers flexible care depending on demand between 9am and 3.30pm during the Perth and Kinross school terms. We offer out of school care from 3.30pm until 5.30pm at Auchlone depending on demand and holiday camps for children aged from 3 to 12 are offered during the Spring, Summer and Autumn holidays.
Admission policy - due to the demand for places applications are placed on a waiting list and priority will be given to those children who wish to attend for 3 or more sessions per week.
Fees - We are Partner Providers with Perth and Kinross council.
Clothing - the children are outdoors every day for long periods and it is important that they are dressed appropriately. We provide waterproofs and subsidise the price of snowsuits. Welly boots are essential and need to be a good fit. In colder weather children need woollen socks or snowboots. During the warmer weather children would need a sun hat and sun protection cream.
Routines - Routines help children to develop a sense of security and belonging, have a positive effect on their emotional development and happy secure children are more likely to be successful learners. Some children do not feel comfortable coming straight into a group situation so we allow the children the freedom to explore and choose activities to build their confidence. Our gathering times are flexible and respond to the children's interest or needs.
Health promotion - Following the Guidelines for Nutrition and our healthy eating policy, we involve the children in the choice of snacks. With all the fresh air and physical exercise our environment offers children are naturally healthy! Children staying for lunch bring their own packed lunch.
Behaviour - we believe that children learn and thrive best in an ordered, secure environment where they feel welcome, safe and loved. They should be free to develop their play and learning without fear of being hurt, either physically or emotionally, through the actions of other children. Children will be treated with respect, consistency and fairness.
Child protection - we have a Child Protection Policy which follows the Perth and Kinross protection guidelines. The centre uses Pro Forma and guidance for the recording of Child Care and Protection concerns approved by Education and Children's Services' Child Protection Reference Group.
Equal Opportunities Policies - we have a policy of equal opportunities and work actively towards offering equality of opportunity to all children and staff. All children and staff are respected equally whatever their gender, race, beliefs, abilities or social background. The Nature Kindergarten pursues an equal opportunities policy in respect of the selection and recruitment of staff and we are fortunate to have both male and female practitioners to model good practice. No activity or piece of equipment is considered by us to be gender specific and we offer a range of multi-cultural resources to promote an awareness of other cultures.