With a growing number of outdoor nurseries in Tayside and Fife we spoke to professionals and parents about the appeal of outdoor learning whatever the weather.
Come rain or shine three-year-old Angus Licznerski spends his nursery days outside having fun and learning.
He is one of an increasing number of children cared for by outdoor nurseries in Scotland.
At fully outdoor nurseries – where at least 80% of the time is spent outdoors – children are outside in all but the very worst weather.
The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife was a trailblazer when it became Scotland’s first fully outdoor nursery in 2008, but since then others have followed, most recently, Little Bugs Outdoor Nursery, near Dunfermline. Others are to come at Kinghorn Loch and on Cambo Estate.
While some parents embrace the philosophy of outdoor learning and play, others might shrink at the idea of their little ones being outdoors all day even in the depths of winter.
So we spoke to nursery owners and parents to learn more about the benefits of outdoor nurseries and how they operate.
Angus’ mum Louise Licznerski is the owner of Little Bugs Outdoor Nursery which opened earlier this month at Fordell Firs, the Scouts activity centre near Dunfermline.
A former teacher from Dalgety Bay, she told us how children learn from the natural environment: they use sticks to build dens, play with collected rain water, see the changing of the seasons and observe creatures such as slugs and frogs.
Children can nap in the nursery’s yurt or a hammock, but often choose to curl up with a blanket under a tree. Pop-up tents and ‘pee trees’ provide toilet facilities while on woodland excursions away from base camp.
Louise’s love of outdoor learning was inspired by seeing a pupil who struggled in the classroom and with forming friendships transformed by a series of outdoor sessions.
She said: “There is no glass ceiling to learning outdoors. We are teaching children resilience, we are teaching them about taking risks in order to build that resilience.
“Being outside, we know it helps our mental health, it helps adults’ mental health.
There is no such thing as bad weather. When we have rainy days it’s just a different learning experience.”
Louise Licznerski, Little Bugs Outdoor Nursery
“Children are just so at peace, and so happy, they don’t feel so restricted, so confined in spaces.
“When children are happy and comfortable we know that they engage therefore we know that their learning is built upon.”
In extreme weather children can be taken to a sports hall but Louise said that would only happen in ‘real Beast from the East conditions’.
The yurt and its stove are enough to warm children up if they are feeling cold, she said, before they head back out for more fun.
She said: “There is no such thing as bad weather. When we have rainy days it’s just a different learning experience. When the rain comes so do the puddles, so do different animals.”
Lisa Henry is creating Nature’s Little Wonders Forest Kindergarten at Cambo Estate, near Kingsbarns, after running a forest playgroup at Strathkinness.
She said being in the forest “engages all the senses” in a natural way without over-stimulating children.
She said: “Learning happens much more freely, organically. The brain is in the perfect state to absorb information, learn and discover.”
The nursery will sit in a valley sheltered by the contours of the land with its own area of woodland and access to the whole of Cambo Estate.
Having returned from living in Australia, Lisa was inspired by the amount of support for outdoor learning in Scotland and she said there was great enthusiasm for her venture.
More parents are seeing the benefit of kids being outside… people have rediscovered nature.”
Lisa Henry, Nature’s Little Wonders Forest Kindergarten
“I’ve had interest from all directions. It’s not just parents wanting their kids to go, it’s parents wanting to get involved as well. Some of them even want to change career.
“More parents are seeing the benefit of kids being outside. I definitely think Covid has accelerated that as well. People have rediscovered nature.”
Journalist Ruby Deevoy’s son Faelan Wolf, 4, attends Little Bugs Outdoor Nursery.
She said: “I love the idea of them having the freedom to run around and play and just be in nature and get everything you can get from being outside in nature.”
Faelan loves to play on obstacles courses, build dens and potter in the mud kitchen.
Ruby said: “It gives him that sense of freedom that you don’t get in an enclosed nursery environment.”
Meg Drummond, a dog groomer, chose the nursery for son Oliver, 3, as she says he thrives outdoors.
She said: “He connects well with nature, he loves being able to spy the different animals.
“Kids spend a lot of time learning indoors in primary school and high school and I think for the younger generation it’s a great way to start their early years, learning about the outdoors, nature, plants, trees, seeing what’s out there for them.”
Outdoor nurseries in Tayside and Fife
‘Doubled within three years’
Mairi Ferris, of charities organisation Inspiring Scotland, supports outdoor learning expansion for the Scottish Government.
She said: “When we first starting working on this there were about 18 fully outdoor nurseries (across Scotland). We are now sitting at 30 and we know of around 10 at registration stage.
Some outdoor nurseries “walk into a public park with a backpack of tarps and a pop-up toilet”.
Mairi Ferris, Inspiring Scotland
“We’ve doubled within three years, and that’s ones we know of and that’s full outdoor nurseries.
“We also have satellite models, where an establishment extends registered numbers by using an outside off-site.
“There’s a rise in indoor-outdoor models where they are using their full nursery footprint as the whole nursery rather than seeing the outdoor space as a garden.”
Even among fully outdoor nurseries she said there was a range of models, from those with their own site infrastructure, such as cabins and composting toilets, to those that “walk into a public park with a backpack of tarps and a pop-up toilet”.
Ensuring safety and standards
All childcare settings must be approved by the Care Inspectorate, which also conducts regular inspections to ensure standards are maintained.
With Inspiring Scotland it has produced a guide for creating outdoor play experiences in childcare and early learning settings.
It contains advice for providers on practical aspects such as shelter, boundaries, handwashing, toilet facilities, sleep and rest areas and clothing and kit.
The document recognises the benefits of outdoor play and learning for young children’s health and wellbeing and physical and cognitive development.