Hobbit houses, campfires and water walls are just a few of the fun outdoor learning activities kids can experience thanks to the new Early Learning and Child Care (ELC) settings. Argyll and Bute and the continued expansion of an existing unit on Mull.
Willowview in Oban and Silverbirch in Dunoon, both run by Argyll and Bute Council, welcomed their first children this week, while MAKI Pups in Lochgilphead, run by Argyll and The isles Coast and Countryside Trust, have been fully operational for nine months now.
Drumfork in Helensburgh, a private partnership nursery commissioned by the council, has also created an outdoor / forest school setting, and work to create two new frames and expand the outdoor space of the ELC unit in Salen Primary is expected to be completed this fall.
Silverbirch and MAKI Pups
Silverbirch and MAKI Pups, are dedicated outdoor nurseries. This means that children spend almost all of their time learning outdoors, which gives them plenty of opportunities to explore and progress at their own pace in a natural environment.
Both settings are in a wooded environment and each has a single log cabin that will primarily provide shelter and respite from the elements. The vast majority of learning and play, however, will take place outdoors, giving children the chance to explore, gain confidence, and learn at their own pace. Outdoor nurseries also feature innovative waterless toilets to minimize the environmental impact by avoiding the installation of underground sewage pipes which would negatively impact the existing natural woodland environment.
Willowview in Oban is a former day center and nursing home and, more recently, offices. Landscape architects have been appointed by the council to create high-activity spaces; moments of silence; socialize; investigation; creativity; and natural.
To meet these specifications, the designers developed a “traditional” play space with a hard coating for carriers, scoring and ball games, water games, sensory planting and a “stage”. This is a self-contained area, but a path also leads through a quiet space and green tunnel to a high-level ‘hidden garden’ with a playhouse, sandbox, slide and net. scrambling down to the lower level and a sheltered gazebo with rooftop views.
The outdoor setting also has a natural area that provides future use for forestry school activities for other settings to support equity throughout the early childhood service. In addition to the large outdoor spaces, there is a partially covered inner courtyard that forms the parents’ entrance and a sensory relaxation area.
Drumfork is a private nursery in Helensburgh that offers free access to outdoor areas which are full of exciting spaces for children to explore. The executive now also has a site dedicated to the forestry school, located a few steps from the interior. Many of the staff have completed Fire and Tools Skills training, which gives them the skills, expertise and confidence to provide children with a wide range of outdoor learning opportunities, such as helping to cook on open fire and work with real tools.
The board-appointed architects designed an outdoor space in Salen Primary’s existing ELC unit, which maximizes the limited outdoor space available. Relaxation areas have been developed as social spaces for scientific / experimental games, gardening, an outdoor classroom and sensory areas. The new area also has a “circuit” and a talking tube that connects the two early childhood gardens, as well as outdoor paintings, music, mirrors and a water wall. The two new Middle English and Gaelic spaces will be completed this fall. The new facilities in Salen will provide learners with a wealth of opportunities to participate in a number of high quality sensory learning experiences.
Council for Education Policy Director Councilor Yvonne McNeilly said: “The benefits of outdoor learning go back a long way. It is an essential part of the development of our children. Not only is it fun, but it improves their physical health and well-being and allows them to have meaningful interactions with the natural world.
“Our new spaces were created in partnership between the town hall, local communities and landscape architects. We have revived forgotten or neglected spaces and placed them at the heart of the learning of our youngest learners. In doing so, we connect children with their local areas, helping to develop a sense of belonging and a sense of belonging and inclusion.
“These sustainable spaces provide a wealth of opportunities for intergenerational activities, enhancing community cohesion and helping us build inclusive and resilient communities while providing high quality CLS. I want to thank everyone involved for the tremendous effort they have put in over the years to get us to where we are today. I truly believe we are leading the way with outdoor education in Argyll and Bute, leading the way for our children and youth to get the best start in life.