Nurturing Outdoor Play with Grounds for Learning

In the past year, there have been a few exciting new initiatives which nurture children’s connection with nature and outdoor play. It’s about time that I featured these in a little series here on Nature Kids Glasgow, as examples of good and innovative practice. It would be amazing to see similar projects happening, or for people to be inspired to set up their own little space where children can connect with nature.

First up is Grounds for Learning’s project Nurturing Outdoor Play. Grounds for Learning has a track record of innovative projects that make outdoor and nature play and learning an everyday occurrence. When Nurturing Outdoor Play was set up, I was curious from the outset to find out more because it was apparent that it met a real gap and need.

For many parents who would like to offer their children outdoor play opportunities, there are barriers. I remember being warned not to go on my own into a suburban park as it was not safe. In the city, most people don’t have a garden or may not live near to an accessible ourdoor area. Making a start and taking the children outdoors is not easily done at the best of times. And let’s be honest, the Glasgow weather isn’t exactly enticing, it is easier to play outdoors in climates which are a tad drier and warmer, and with more light in the winter.

Nurturing Outdoor Play tackles all of this in an innovative way. The programme offers parents and their pre-school children an opportunity of weekly sessions outdoors, supported by Julie Buchanan who brings along ideas and materials for outdoor play. This is done in partnership with selected nurseries, where 6-10 families at a time get the opportunity to join the group that meets up once a week to play outdoors near the nursery for 10 weeks.

This setup overcomes lots of barriers: it introduces parents to local greenspaces but also to each other, so that hopefully in the future parents will continue to meet up with newly found likeminded parents – because let’s face it, it’s much more fun for both parents and kids if you do it as a group! Nevermind the safety concerns, there is strength and confidence in numbers.

So far, dens have been built, birdfeeders made, and wormeries created. There has been clay and chalk art, tree climbing, sliding down hills, bug hunting, log seesaws were made and kites were flown. And sometimes it’s been as simple as just rolling in the grass with mum or dad.

Even just a few months into the programme, it’s become apparent that just a few outdoor play sessions can have a massive impact on children. Shy children have become more confident and engaged, concentration and attention spans of children have markedly increased as has the resilience to persevere with tasks. Children have also been observed to be able to follow instructions better, to have made leaps and bounds in their language development and generally increased their wellbeing. Above all, the children had fun: “He’s never built a den before – that’s the most fun I’ve seen him have in ages” as one parent stated.

The parents too have benefited: The sessions have given parents an chance to have quality time with their children, away from the general hustle and bustle of life, which has strengthened the parent – child relationship. For some parents, the group has offered a welcome opportunity to meet other local parents, and reduced isolation. One parent reported that she feels better going outdoors now that she knows people she can go with. All of this clearly increases the wellbeing of parents too, which in turn has a positive effect on the wellbeing of their children. Everyone wins.

It doesn’t end here though. The project also works with the nurseries to provide add ons to these weekly sessions which will ensure that the project has the widest possible impact and can be sustained even beyond the project’s time span. There are open days at the nursery which reach out to all the children and parents with outdoor play activities, and the development of a garden space in partnership with local forest rangers. Nursery staff also receive training in how to encourage outdoor play and how to make it an everyday occurrence in their curriculum. Furthermore there is a development budget for the outdoor grounds of the nursery with expertise at hand from Grounds for Learning themselves.

At present, Nurturing Outdoor Play is happening at locations in Stirling, North Lanarkshire and Glasgow and there are hopes that in future this could be expanded with additional funding.

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