It’s always fascinating to listen the thinking that sits underneath provision and practice outdoors, and to hear about the journey people have taken and how that happened. A couple of weeks ago, Rachel was part of a small group within the Early Childhood Outdoors meshwork discussing (online) how those involved in all-outdoor nurseries might develop focused peer support for the growing number of like-minded people across the UK (more of this in a future post as we came up with a great idea!) During our conversation, I noted Rachel saying that at Beatle Woods, the woodland landscape had been the guide that helped them develop their approach right from the beginning – they had taken their lead from the woodland itself.
I’m very interested in the dialogue that the environment has with us – whether we are conscious of this or not, it ‘speaks’ to us and we respond – so suggested to Rachel that it would be intriguing to explore their journey from this perspective. In this week’s ECO blog post, I’m delighted to be able to share her initial thoughts when faced with this question. It’s also great to know that high parental demand has led to the forthcoming opening in September of a second base camp in their 10-acre site!
Nature showed us the way by Rachel Macbeth Webb, Beatle Woods Outdoor Nursery
One thing we know to be vital in our practice with young children is a clear vision for how we will deliver a high quality environment. Each setting develops their own shared rationale for how their practice will look and why. It is unique to each setting and the journey is almost always different for each team, but there are, given our sector’s commitment to ensuring the best outcomes for all children, some commonalities. We want to respect, value, and listen to children’s views and opinions. We want to offer a nurturing but stimulating and enabling environment to suit every child. We want others to know what we intend, and when they visit, to see these intentions. We want to be able to talk about what we think is important in our setting and why.
Our journey has indeed been unique. It may sound foolish or indeed naive to admit that at the start, we didn’t have a detailed and clear vision or approach. We didn’t know how the environment would support us or lead us and the children, because it was so new. Most importantly, we were honest about this with our families; we knew that we wanted to get children outside and provide endless opportunities for them to immerse themselves in nature but didn’t have the detail or a clear vision about how this might look. We knew about the endless evidence and research to support the benefits of children spending their days outside. We wanted to enable children to experience the awe and wonder that nature offers. We were unsure about what this might mean and how our days might be; would we need a routine, organisation, structure, and would we be judged if we didn’t?
The early days were spent getting to know the children and how they (and we) felt about spending all day in a 10-acre wood! We climbed trees, played hide and seek and pottered in the mud kitchen. It is fair to say that we questioned whether this was enough, would it stand up to the scrutiny of others. How would parents feel? What would Ofsted say? We needed to take our time to develop our own unique set of values and decide how these would translate into everyday practice, and that is precisely what we did. This was not a process that could be rushed: we needed to immerse ourselves in our new home and work through how it made us feel; we needed to be living in the moment and the environment, together.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if only we had not spent valuable time worrying about this, because our reflection and evaluation of the practice and children’s well-being told us all we really needed to know. To trust in ourselves and believe that by walking alongside the children, the environment would give us all we needed to develop what would become our very own unique pedagogical approach.
It is important to point out that the most significant aspect of this realisation (and one we still discuss as a team regularly) is that the environment (our amazing site) and the abundance of time spent in nature, led our practice. It guided us and paved the way, much like a magical path where the destination is unknown. Engaging and immersing in the trees, watching the clouds and digging for treasure in such a calm and restorative space provided everything we needed to decide our very own ‘why’, and to be brave enough to silence not only others, but our own inner critics, when they suggested otherwise. In a nutshell, nature worked its magic on us and continues to do so every day. Its transformative effects gave us the confidence to seize the opportunity to develop our own shared vision. We were then best placed to also consider the children’s views and their vision for their time at Nursery.
Some would say that without a clear vision we ran the risk of failing but we now believe that if we had this at the outset (and this is very personal to us), we would not have the setting we have today. It is all part of the story and means that we can recall that story to the many new families who now recognise the work we do. In our case, the environment led us to our way of being. Nature showed us the way and supported our decisions even when we had doubts, and guess what? We still don’t know what the final destination is, but that is part of the magic it offers us every day. It never leaves us and we continue on our very own learning expedition each day; the weather, the wildlife, the trees and the plants; they all play their part in the shape of Beatle Woods.
I don’t know why this came as such a surprise, but I’m guessing that was probably because of inexperience or lack of time I had actually spent outside. The learning curve has been steep, and my team would concur that we have developed, both individually and collectively, in ways we did not expect. We value being in the fresh air, watching the site change, observing how nature affects our wellbeing (physically and mentally) in such a positive way. This has had a significant impact for children and families too; they are very willing to come along on the journey, happy to be unaware of the destination. As we respect nature and the changing seasons, we respect and value childhood. We take joy in the bugs we find, the birds that fly over the treetops and the magic we try to sprinkle every day in partnership with nature.
See the previous posts from Beatle Woods on the ECO blog here:
All images are © Rachel Macbeth-Webb. Images must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.