As settings begin preparations for moving out of lockdown towards a new normal, a great deal of anxious thinking and careful planning is being carried out throughout the UK. We’ve heard before from a parent in the Beatle Woods Outdoor Nursery community and in this post, owner/manager Rachel Macbeth-Webb shares a passionate call for us to keep at the centre of our minds what we are about as a service that nurtures young children to thrive and grow – to keep to the path that we know is right as we gradually and eventually welcome more children back into schools and settings.
Being outside for learning through play is so clearly a key part of the response we should put in place, and this could be a wonderful opportunity to gift to children a life with more time outdoors in it. But doing this in the right way for young children, as well as making the most of what the outdoors can do (which goes well beyond supporting physical and social distancing), will be critical in achieving the best for us all – families, practitioners and especially our children.
Staying true to why we work in the way we do by Rachel Macbeth-Webb, Owner/manager of Beatle Wood Outdoor Nursery
At a time when many in our sector are wading through Government documents and trying to make sense of reopening or restoring practice in our early years settings and schools, it is easy to become confused and disillusioned. We receive so many mixed messages and often in the quest for more information, we risk becoming less informed than if we simply trust our own judgements; essentially trust in ourselves.
We spend every day, empowering, listening, and trusting children to make decisions and choices, to solve problems and resolve conflict. Does this sound familiar and similar to some of the challenges we, as practitioners have been facing over the past 9 weeks? We want to return (if we have been closed) or ‘restore’ our settings, but we want to get it right. We need to reflect and evaluate our provision; we know that this is something we are not only really good at, but do every day; we want to make sure we’ve covered everything, remember we are experienced at coping with change; and we absolutely intend to make our settings the haven of nurture and normality that we know our children and families need, now more than ever. We may need to rethink some of ‘what’ we do but its vital to stay true to why we work in the way we do. Your ethos, your overarching principles and your specific pedagogical approach and vision for your setting is what will support you and your teams through this time. Some of us have been away for over 2 months and we might need to remind ourselves about this, but inevitably this is like riding a bike and will no doubt come flooding back. Have some faith and trust in yourself and your team and the rest will follow.
There are some who have reported real positives from this time; parents who have decided that life will look a lot different now; practitioners who have picked up some new skills during lockdown and others who have discovered a real love for the great outdoors! Now there’s a revelation! The weather has meant that people have generally spent more time outdoors, but in doing so have realised how special this is. It seems that Mother Nature has been rubbing her hands with glee that we are all now respecting her more and relishing in the delights she offers. Parents report how being outside each day has been their ‘saviour’; how enabling their children to spend uninterrupted time playing in the garden with siblings has helped them through the inevitable trauma of this global pandemic. Maybe there is something of note here? Well surprisingly this is not ‘news’! You didn’t hear it here first, but being outside is actually good for you; in fact, it is definitively better than being indoors. Spending time in nature nurtures and nourishes in a way nothing else can. As we approach the ‘reopening’ of schools and early years settings, we are noticing there is more talk about being outside. Whilst we do know that the risk of transmission is lower outdoors, why else should we all be doing it, and considering the times we find ourselves in, why is this a good idea?
Not one of us has lived through anything quite like this before; we’ve all been affected in one way or another and the aftermath, or this halfway place we now find ourselves in, is scary. It’s causing anxiety and a fear we have never experienced before, so how can we use the phenomenal resource that is Nature to help? There are too many benefits to mention but it is crucial in supporting our children and families to repair and come to terms with what has happened. By its very nature (pardon the pun), we find a sense of calmness and peace in nature, it affords us a sense of belonging and agency; a club where we feel safe and in control. We’ve all experienced this feeling, when we take a moment to soak it all up, to enjoy the sounds and smells of being outside. Its effects are almost instantaneous and offer a restorative transformative experience that is almost impossible to match anywhere else.
Children need to feel safe and secure; when they eventually return things may look a bit different and it is essential that we minimise changes to ensure they feel happy and relaxed. They have probably spent most of their time at home (with or without outside space) and are craving a change of scenery, so we must use outside spaces to enable children to get back to some kind of normality. They do not need to see tape on the floor or to be sat at tables when they are playing outdoors. There aren’t ‘pinch points’ to clean, no door handles and far fewer plastic toys. We are easily able to create normality and restore a warm and nurturing environment. We do as we did before, albeit with smaller groups of children, but we remain true in our aims for all; that emotional health and wellbeing is of paramount importance. This comes first; without this we risk not only failing our children and their families but indirectly adding to the negative impact of this strange time.
Parents will undoubtedly be concerned about the safety of our settings and it is up to us to offer reassurance and guidance. There is risk, life is not without it, but being outside offers a kind of risk we must provide. Children have an innate need to hang upside down, run down a grassy bank and to feel breath in their lungs. They crave it and we must ensure we provide opportunity for it. Fresh air is free and so good for you! It leads to a different kind of practice too; using open-ended naturally occurring resources provides children with opportunity to discover, explore and be ‘in the moment’. Playing outside provides a natural backdrop for imaginative play, without the need for adults. Try waiting and observing when children are unrestricted and not facing life in one-way corridors and floor tape; the results will astound you. We are not raised for captivity and we need a sense of freedom to feel good. Of course, we must balance all of this whilst staying safe, but using nature to support mental health and wellbeing will ensure that you sustain those relationships with children and model the kindness and love they need.
Rachel Macbeth Webb 24th May 2020
You can listen to Rachel discuss her wellbeing-centred approach at Beatle Woods with Kate Moxley in a free podcast here
All images are © Rachel Macbeth-Webb. Images must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.