Day 4 - Cowgate Under-5s Centre, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland
An early start after a photograph outside the impressive Dunkeld hotel, warm clothing, waterproofs and welly boots all packed and ready for any weather! We were joined on this day by Andrea Welz from Canada and Anne Parkinson of Mindstretchers.
We set off to meet the children from Cowgate who were spending the day in the 26 acres of wild space at the Bonaly Scout Centre as part of their Forest School program as well as preparing and cooking our own lunch over a campfire. We had a short and very pleasant walk to the centre as our coach was too big to manage the narrow, twisty road. Once at the site we were met by Duncan who showed us some of the favourite spaces the children choose to visit. Big Stickland, Little Stickland, Ben's Den were some of the names given to these sites of significance to the young children. We also had to pick up sticks for our fire and one of us of course had to draw attention to himself!
The children meet and ground themselves at the Tipi 'basecamp' before moving off into their chosen space. We were a large group and needed to be sensitive to the impact we would have on these young children so the majority of time was spent with Duncan, cooking and eating! We now know that sorrel tasted like apples and makes a good drink!
Anne and I found the children after following their voices and were immediately invited by 2 year old Connor to come and taste the wild raspberries. The other children aged between 2 and 4 years were all busy and engaged in their self chosen opportunities and did not pay us any attention; some were climbing onto a fallen tree, others were swinging underneath the tree while another little group were further away exploring the roots of a fallen tree. "I am making a waterfall, a brown waterfall" Evie commented as she scraped at the soil with a stick while a 4 year old friend was taking photographs on the digital camera. It was a very calm and peaceful space - both Anne and I were captivated by the tranquil atmosphere and the children who were independent and confident. We reluctantly left the engaging little group to allow other delegates to join them and also experience some of the special moments that should be part of every child's childhood.
Lunch was being served by Duncan and his team of enthusiastic helpers - mini hamburgers, fish cooked in foil, mixed vegetables in foil, pita bread pizzas - all washed down with tea or coffee with boiling water from the Kelly kettle. After lunch it was time to board the coach again and make our way to central Edinburgh and the Cowgate pre-5s centre.
Glen parked our big coach in Johnson terrace at the bottom of the castle and it took our group nearly 40 minutes to walk the 800 yards to the centre ..the shops and sights were irresistible! The centre is not easily visible and is surprisingly 'stark' and even industrial looking from the outside but inside we came across a little haven for children and adults.
Jane shared the journey she and the children undertake to get to the small Forest School site they have been using for the past 3 years. (A most interesting journey where children get to meet the local community including street artists such as a levitating man and a woman with the most piercings in the world!) We were led to a tiny bit of wild oasis in the middle of Edinburgh - you needed a big key to open the gate which added to its charm! Again we were touched by the small but exciting space for children, with its very own territorial Robin, and many members of the group felt that this was really a Secret Garden. Dark corners, tunnels formed by the vegetation, uneven track, trees to hold a rope swing, small and colourful wild flowers, rose bushes and wild raspberries were some of the opportunities. There are disadvantages to the site and staff need to clear the area of litter and remove possible dangerous objects such as needles before the children are able to enjoy the space but the benefits far outweigh any risks.
Back in the centre we were able to visit the 3 rooms which are shared by children of mixed ages from birth to 5 years. Two children aged approximately 4 years were keen to show me a sleeping baby in one of the rooms. There were natural and creative resources as well as numerous challenging opportunities for children, it was obvious that the children are trusted and adults have faith in their abilities.
The outdoor space is small but has so many motivational opportunities for the children. Steep sloping track which is also used by the bicycles, climbing frame on sand, tyres filled with riverstones and plants surround the sand area. A hammock that doubles as swing on the raised platform, a delightful wooden cabin, planting area, tools, bark surfaces, a golden guinea pig and a rabbit with a long mane.
The Headteacher of the centre is a dear friend, Lynn McNair, and they follow a Froebelian Curriculum. Froebel believed that from the beginning the child must be surrounded by kindness, understanding and beauty - staff at Cowgate share this belief! Children are consulted on most aspects of their care and the staff recognise a holistic view of each child's development. They consider themselves protectors of childhood and will guide and facilitate rather than instruct. Lynn also feels that adults need to relinquish power over children and that children are not a homogenous group.
Over a cup of coffee there was a lot of talk and discussion with Lynn about what we had seen and experienced, on the coach journey back to Dunblane conversations continued about this amazing inner city haven for young children.
Thank you to Lynn and her team for welcoming us to their nature kindergarten in the middle of inner city Edinburgh.