Participants of the AISWA Early Childhood Study Tour are on the road visiting early learning centres and forest kindergartens, professional learning workshops and seminars throughout England and Scotland. The purpose of the tour is to provide ECE leaders, an opportunity to share teaching and learning experiences from different backgrounds, exchange ideas for kindergarten set-up risk management, and learning through adventurous play in natural environments.
Day 5 Fowlis Wester Centre of Excellence and Auchlone Nature Kindergarten
Boarding our coach in Dunblane at 8.30am, a scenic drive to Fowlis Wester via Braco, Muthill, Crieff and Gilmerton to arrive at the Mindstretchers Centre of Excellence at 9am. We were warmly greeted by Claire Warden, CEO of Mindstretchers, and handed a jute bag with special 'gifts' including the Awe and Wonder Journal which holds special memories for me as Claire and I created it together while on business trip on the Isle of Man (casino, wine, biscuits also came to mind!).
Claire presented a motivational session on Nature Kindergartens where she clarified her criteria for a Nature Kindergarten as naturalistic experiences inside, outside and beyond. Her presentation was backed by research and we particularly enjoyed the video clips of children using the space. Claire's description of 'Fish Face' raised more than the usual laughs as we had met her in Middlesborough! Then it was time to go outside and explore the range of naturalistic play spaces designed by Claire, interpretation boards support the learning possible through the different opportunities. Hills, slopes, underground den, secret tunnel, mud-pit, memory wall, technology posts, tent, sustainable garden, schema space, hard spaces........and many more exciting and creative opportunities are available. This again brought back memories of helping to create some of these spaces, in particular the creek bed and the gathering wall with all those stones and slates to embed in concrete - our hands really suffered!
We received a lunch bag of tasty treats, filled a thermos flask with a hot drink, dressed in our waterproof clothing and set off for Auchlone Nature Kindergarten in the coach. A group photo at the entrance with Claire who is the visionary and owner of the Kindergarten and we were ready to explore. Auchlone has a traditional Scottish gatehouse in a naturalistic garden space that was designed and created with the help of children. The inside space is small and contains many motivational spaces; a role play area with real crockery, a writing area with an assortment of writing materials, a painting wall, and a creative art space with a large selection of resources. The construction room has an assortment of building blocks, a workbench with real tools and a transparent wall to allow children to investigate the traditional building structure. A third room has a musical area with ukeleles, a story corner, a maths and science space, computer and printer and a wood burning stove for the cold Scottish days. Children have warm sheepskin slippers to wear indoors, waterproof suits and gumboots to wear outdoors on wet days. The indoor space is homely and cosy.
As part of Claire's methodology on consultation the Kindergarten uses Talking and Thinking Floorbooks as a method of documentation to evidence and record children's learning and to inform planning.
The Kinder-kitchen is an open wooden structure with a large table, a cosy snuggling corner with sheepskins and cushions, a wood-burning stove to allow children to warm up and a kitchen space designed to allow even the 2 year old children to be part of the food preparation. The garden is naturalistic with a hill to climb and to explore slope and gradient, a willow den, a circle of trees, a transient art area, a tool space, pathways, fire area, story arbor, vegetable garden, mud-pit, sandpit, willow tunnel and a mini forest!
I had mixed emotions visiting Auchlone having set it up with Claire and been Head of the Nature Kindergartens for many years - I am proud to have been part of this exceptional space for children, it was also emotional revisiting this familiar yet slightly different space.
The children spend 80% of the time outdoors, most of it in the forest where they are trusted to self risk assess and lead the learning with sensitive scaffolding by the adults. We loaded the trolley and moved into the forest basing ourselves at the firehouse. A tree-wrap with cooking equipment was tied to a tree close to the cooking area while the tool wrap was hung in the tool use area. Claire demonstrated a number of skills and we set about using real tools and cooking with some risk! Tee-light chocolate fondue, stick bread, whittling, knots, climbing the 'famous' climbing tree and lying in the hammocks were some of the opportunities we could choose to undertake. Children choose the area of the woodland they would like to visit and we were able to explore the dragon tree, the stream, the fallen tree, the cubbies and the fire house. After an opportunity to reflect on the experiences of the day with Claire Ron and Wendy thanked Claire and presented her with a book for the children in the centre. We then made our way back through the forest to the garden space, tidied up and boarded the coach back to our hotel in Dunblane - tired and smelling of wood smoke but very stimulated and even challenged by what we had experienced. Thank you Claire.