Perhaps some of the greatest memories of childhood are those hours spent lost in imagination, exploring a forest and creating your own world. For these nurseries by Great Western Early Years, the great outdoors is the best way to foster creativity, resilience and good mental health in children.
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Great Western Early Years nurseries invite children to investigate, create, practise and perfect
For over 30 years, Cindi Black and her team have sought to create a place where children can be supported to grow into strong, confident individuals. At Great Western Early Years nurseries, the staff strive to create inviting learning environments rich with experiences and opportunities for your child. Assisted by a team of trustworthy and qualified individuals, children are invited to investigate, create, practise and perfect all the skills needed in the next stage of their lives. Each nursery has excellent staff-to-child ratios and strive to support each child to ensure they will won’t feel looked over or lost.
Now joined by her daughter Jaclyn, the importance of family values and warmth resonates across Great Western’s nurseries, out of school clubs, and training centres.
The mother-daughter duo and the whole staff team believe that childhood is the perfect time to start learning coping skills and strategies to promote good mental health. And what better way to foster creativity and develop resilience than with nature itself and the great outdoors?
Building a learning environment in nature
While Great Western has always valued the importance of learning in nature, when the Covid pandemic hit in 2020 and the world was told to stay indoors, it became quickly apparent to parents and teachers that children can feel stifled and frustrated without access to nature. For Jaclyn, the connection between time spent outdoors and flourishing mental health in children was obvious.
Prior to Covid, she and the team at Great Western had already established a free-flow indoor-outdoor nursery structure. Jaclyn said: “Children have equal opportunity and access to the outdoors as they do the indoors. One space is rarely shut off from use, so your child can be outdoors the majority of the time if they wish. If you have a reluctant child, there is gentle encouragement to go outdoors, but nothing is forced.
“Children have 100% free-flow access to the garden when the doors are open and they can enter and leave the building as they please.”
Furthermore, at the Kingwell Branch, children attend what is known as a ‘forest school’, an outdoor education delivery model where children are encouraged to learn, explore and develop their awareness of their environment.
Jaclyn said that this model helps them to understand risk and boundaries: “They learn self regulation. They know the boundaries of the forest school and they stay within them – they don’t run away. There’s a real sense of trust between the staff and children from both sides.”
Indeed, gardens and forest schools have been proven to develop a sense of micro-community in children. At Great Western, these outdoor spaces are shared by children across age groups. The older kids can interact with and teach the younger ones, leading by example, and enabling the older children to take on more pastoral care of the others. This instills confidence, interpersonal skills and encourages them to pass along knowledge while working together.
Outdoor learning takes place at all locations.
“We want children to be happy and to find joy”
Cindi said: “It’s really quite simple at the end of the day – we just want children to be happy and find joy. We want people to be able to come together, and for everybody to have a good time. All of that becomes education, because you don’t learn if you’re not happy.”
As parents, you pick a nursery based on a feeling you get in your heart as you walk around the setting. So, the team at Great Western Early Years encourages you to come and have a walk with them, take in the environment, talk to the staff and, hopefully, you too will get that feeling of childhood wonder.