Outdoor-based daycare of children services

Since registering the UK’s first full-time forest nursery, the Care Inspectorate has welcomed the increasing number of new outdoor-based services being registered (and existing services becoming outdoor-based), which have expanded to include voluntary sector playgroups, local authority nurseries and out-of-school clubs, as well as private nurseries. We define an outdoor-based service as one that describes itself as a specialist outdoor service and where children spend the majority of time outdoors.

Opportunities for children to play outdoors and explore their natural environment have generally become more limited within local communities. This was starkly illustrated by William Bird’s 2007 research published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which shows that children have progressively lost the right to roam freely from their home within four generations. So increasingly the role of registered early learning and childcare services is to proactively ensure that children have a range of experiences outdoors, from the service’s own outdoor play area, local parks and further afield.

My world outdoors - seashellChildren’s experiences and their capacity to learn and develop are enhanced by being able to experience nature first hand. Simply being outside in fresh air is beneficial, but when children are helped to actively explore nature themselves the dividends for improving outcomes are exponential. If staff help children to develop their own free-flow play activities outdoors and learn through nature, then we are seeing children flourish. Many children become more confident, co-operative, calm and content. And for some children it can be transformative. For children experiencing emotional and behavioural problems or struggling in a traditional formal setting, immersion in a natural setting can be therapeutic and release their potential.

In 2008 The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery was set up in the Howe of Fife and was registered as Scotland and the UK’s first specialist full-time outdoor-only service. The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery was conceived when Cathy Bache began providing a specialist outdoor play experience as a registered childminder in 2004. With the support of her Care Commission inspector, Cathy overcame the concerns of the statutory agencies regarding risks to children to establish a very successful and popular service. The Care Commission’s experience of registering this innovative service helped the regulator to appreciate that the benefits outweighed the risks and delivered positive outcomes for children attending.

My world outdoors - rockpoolThese new outdoor-based forest nurseries follow in the footsteps of the pioneers of Scottish early learning and childcare. For example, from 1903 a network of child gardens was established in Edinburgh, based in single-storey buildings with each nursery playroom opening onto its own large veranda and spacious garden.

As described by a visitor to one of these child gardens: “The crowning glory of the place is the garden, and the story of how that was made from waste ground used as a rubbish heap. A little plot has been made and a few seeds sown in the waste places of the Canongate, and it has become a garden for work and play…” (‘Diary of A Free Kindergarten’, Lileen Hardy, 1913)

The Care Inspectorate is committed to promoting and improving the quality of outdoor play for children in line with key national policy and guidance which set out national expectations. The most relevant are Getting it Right for Every Child, Curriculum for Excellence 3-18 (2008), National Care Standards: Early Education and Childcare up to the Age of 16, the Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision, the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and the National Building the Ambition: National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare.

List of outdoor-based services

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