Toddlers whose nursery is the great outdoors

Founder believes keeping pupils indoors is 'child abuse'
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The Independent Online

A mother who believes that nursery pupils spend too much time cooped up indoors has opened Britain's first outdoor pre-school to counter what she claims is a form of child abuse.

Cathy Bache's idea took shape as she walked through woods with her own children when she lived in Norway. Most nursery pupils did not have enough space to play, she felt, and when she took her children outdoors for a day they seemed to have much more fun. Now she has opened the country's first completely outdoor nursery, the Secret Garden Outdoor Centre at Letham, near Glenrothes in Fife.

"It's almost a form of child abuse to keep a child indoors every day," said Ms Bache, a nursery teacher who gave up her job to start the centre. "When I was in the nursery school, I used to leave the door open, and 90 per cent of the time 90 per cent of the children would choose to play outside."

The Secret Garden, based on similar schools in Norway and Canada, was approved as a nursery by the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care. The new curriculum for under-fives north of the border emphasises that children be confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to the world around them.

It is a far cry from the foundation stage in English nursery schools, which campaigners say places too much emphasis on a formal curriculum at too early an age. Several people have expressed interest in setting up similar outdoor nurseries in England.

Ms Bache said: "They would have to get approval from the education standards watchdog, Ofsted. Yet I would say to Ofsted: come up and see what we have done here."

The Secret Garden Outdoor Centre opened in September and has 15 pupils on its books. Most come for only one day a week but a few parents have put their children down for three sessions. The school opens from 8.30am to 5pm and parents are warned their children will be outside whatever the weather.

Pupils arrive at the nursery, where the main building is just a shed, for a play and socialising session in the morning. They then take a walk up a hill where a "base camp" is established for further play. Rests can be taken in hammocks while stories are told before another more energetic play session.

One delighted parent said: "In comparison to the other days of the week, when my son is in an indoor nursery, it is obvious that a whole other side of who he is, is expressed in the woods."

Another added: "My son's confidence has improved and he is much keener to get into the garden."

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