Off Grid Kids Outdoor Playgroup
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
For the last few months since the summer of 2018 my son Xani has been attending the outdoor play group run by the inimitable Off Grid Kids community over at Aidan's Brae in Clarkston. It is with an extremely heavy heart that we have now come to the end of his time there, as the wee chap is about to turn 3 at the end of January. Before I go any further, I'd encourage you to click on the links above & below, as Off Grid do so much more than just the outdoor play group: there are parent & toddler sessions where you stay and play with your little folk, and after school/Saturday clubs for when your bigger ones have been cooped up in a classroom all week and desperately need some outdoor time! (I should also add that, as he is turning 3, Xani is old enough to continue with one of Off Grid's partner organisations: Greenbank Woodland Play at their nursery school for the 3-5 group - which is what most of his peers at the outdoor play group will do - and the only reason he won't be is because we live next door to Pollok Park, so Woodlands Outdoor Nursery is local to us and I don't drive).
But back to the playgroup: it is designed specifically for 2 year olds (or a few months younger if the child is used to being left with other people) and takes the form of a drop-off session for 1.5 hours on a Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9.45-11.15am. You book in 6-week blocks by filling out the registration form which you can find by clicking here; on receiving your form, Off Grid will get in touch with you by email to confirm your place.
The location itself is extremely safe: within Aiden's Brae, the group takes place in a fully enclosed site which boasts a mud-kitchen (child-heaven!), a sand pit, a slide and various other bits of apparatus made up of wooden pallets, planks and similar odds and ends. One of the best things about the playgroup is the fact that, unlike an indoor nursery where the child is surrounded by shiny plastic tat, here the child's imagination needs to turn the raw materials into the imaginative world inside their heads: a castle, a F1 racing track, a desert island. Of course toys are provided as well, but they are intended to complement the child's imaginative process, not do all the work for them. This is one of my bugbears about a lot of modern toys: all the bells, whistles and flashing lights are provided, so there is little scope for the brain to actually engage and create...and this is something that the nursery staff at Aiden's Brae have taken into consideration.
As well as free play, the children also engage in natural arts and crafts, using raw products from the world around them, as well as create and listen to stories, and sing songs. Healthy snacks such as fresh & dried fruit are provided for the children and water is available at all times for them to drink. At Christmas they made a fire and were toasted marshmallows, which was lovely.
Unlike a nursery from the ages of 3-5, many of the little ones attending the outdoor play group may not have spent much time away from their main caregiver, and this is something that the staff here are fully aware of. Sometimes (rarely!) there would be a few tears at drop-off time but as we walked away we would invariably see our little boy being led by the staff into the thick of the activities without too much of a backwards glance from him. This was borne out at collection time when we would pick up a smiling, happy-faced, ruddy-cheeked wee chap, who had really enjoyed his session. It was really sweet to hear how the kids knew each's names: it's always lovely to hear a little 2-year-old lisping "Xani's here!". The staff were very good at keeping us informed at collection time how Xani's session had gone for him that day, and we never got the feeling that he had just blended into the background. Also, chances are many 2 year olds are not yet toilet trained and these guys are masters of the art of getting a child into a clean nappy in record-breaking time in outdoor temperatures!
All in all, sending Xani to Off Grid Outdoor Playgroup was a really good decision. It has given him the opportunity to spend some time away from us in a safe and well-designed outdoor setting, interacting with other kiddies, enjoying a range of new and exciting experiences, and finding out more about himself and the world around him. I don't think anyone is under the illusion that we are currently living in economically vibrant times and taking this into consideration, the play group has offered excellent value for money as well. Graeme and I would like to send a huge shout out to all the staff at Off Grid Community: thank you for taking such good care of our son and for making this such a hugely positive experience for him. We will really miss you guys.