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Woodlands Outdoor Kindergartens

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

For almost a year now since he turned 3, my son has attended an absolutely outstanding forest nursery: Woodlands Outdoor Kindergartens at their Southside Venue in Pollok Park. I am in the process of setting up my own business and I have discovered how surprisingly hard it is to choose a name which clearly encapsulates what you do without sounding completely soulless. But Woodlands Outdoor Kindergartens obviously attended whichever Nomenclature Masterclass I haven't yet been invited to, as their name clearly states that they are a provider of Early Years Education, based outdoors rather than in a building, whilst still imparting an effortlessly creative image of tousled tots under trees.

Also known as WOK, Woodlands runs in two locations in Glasgow: in the West End in Dawsholm Park, and the one my son attends in the Southside in Pollok Park. They have a web page here, through which you can contact them to arrange a visit or free trial day at either venue, and a Facebook page here where you can read reviews, see photos of the children during their nursery day and find out about upcoming events and open days. (Plus I discovered today, through writing this, that they are also on Twitter and Instagram.)

The website states the ethos and aims in WOK'S own words, and the social media accounts have the most up-to-date info, so do please visit those online locations to find out more. In fact, if you are a person who is annoyed by semi-inarticulate verbosity, you may find the next 9 minutes/12000 characters unnecessarily frustrating, in which case you'd do well to bypass this blog altogether and stick to their website. However as a family We Really Heart Woodlands and we'd like to do our best to thank the staff for all that they've done for us. WOK work in partnership with Glasgow City Council to provide funded pre-school places for all families who choose outdoor education for their 3 to 5 year olds. What this means in practice for us is that the funded hours that Xani receives from GCC can be used at Woodlands to access over 900 hours of pre-school education, and this will go up to 1140 next year August. They also work to the standards of the Curriculum for Excellence, which is the Scottish Government's framework for learning in Scotland. So far, so official, but please do contact the staff at the nursery to get up-to-date correct information on aspects that involve funding, hours and the regulatory framework as I may not have the information right for every child's circumstance.

We *ahem hem* 'attended an open day', prior to registration!! Nah... I will be honest with you: Xan was ill that day and no sooner had we exited the car and dragged the Sickle Pickle to the site than we were doing a 360' with a screaming toddler back to the vehicle. I reckon....10 minutes of induction at the most?! But despite the fact that, to all intents and purposes, we didn't really attend an open day, I was still sure I wanted him to start at WOK hence we filled out the registration forms without a second thought. Whether this degree of certainty was due to strong word-of-mouth recommendations or my apathetic personality, I'll let you decide....(but I'm kidding, as we really did get a huge endorsement from a friend who stated that WOK was responsible for turning her daughter from a shy, quiet, adorable little girl into a chatty, exuberant, adorable little girl). Initially Xan was signed up for 1 full day at WOK and 2 half days at the indoor nursery attached to the school he will likely attend ....but as you will see later in this post, we subsequently moved to WOK solely.

At the indoor nursery we were asked to stay in the classroom for his first settling-in day, but when we arrived at Pollok Park for his settling in at WOK, it was explained to us that if we felt happy to go home, it would likely be better for Xan to begin the settling-in without his parents around. In our case, Xani was happy to Get Away From Mum & Dad As Soon As Humanly Possible*, so I can't speak for what happens in cases where a child actually loves and misses their parents (?!?) But, given how child-centered WOK are, I'm sure there are provisions for all cases. *I should add here that despite the tongue-in-cheek commentary, the fact that Xan didn't cry was down to the skill of the staff in distracting him, rather than anything else ;-)

During the settling in, we received regular updates, including photos, by WhatsApp which was a really lovely touch.

At his settling in...hence not wearing a WOK uniform!

If my memory is correct he had 3 settling in days and then became a WOK kindergartner, at which point we paid £100 registration/kit fee. I felt the kit fee offered value for money, as it includes a winter-grade insulated waterproof jacket and dungarees, a rucksack, lunch mat and insulated lunchbox, water bottle, a summer hat and thick wellie socks. Kiddies can also use the wellies provided by Woodlands if a child doesn't have any for whatever reason.

Once a tot becomes a regular, the drop off is at their base on Mansewood Rd. Here the children spend time before heading to the park via bus and again at the end of the day. But it's more than just a meet up point: the activities which constitute the nursery day start in the hall, including arts and crafts, story-books, and free play. The amount of time spent in the hall changes according to season, with a slightly longer park day during the late spring/summer.

The method of communicating with parents has changed over the last year from a WhatsApp group to a dedicated app but the quality of communication has been consistently outstanding. We receive regular updates and photos of Xani enjoying his nursery day, and with the introduction of the app, the tie-in to the framework of the CfE is even more visible, as the comments clearly link to the educational and social milestones within it.

At the indoor nursery, I sometimes wondered what Xani got up to during the day, but because of the photos and messages from WOK I can see him clambering over trees, having his face painted, and enjoying a "cooking" session with mud and acorns. The feeling of joy as a parent when your teeny person has been away from you for hours, you are starting to miss them, and you then see a picture of them mud-splattered and grinning can't be overstated.

Xani has a key worker called Kieran, and it's here that I may be in danger of starting to get a bit "Ooooo, I love it so much, I bought shares in the company"! But I can't help it, because he is utterly fab! (He's a Millennial, so that Remington Microscreen reference will be lost on him anyway.) At his core is the un-fakeable thing that as a parent you wish for most in your child's teacher: he loves the children in his care, and moreover he respects them which isn't always the case with power dynamics. That love for the kids is wrapped up in a layer of sound intelligence where you can see he does his research, engages in ongoing learning, and as a result knows his child-development stuff. Add to that a huge sense of fun, an intuitive responsiveness to whatever his tiny charges bring him, whether that is their hugs, their jokes, their worries, or their tantrums, and finally finish it off with his ability to understand what you are going through as a parent when issues come up.

The test of a good worker is their response when a kid goes through something that makes them a bit more challenging to deal with, whether that is aggression, or crying non-stop for their parents, or in my case when I was a small child, hyperactivity. Xani's issue has been toilet-training. Throughout the whole difficult process the staff have supported him and us, communicated with us, tried different strategies, and reassured us and Xani when it got tough. As a result we are on track and it speaks volumes to the fact that despite how difficult Xan has found the transition to the toilet generally, he has never once expressed that by saying he didn't want to attend WOK.

Although Kieran is Xani's main worker, I have found the wider staff to be really great too. Personal circumstances have meant that this hasn't been the easiest year, and Nikki who manages WOK has spent time on the phone and in person chatting to me and helping me make decisions for Xani. One of these has been to decide whether to keep Xan at his split week of 2 nurseries or to put him in WOK full-time. Ultimately we decided to increase his WOK days and remove him from the indoor nursery temporarily, with a view to putting him back when the hours increase from 900 to 1140. It wasn't an easy decision as the other nursery attaches to his primary school, but based on the quality of care he receives at WOK and the significant benefits of outdoor learning, we feel it is the right way to go until the extra funding kicks in this August.

Much of the above has been quite personal but I hope it has given a sense of the quality of care your child will receive. Now for the slightly more general, but equally important stuff. When recommending WOK to friends, especially those who are new to the idea of a forest nursery, similar questions have often come up, which I will take the opportunity to address here:

*What do the kids play with? Don't they get bored without toys?

They are surrounded by playthings, just not by shiny plastic tat! Boredom results from lack of stimulation and in the woods, the children's imaginations are constantly stimulated to turn the raw materials of logs, sticks, leaves, stones into the imaginative world inside their heads: a castle, a F1 racing track, a desert island. There are a multitude of studies online that show how the imagination required to turn a stick into a horse will have significant benefits for development, but speaking as a parent I can also tell you how Xani comes home chattering about stuff he has built or made.

*Is it just a free-for-all? Do they do any structured activities?

There is free-play but it is not a free-for-all! The staff set up different activities at camp (story corner, crafts, den-building, mud-cooking) and the children have the freedom to choose what they want to do.

*Is it not freezing in the winter? I feel cold when I'm outside for a while...

Yes, I worried about this but it really hasn't been an issue. The stuff that they equip you with at registration (rubber jacket/dungarees) is insulating but you must also be sensible and layer up your child underneath. During the winter, the children do a lot more running, jumping, moving games....my understanding is that they don't stop for a second until lunch and then carry on afterwards. One thing I found telling is that Xan had mittens-on-a string all winter but never wanted to wear them at WOK as they impeded his play. The rest of him was so warm from layers/movement, that he didn't need them.

*What happens when it rains?

They set up shelters under the trees

*Can they nap?

Yep - in wee hammocks

*I'm not sure why, but I just think my child won't take to it...I'm worried (s)he'll be unhappy

One thing I find really good at WOK is that if your child is distressed, they will phone you to ask for your advice on how to help. They don't just let the tot in question feel awful all day and then tell you at pick up. It has only happened once with Xani, and we had a phone call where we all agreed we'd give him an hour and then collect him if necessary. After an hour? Laughing and happy, and I received a photo to reassure me.

Dear God....are we done yet???? Yes! Almost....

I was concerned after writing this and reading it through, that it sounds a tad hagiographical....but damnit we love the place! To try and get a balanced view, I headed to their Fb review page...and saw they have 4.9 stars out of 5!! So what can we do other than join the majority of their families in being really positive about a place that has done so much for Xani? But if you're having a problem with too much sweetness and light in this post, many of my friends will confirm I'm a moody, cranky, critical person a lot of the time. So if you contact me, I'll be happy to moan at length about some other place we don't love quite as much as we love WOK ;-) But seriously, in the meantime do Google and read up on the benefits of a forest nursery for your wee one at this critical stage in their development. And if you decide an outdoor kindergarten is for you, get in touch with WOK either here or via Facebook.

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