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London is getting its first outdoor nursery, giving young urban children the opportunity to learn and develop by building dens, bird-watching and making kites.
Into the Woods nursery will open in April next year and will be located in Highgate Wood and Queens Wood in North London.
The nursery will be for children aged from two and half up to five and will be based on the Forest School approach.
Emma Shaw is the founder of Into the Woods outdoor nursery. She is currently a local primary school teacher and has been working in schools and children's centres in London for over 15 years.
She decided to open the outdoor nursery “because I've been working in early years education for many years and I always believed in the importance of outdoor play for young children.
“Children need the physical challenges that outdoors has to offer plus the freedom to run and explore. I know from my own children and those I've worked with, that children are often more happy and relaxed outside.”
Children at Into the Woods nursery will take part in a huge range of activities, such as building dens, making leaf pictures, creating fantasy worlds, cooking in mud kitchens and pond dipping, as well as having plenty of opportunity for free exploration of the woodland alongside experienced child-centred staff.
The children will stay in the woods in all weathers, only going to the nursery’s indoor base at Jacksons Lane arts centre in Archway Road, Highgate, or to Queen’s Wood Café in Muswell Hill Road, Muswell Hill, if the weather is extremely windy.
Ms Shaw has wanted to set up her own nursery for some time but the premises that were on offer never had the outdoor space the children needed.
She adds: “I went on Forest School training which was really inspirational and I took those ways of working back to the children's centre where I teach in in Hackney. The children really enjoyed working and playing with natural resources and because the resources were open ended the children's imagination and creative skills were developing more.”
She has found during her work with young children that they are more happy and relaxed when they are outside and that quiet children tend to come out of their shells and talk more.
Many children in London live in small flats with little or no outside space which is why a nursery of this kind in the capital is doubly important.
“As a parent of young children myself living in a small flat in London, I know how vital it is to get the children outdoors every day, and with property prices so high there are a lot of parents in my position. I started asking other parents what they thought of the idea and everyone was really positive,” says Ms Shaw.
“I am a mum of three children aged nine, seven and three. I feel an overwhelming urgency to take my children outside, to let them run, and shout and generally do their own thing and have fun. I can see how being outdoors and getting plenty of exercise is essential for their wellbeing – especially for my three-year-old boy, who has so much energy.
“Also I want my children to have a good understanding of nature and the world around them, and living in London, I feel we need to provide those opportunities for this to happen.”
She has already had a number of parents register their child for when the nursery opens in April and some have even put their babies down on the list to start in 2015.
There are only a handful of outdoor nurseries in the UK, the first being The Secret Garden which opened in Fife in Scotland in 2008.
It is becoming increasingly recognised that an outdoor approach to play and learning can have a huge impact on the development of children. All early years settings can get involved with Forest School projects. Forest Schools sessions need to be run by a Level 3 trained Forest Schools practitioner. More information on Forest Schools can be found at www.forestschools.com
For more information on Into the Woods nursery go to www.intothewoodsnursery.co.uk