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An outdoor nursery where toddlers use a composting toilet each day and saws and hammers to build dens in the woods, has been rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted.
Children at The Elves and Fairies Woodland Nursery based in Wimborne in Dorset, spend 100 per cent of their day outside in the woods, cooking on open campfires, rolling around in the mud and playing with stick puppets.
Watching children use knives to chop up vegetables for their lunch, visiting Ofsted inspectors rated the nursery 'outstanding' in all areas for the ‘extremely exciting range of challenging learning experiences that staff provide’.
The nursery uses real outdoor tools to allow children to ‘develop confidence in learning new skills including sawing wood, screwing and hammering in nails’.
'Children can safely take risks'
Nursery manager Kirsteen Freer said: “With adult supervision, children can safely take risks. We have a higher staff to pupil ratio - three to four staff will be with 12 children.
“We risk assess everything and talk to the children about how to keep their friends safe.”
When children are not using garden tools, they are having fun using rope swings, playing with man-made natural toys, counting out vegetables and describing their shapes and mark making letters in the ground.
A composting toilet for when nature calls
The nursery has no running water, electricity or plumbing and children are taught to use a composting toilet for when nature calls.
With children learning, playing and sleeping outside, rainwater is harvested daily. Water to drink and wash is also taken to the woods and a renovated cabin with a wood burner has been built for extremely cold days.
When Ofsted inspectors visited the nursery on 16 January which is based in the grounds of Edmondsham House in the village of Edmondsham, they listened as children discussed mole hills and estimated how many worms a mole might eat in a day.
The children use notebooks each day to write down what they see and hear outside and are given ID sheets to help them.
The inspectors said the children “have an excellent awareness of letters and sounds” helped by identifying letters “as they touch the carved signs and create letter shapes as they move the leaves with their feet”.
The nursery’s Ofsted report also praised the physical benefits of the children’s outdoor life stating: “Children quickly learn how to use their bodies and adapt their movements to allow them success, such as when climbing up slippery banks and using the rope swing.”
Kirsteen Freer said: “I grew up in the countryside. I went on camping holidays, picnics, woodland walks. I did the same with my family. They were not bored teenagers.
"It was old fashioned parenting. We all prepare meals and tidy up and have fun."
’No such thing as bad weather’
Referring to the nurseries that inspired her to establish the setting in 2007, she said: “In Scandinavian nurseries, babies sleep in cots in -10 degrees. They are dressed properly.
“There is no such thing as bad weather. Parents have to be educated about how to dress well to cope with cold weather.”
“This year we’ve had to go to the village hall once, when there was a strong wind”.
Referring to the Ofsted report, she said: “We’re delighted with the Outstanding rating. We’ve known for a long time that children can learn very well outside with nature.
"This rating helps convince parents too.”