When Clocks Stop, Fun Starts

I have to admit to being ever so slightly controlling when it comes to time. Much as I would love to be an instinctive, child-led, responsive parent, I tend to have half an eye on the clock throughout the day. And, though I think that a daily routine is important in helping both children and adults feel more secure, eat better, sleep better, and manage change better, I do find that our routine has a tendency to err a bit too much towards the strict schedule side of things, which I am less comfortable with.

This week though, everything has been different. This is because my watch battery has run flat and I have been too disorganised busy to sort out a replacement. I would have thought that I would be lost without the constant reassurance of knowing what time it is, but in fact it has been rather freeing. It’s not as though I don’t have access to other clocks – there’s one on my phone, one in our living room, one in our bedroom, and one on any computer I happen to be sat at. There’s even one in Tom’s room. So I still have a vague idea what time it is, but am less able to check every minute and plan our day down to the last second. Which means we are operating much more to a nice gentle routine, and less to a military-style schedule.

Tom and I spent a lovely day together last Wednesday. It’s usually our family day, but Mr Techno has been busy with the opening of the new restaurant and has been around less during the week than usual (we did get him over the weekend instead though, which was both unusual and lovely). So I really wanted to make it a fun day for just the two of us, which are far and few between now I’m up to four days of work.

I put Tom in the sling and we headed to the playground in Millfield Park, which has the most amazing sandpit. Or I thought it was amazing at least. Tom was more interested in the ramp up to it – he was so proud of himself for being able to manage the slope and went up and down it over and over again. Then we played hide and seek around the little house for a bit and he had a go on the swings.

We left the playground and walked up the path back into the main park. Which caused a bit of an argument. Tom was absolutely adamant that he wanted to go play with the cars. No, not toys ones, the fast, dangerous, very big ones on the road. Unsurprisingly, I was not up for this plan, so a few minutes were spent picking him up, carrying him away, having him scream in anger, and then chasing him as he ran back towards the road.

Usually our day out would have ended at this point, with me checking my watch and deciding we had spent long enough outside. But with no watch to give me an excuse, I stuck it out longer than I would normally. And I am so glad I did. Because the running-chasing-and-carrying-away turned from a tantrum-causing event to an amazing game. I’m not entirely sure how it happened – one minute Tom was arching his back and having a shout every time I picked him up, and the next he was running away giggling and waiting for me to shout ‘I’m coming to get you’. Which was his signal to stop dead still and wait for me to come grab him and spin him round in circles. We played for at least an hour, until we were both exhausted. It was lovely.

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Forest Kindergarten Open Day

I was very excited on Saturday to be going to an open day for Hackney’s new outdoor nursery, Free Range Urban Kids (FRUK). The group was founded by two local mums about a year ago, but has just now got all the right registrations in place to start offering full nursery days, rather than just the two-hour sessions they ran previously. They are accepting children from the age of three, which means Tom is still too young, but are also offering 2 hour ‘stay and play’ sessions twice a week for 0-3 year-olds and their parents. They are opening officially in January, so we were pleased to have a chance to go along to see what will be on offer.

Outdoor nurseries or forest kindergartens are relatively new to the UK and still pretty rare. The name is pretty self-explanatory – they are childcare settings where sessions take place pretty much exclusively outdoors, no matter what the weather (in a year of running their sessions, FRUK say they have never had to resort to their back-up indoor option). It is a movement that started in Scandinavia, but is beginning to spread to other parts of the world, in part due to the growing anxiety about the lack of time children now spend outdoors.

The philosophy of FRUK and forest kindergartens in general is very close to our parenting approach. Sessions are very much child-led and focus on free play  in nature. The staff at the open day talked a lot about the importance of teaching children to assess risk themselves, rather than removing them from it. So while they scour the play area before sessions start to remove any needles, used condoms or other unsanitary items often found in parks first thing in the morning, mushrooms, rose bushes and other plants are left in place. The children are taught not to lick or taste anything, and to identify plants that might be harmful, so they know not to touch them. They are encouraged to climb trees, swing in hammocks, and get muddy. They are taught to use tools, such as small hack saws and peelers for whittling wood. There will be a fire for warmth and cooking, so children will learn to respect both the uses and dangers that fire represents. Principles taken from the Montessori and Reggio approaches are brought into session planning and setting up the space.

I couldn’t get any pictures, as obviously there were lots of other kids wandering around and the nursery have a no phone policy, but the set up was impressive. Sessions are held in an enclosed area of Millfields Park, which has both a wooded area and an open space. A log circle was set up in the woods, with a tarp to keep people dry (thankfully not needed). Various toys, rope swings, and messy play stations were set up amongst the trees. They have a little tented toilet for the kids, and another tent for quiet time, reading and rest. Out in the open area, there was a wormery set up and a mud kitchen. There are various fallen trees and logs that the nursery have asked the park rangers to leave for climbing and imaginative play. It’s worth a visit to the nursery’s Facebook page to see pics of the site.

We had a great time at the open day – we toured the site, looking at the various play options and, in Tom’s case, trying to eat them (he sampled chalk, a lot of leaves and some clay. Enforcing the no licking rule may be a challenge with him!). It was especially nice to meet some other parents who are as mad about the outdoors as we are – sometimes I feel like a bit of the odd one out at Tom’s lovely, but very mainstream, nursery.

The only minor drawback is that the 0-3 year-old sessions will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are both work days for me. However, I have spoken to Mr Techno, and he seems up for taking Tom on Tuesdays, so I’ll be signing them up (pending confirmation of fees). Roll on January!



Monkey and Mouse