Nature Club: An Update

Back in November last year, Tom and I went to the open day of our new local Forest Nursery and had a great time exploring their facilities and discussing the importance of free play outdoors. The full time nursery starts from 3 years old and up, but there is a Nature Club for the 0-3’s. We found out in December that we had managed to get one of the places (there seems to have been some competition) and Tom and Mr Techno have been going every Tuesday for the last five weeks.

They are currently on a break from half-term, so it seemed like a good moment to update you all on how they’ve been getting on. Of course, I am at work on Tuesdays, so have to rely on reports from Mr Techno, which can be a bit lacking in detail at times!

The first week they went, Tom was suffering with teething pain and was not in the best mood. Apparently he didn’t really join in and just wanted cuddles the whole time, which is understandable if he wasn’t feeling 100%.

From the second week on, though, Tom seems to have really enjoyed himself. The ethos of the nursery is very much about free, child-led play, which suits us down to the ground. Apparently there are always some organised activities available, but no pressure to join in – it is up to the child whether they want to or not. Tom generally chooses not to – he is so used to wandering at will that he is entirely comfortable doing his own thing outdoors. Plus, at only 17 months, he is not yet at the stage of playing directly with other kids. Mr Techno, like me, is entirely happy to let Tom roam, as long as he can see where he is.

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Unsurprisingly, Tom’s favourite time is snack time. Mr Techno forgot to bring food one week, so Tom happily Yogi-beared it off everyone else (yes, that is the technical term). Boy does love to eat!

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He has played with chalk, clay, and their mud kitchen. Apparently he has also gained some little admirers – there are some older girls who follow him around everywhere.

This Tuesday, which was the last one before the half-term break, the site they usually use had become a little, ahem, waterlogged (thanks, Storm Imogen). So they all headed out onto the Marshes for a nature walk. Unfortunately, our little man took a bit of a tumble… face first into a puddle. But he was well togged up with waterproofs and recovered with a little helping hand from one of my jumpers (which he has adopted as a comforter following the tragic loss of his former comforter…one of my bed socks).

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Mr Techno seems to be enjoying himself too. He doesn’t often get a chance to meet other parents, and there are some other dads there, so he doesn’t feel like the odd one out. And it is nice to be with a group who share similar values to us (and don’t think we are being irresponsible for letting our toddler play outdoors in the winter).

The next half of term starts in a couple of weeks and they will definitely be going back!

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Inspiration for Outdoor Play Area

We are incredibly lucky to live in a London flat that actually has a garden. So I feel guilty that we rarely use it. Tom and I get out every day to the Marshes, or a park, or for a walk by the river, but I very rarely take him to play just in the garden.

One reason for this is access – we live on the first floor, which means we have to go down our very steep, narrow, dark back stairs to get out into the garden. If we want to take any toys out with us, it means taking two trips (one for toys and one for Tom) or being organised enough to pack up a bag. And if we are going to that kind of effort I would rather be getting further away from home.

The other reason is that I find the space, frankly, uninspiring. We are spoiled with so many great green places on our doorstep, so I tend to head for them when planning a trip outdoors. Our garden, on the other hand, is not exactly large. There are some plants, kindly provided by our downstairs neighbour, who is a keen gardener and has over-spilt her own patch into ours. And we have a table and chairs from our last flat. Otherwise, there’s not much to recommend it.

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Or so I thought. But after getting locked out of the flat last week (see tomorrow’s post), I realised I had been looking at the space through my eyes rather than the eyes of a toddler. What to me is a small, boring patch of paving, is to Tom a wonderland of things to explore and play with. He doesn’t think it’s boring – it’s small enough for him to feel safe, and big enough to offer plenty of opportunities for exploration.

We went down on Monday afternoon, taking some scoops and stacking cups and a small tub of water with us. I thought we might get half-an-hour before Tom got bored. Not a bit of it. We were still out over an hour later, when the light started to fade, and he was showing no signs of boredom. He’d played with the water and toys, explored the area, then spent ages putting snail shells into different stacking cups and ferrying them around the garden, into the water and out again. In the end it was me who took us back inside – it was getting dark and I needed to make his tea.

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So that is all the proof I need. It’s time to invest some effort into making the garden more of a play space for Tom, which I will then be inspired to use on a more regular basis. I’ve already spied out some spare bricks and bits of wood that should make the basis of a mud kitchen. And there must be something we can do with all the tin cans that I’ve been reluctant to throw away.

Anything we do will have to be low-effort, low-cost, and temporary, as we rent the flat rather than own it. So I’m starting a Pinterest board to give us ideas (you can find it here) and would love to hear any suggestions you might have.