I am still on a big high! Last Saturday, the Aberdeen City Early Years team held a conference with the theme “Thinking, Learning, Playing!” More than 250 early years staff gave up their free time to attend. There was even a waiting list of others prepared to attend at the last minute should someone drop out.

I’ve been trying to figure out why the event worked so well. Normally I come away from conferences slightly stressed as I haven’t had a chance to chat to people I wanted to and a little depressed as the reality of the real world sinks in, once the conference doors are closed at the end of the day.

Here, I got the chance to chat to a few people beforehand. I met the Early Years team and other keynote speakers the previous evening. This helped in that we weren’t just strangers passing in the night the following day.

Unusually, the keynote presentations all complimented each other. Claire Warden from Mindstretchers gave her inspiring and witty talk themed around the “Potential of a Puddle”. Any opportunity to hear Claire talk is never wasted. In fact I think a YouTube video clip is long overdue so I can forward her message more widely and chuckle over her stories whenever I want. It would also make a brilliant advert for all the great work happening at her two nature kindergartens, Auchlone and Whistlebrae in Perthshire.

Jennie Lindon was given the post lunch death slot. Many presenters send me to sleep at this time of the day, but Jennie’s pragmatic perspective on early childhood issues was reassuring to hear. She told the audience that hers was the “serious” speech. Maybe so, but nevertheless informative and entertaining in her own quieter manner.

The only grumble I have was not being able to attend the other workshops. I was delivering one called “Natural Treasures” about using natural materials as springboards for play. My own keynote speech had focused on my Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship and the early years practice I had observed on my travels. After focusing on the merits of nature pre-schools where children spend 80% or more of their time outdoors, it seemed like a good idea to offer a practical stepping stone onto this path.

I came away from this conference filled with hope. The Aberdeen City Early Years team really know how to work together and are showing genuine commitment to outdoor play provision. The pre-school staff deserve a big cheer for turning out in such large numbers. Despite my workshop being held outside in the pouring rain, there were no complaints and no-one made their excuses and left.

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