Cowgate Under 5’s Centre – Come and Look!

7 August 2011 · 5 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces, Early Years Outdoors

I’ve blogged about Cowgate Under 5’s Centre here and here. However, I thought you might enjoy a few more photos which capture a little of the ethos and values of this city nursery.

First of all, blink and you may miss the alley! The centre is located off the Royal Mile, in the heart of Edinburgh.

And unless you keep your eyes peeled, you may easily walk past the unassuming entrance…

The inside door gives you the first clue. An engraved lily on the glass, the favourite flower of Frederick Froebel.

The fruit basket is at the entrance. Children and adults help themselves to fruit as they wish. Everyone brings fresh fruit to keep up the choice!
The rest of this blog, is written in the words of Lynn McNair, who manages the centre. Thanks Lynn…

“The Centre is run with a strong Froebelian influence. Through engaging with the world, understanding unfolds. Play is a creative activity and through it, children become aware of their place in the world. Froebel sought to encourage the creation of educational environments that involved practical work and the direct use of materials. He believed children learn through spontaneous play.

When the Centre opened in 2002, the outdoor space was a patch of asphalt. Look at the simplicity of the sandpit and the plethora of plants! Tyres and container planting rule!

Oh! The open-ended potential of this board! Doorhandles on plywood!

I love the little cages for transporting the guinea pigs! Or a soft toy…

The indoor water tray! Loose parts included!

We favour natural materials and soft, warm colours of natural wood. This, in combination with the harmonious architecture provide a homely atmosphere. Plants and pleasant scents add to this.

Large weaving projects are beautifully displayed indoors

It is not a small-scale copy of the adult world but an environment where the deeper needs to the child to create, initiate and imagine are kept in mind. There is a calm unhurried feel to the Centre which begins as the children arrive to the sounds of relaxing music which carries on throughout the day.

Children’s pegs are in alphabetical order. Look at the steps to enable children to hang their coats on the higher pegs! A block play area is right beside the cloakroom…

We provide a wide variety of play experiences based on each child’s interests. It’s not the final outcome of the experience that matters as much as how the child arrives there.

No nursery is complete without a hammering log!

And a workbench is another essential childhood activity area! There’s also a workbench outdoors too.

A child’s progress cannot be measured on results alone, but rather on the skills and knowledge they are developing and refining throughout the year. (Note from Juliet: one of my favourite quotes is “Children don’t grow through being measured.”)

What a cosy, inviting outdoor space!

Children can choose to bake break to share with friends for snack or to take home. We celebrate seasonal festivals, making meaningful connections with nature.

The kitchen area

Children are encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions. If they choose an experience, they also choose the rules that go with that experience, e.g. the child that chooses to cook also chooses to wash up. The child who chooses to dress up, hangs up the clothes afterwards. Our children are encouraged to pour their own milk, serve their own lunch, wash their dishes, under the sensitive supervision of caring adults. Each of these activities offers the opportunity to develop independence and as such, self-esteem.

This is the birthday board. Many of the displays are presented on hessian (burlap) cloth.

Visits to local heritage sites, museums, and local shops are an important part of the children’s education and give valuable opportunities for social and language development. We feel that it is important for children to be able to participate in this as they get to know and understand their local area. They start to recognise and understand the different buildings and their functions. They witness the constantly changing environment. Such is the spontaneous nature of our practice that we will often respond immediately to interests by taking the children out of the centre.

A recycling ethic is prevalent throughout the centre. All waste from lunches is re-used or re-cycled…

This is the art area with lots of junk and natural material. And nicely presented…

We place a lot of importance in the outdoors and spend time in the garden in all weathers. This again is influenced by Froebel’s emphasis on the unity of indoors and outdoors.

One of many big tuned percussion instruments outside

Our terrace houses a greenhouse, where children have the opportunity to grow their own flowers, fruits and vegetables, which can be eaten for snack. We encourage children to care for our environment and the birds, insects and other little creatures we share it with.

The greenhouse is a hive of activity! Come on in and pot up those plants!

Every bit of space is used effectively. This is a lovely little natural willow den tucked away.

And here’s one of the indoor cubbies – one with a view outside!

When you come to Cowgate you will hopefully experience an ethos of trust, where childhood is viewed as a free, innocent, natural period of life, where children are encouraged to roam and explore.”

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jenny August 7, 2011 at 12:29

just having a bit of a swoon over these photos Juliet. So inspiring – what an amazing centre.


Juliet Robertson August 7, 2011 at 13:54

It is an amazing centre. It’s also run by Edinburgh City Council and not privately. This means it has the same funding as other state nurseries. So what you see is the result of carefully managed funds and an approach with clear vision and values. I’m saying this, in case readers assume this is a well-to-do centre.


Play is Important August 8, 2011 at 07:25

Lovely post Juliet, and an inspirational nursery. Cath


Juliet Robertson August 8, 2011 at 07:51

Thanks Cath

The photos and text still don’t do the place, children and staff justice!


Inspired Montessori August 13, 2011 at 01:32

What a wonderland! Lucky children!


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