Sometimes there are days that I wish would never end. I want to savour the magic of the moment forever. It’s hard to describe what makes a perfect day as these are always a unique relationship between the people, the activities and the places that they happen.

What a feeling!

My heart and head are still reeling from my time spent with the Nature Nurture project several weeks ago. This is a partnership programme between Family Support Projects and the local authority that aims to:

“provide opportunities for children from the most deprived areas of Aberdeen to have free play outdoors in natural environments. These children come from families affected by substance abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and/or homelessness. They are Aberdeen’s most vulnerable children.”


For the past two years, the Nature Nurture Project has focused on pre-school activities, working with 18mths-5 year old children. Terri Harrison, one of the teachers involved, gives excellent presentations which explain more about the experiences and impact of this programme

However thanks to funding from the Scottish Government’s Go Play programme, the Nature Nurture programme has been extended for children aged 5-12. Unlike the pre-school programme, this takes place during the school holidays over a 10-day period. The children are picked up daily from their homes around 9am and stay the whole day.

The day began with an informal gathering where backpacks, waterproofs and wellies were issued. The rota for riding and leading the donkeys was announced to ensure every child had the opportunity to do both, each day.

It was a short walk to the first play destination – a little man-made stream. Here, a variety of loose parts and props had been put out beforehand, for the children to use…or not!

The stream provided endless fun. The children experimented with wooden guttering. This was set up by the children independently. I liked the use of the chicken coop…

They learned how to find pond creatures…

…and made paper boats and watched them float through the pipe…

…and had fun splashing around…

…and socialising…

All very simple, unstructured activities freely chosen and self-directed. The adults sensitively supported and facilitated the play. Within the hour, all the children were noticeably settled and focused.

From there, the group moved to an open hill space. Nature Nurture operates from Camphill School Aberdeen which is a beautiful campus with a rich diversity of outdoor spaces.

Some children decided to have a game of football. Adults were invited onto the teams…

Others played on the rope swing attached to a mature oak tree.

There was an opportunity to pick blackcurrants and raspberries to take home and eat.

A popular activity was being wrapped up in the parachute and offered as a “present” to another child or adult who had to find out who was inside.

From here, the children travelled to their final destination. To get there, donkeys were used. The children had to help get them saddled up and ready to ride.

Lunch was a barbecue in the forest. Some of the children volunteered to chop and collect firewood. One child was assigned the task of lighting the fire. The children were also free to play and explore. They enjoyed looking at the horses in the nearby field, playing hide ‘n’ seek and tag.

The shelters made on previous days were returned to and built upon. This child was unhappy with her seating and spent a long time finding a suitable stump. Then a mobile phone holder was made on a nearby tree!

The donkeys were used to accompany the children back to the centre. At the end of the session, each child was given their own photo album of the project. Each one was different, with commentary and photos unique to that child. It was interesting to see the children’s reactions to this. They all wanted a look at each other’s albums and commented positively.

What I liked about this day was the relaxed atmosphere. The only structured activity was making bows and arrows in the afternoon. There were clear rules in place about being around the fireplace and using tools. The children took great delight in ensuring that the adults followed these rules too!

I liked how the children rose to the occasion and demonstrated very responsible behaviour. For example, one child had her mobile phone with her. It was not confiscated nor left at the centre. She sent and received one text from an auntie. At one point, music could be heard coming from her shelter. When I looked in, she and a friend were listening to a song. One song. For about 10 minutes. This reinforces my belief that digital technology need not detract from outdoor experiences.

In terms of the positive impact of this programme, one of the children told me his family were going camping for the first time ever the following weekend so that he could show his brothers what he had learned. Three years ago, I taught this child. I often talk about him when I give presentations, because he once told me “Good families don’t go outside.” Apparently they do, now!

We Play

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Debi August 9, 2010 at 03:20

We need more organizations like Nature Nurture, that’s for sure! What a wonderful experience for the kids & adults alike. Just goes to show you that it doesn’t take much effort to get kids outdoors & exploring the natural world.

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Shar Dean August 9, 2010 at 04:11

I very much enjoyed your post. Thank you.

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Juliet Robertson August 9, 2010 at 08:45

This project has been over 18 months in the making owing to bureaucratic hurdles and funding! The final result really doesn’t reflect what was involved to get this going.

One example is Council policy about fire light and use of sharp knives outdoors. To get round this, Terri had to do her Forest School training – which is the UK equivalent of an A-Level or 9 months study time on top of a full time teaching commitment.

Although the day looks incredibly simple, there is a huge amount of organisation involved – everything required risk assessing – down to hand hygiene prior to eating food. Because of the needs of the children, every eventuality had to be accounted for. Even things like making sure the donkeys were ready to ride and had a place to be left needed attention.

I also didn’t flag up enough about the skills of the staff involved. The project works because Terri, Daniel and Kahren are highly experienced when it comes to working with children who have huge needs. For example, at one point during the day, a child came to one staff member requiring time out…she had spent the previous night sleeping rough on the streets. She is 10 years old. When providing a project for such children, the activities may look “ordinary” but the context in which they take place sadly isn’t.

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jenny August 10, 2010 at 01:12

What an amazing project Juliet – no wonder you were so inspired. Such a shame there aren’t more like this around. Oh, and I’m particularly enamoured of that wooden guttering!

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homeage August 10, 2010 at 05:34

I can only begin to imagine what a positive experience this was for the kids involved. So much of what I read is really focussed on the younger children, so it is wonderful that this project has been able to be extended to the older kids, the ones who are probably more aware of the difficulties of their situations.

Hope that this project is around for a long time to come, and that many kids get to enjoy it 🙂

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MOM #1 August 10, 2010 at 06:24

Wow that looks like an amazing day! What fun and enrichment.

Thanks for dropping by my blog, I do realize he irony of the situation, LOL. All I can say in my own defese is that my son is 17 now and I’m SO out of touch with what to do with littles now. It seems like so long ago.

“I’ll do your maths if you’ll do my dishes 🙂 and give me make up advice.” – – You’ve got yourself a deal! 🙂

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Mom and Kiddo August 10, 2010 at 10:19

What a great program. It sounds like so much fun for the kids.

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The Sunshine Crew August 10, 2010 at 17:28

As always, love your post!
Can we come play in Scotland???
the Nature nurture program sounds and looks just great.
Love the wooden gutter work and the parachute work. We have a parachute but have never used it outside…guess we will have to get crackin’ and play with it outside.
Have a happy week,
Colleen:)

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leechbabe August 11, 2010 at 03:27

An amazing and inspirational project. I’m very impressed by the dedication and skills of those who pulled it together .

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Chapter Forty August 12, 2010 at 00:04

My treasured childhood memories are when I was playing outside. Rope swings, flying foxes, building long grass cubby houses, eating fruit from street trees, or wild blackberries, grass slides on flat cardboard boxes, damming creeks and making daisy chains.

You are making great memories for the future.

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Teacher Tom August 14, 2010 at 03:31

I can see why you didn’t want it to end. I must say, I agree with Jenny about the wooden guttering. We might have to make our own! =)

I like the new look!

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Christie - Childhood 101 August 16, 2010 at 12:07

What a fantastic adventure and a wonderful example of how little it takes to engage children with nature, a credit to the team involved in undertaking such a huge project.

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