Monday, 22 August 2011

Connecting with the Elements

Not bringing the inside out - celebrating the very special nature of all that the outside has to offer - Last Saturday, over 50 Swedish early year’s professionals arrived in London for an event with us. They are the staff of Angbybarnens Forskolo, a group of five pre-schools in different locations in Norra Angby, Stockholm. These pre-schools are led by my colleagues and NVC companions Annika Sparrdal Mantilla and Ninni Jarnehall, they are pre-schools which are even more progressive and forward thinking than any average setting in Sweden

How could they afford to do this?

For the second time they have won Stockholm's Quality Award prize. They first won this during 2010 which is when they took the whole team to Italy, this time their visit is with us here in the UK and I am so grateful to have have he privilege to work with them on both of these occasions.

Here is a short video showing photographs of the event in Italy and in the UK and some of their own outdoor environment and of Chelsea Open Air nursery's very unique city garden. 

A Further description of the event in the UK
We met in Norway, during May, to discuss their needs and settled on working with a theme and intention to advance their experience and thinking around learning outside -not an easy challenge, considering that, unlike UK pre-schools they already offer children all day access during rain, snow, frost, wind and sunshine. They are very comfortable with children exploring freely, climbing, digging, hiding, running, resting etc.

I wondered what we could offer?
We agreed on an innovative plan to commence on the first day, with a three hour session of music, movement and dance: a session based on biocentric principles.

What was our intention?
It was to bring them into connection with the elements, through their bodies and their emotions, to experience outdoors in a fresh way; to embody this learning. Our music (except for the opening and warm up) was the sounds of nature combined with some urban sounds too of course! Day two would be a more traditional training session. 

We commenced in an indoor training room meeting and offering some outline of the session that would follow. We walked in silence to a beautiful private garden, 5 minutes away, close to regents park, walking barefoot on the grass, running, jumping, making cartwheels and handstands, smelling the earth and lying on the ground; feeling the warm rays of the sunshine on our faces, dancing to the breeze of the wind..and allowing our lungs to fill with air and to move our bodies subtly opening up to in a fluid way, slow and graceful dance  and then dissolving into a deep state of relaxation and accessing a blissful sense of being with nature and ourselves. 
Smelling the flowers and examining bugs with a gentleness and softness that returned us to our early memories of multi-sensorial experience. We awakened the old and anchored the new, our senses heightened and the body’s neurology embedding these experiences along with the emotional states of relaxation, awe and wonder. 

The experience was very challenging for some of them and yet, they engaged themselves either fully through the exercises or as observers, whilst
sitting under a tree.
On day two or our event we were joined by Jan White, early
year’s consultant, author of playing and learning outdoors: making provision for high quality experiences in the outdoor environment’ is published by Routledge (2008). Jan is an international advocate and supports high quality outdoor provision for services from birth to five. During her time earlier in her career, as a Senior Development Officer, she played a key role nationally in developing Learning through Landscapes’  When I met Jan a few years ago, my impression  was that she possessed a depth and breadth of experience that continued to evolve, I like this and her openness, flexibility and humour too. I sensed her potential to work with and to connect with a group of people in an authentic way and I was right, within a very short time and in spite of some hiccups with our equipment, she captured the group with her warmth and enthusiasm and began her session by introducing them to her thinking about the very special nature of outdoors and the distinct difference between what this environment has to offer compared with being inside - its highly multi sensory nature and vegetation. 

Jan's work and my own input helped them to be conscious of the embodied experience of the previous day. She facilitated a dialogue around characteristics including;the experience of different surfaces, open spaces, opportunities for refuge and reverie, the softness of being cushioned in the grass, kissed by the rain and caresses by the leaves;exploring schemas of trajectory, enclosure, boundaries, envelopment, rotation and much much more;the right kind of materials - affordance (meaning those that meet the needs of the individual children, those that are inviting, stretching, accessed, used and shaped). Flexibility and responsiveness of the environment to the needs of the children and the importance of transition areas and the comfort of the adults to really engage with the children.

She completed the day by asking them to think about the messages they want children to believe about themselves and she shared some of hers with us:

They are good to be with
They can feel good in their body
They are capable and competent
They are trusted and responsible
They can be curious and adventurous
They are creative and inventive

My conversations with participants during our time together and at the close of he event seem to indicate that they felt stretch and challenged to think more deeply about their experiences of being outdoors and this they say, has moved them forward. We will follow up with them in a few weeks too, to see what impact the event has actually had on their practice.

I'm thinking that if all of our early years setting developed their practice in this way, surely this would go someway towards growing the kind of citizens in the UK that we would like to be with, with a love of ecology and the the likelihood of less violence and destruction.

I am so grateful for the work with Sue James who led the nature session with me and to Jan White who was a very flexible, thoughtful and creative partner and I am thankful to Ninni and Annika for continuing to work collaboratively and enthusiastically together and to Nisimo, Vigdess and Beverly for assisting in many ways to make this a memorable event - what a great team!

If you are interested to learn more about this group of nurseries see

If you would like to visit them in Stockholm sometime do let me know as we will be organising a study trip in the near future. Funding may also be available through various European funds.  Also, do remember too that if you would like an event that is something more extraordinary to meet the needs of your group, or if you would like to attend one of the programmes specified on our website please do contact us see
Click here for a link to an older blog entry that also contains information about outside play.

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