|Lucy White enjoys climbing a tree at the Secret Garden (reproduced with permission of Alex White)|
I’ve written angrily before about common sense being flung out the window when it comes to “child safety”. Despite my own over-anxiety as a mum, I realise that swaddling children in red tape is neither sensible nor effective.
I’ve found that they get a whole heap of confidence in themselves from challenging themselves and pushing their boundaries physically in the forest. There’s a certain glow and a glint in their eyes that they’ve both had after a day in the woods, and it’s not just a healthy glow from being outdoors – they shine from the inside! Secret Garden is a completly different experience to regular nursery – not only is it permanently outdoors, but it’s truly child led, with the staff really just overseeing their activities – it’s nomadic too with the children’s input into which part of the woods they visit being highly respected.
The thing about the forest is that there aren’t many sinks around the place so the staff currently use things like hand gel and wipes to clean the children’s hands. Given that they reach their woodland destination on foot, it just would not be either reasonable or practicable to expect them to carry water as well as all the things they need for the day.
“Nature is a tool,to get children to experience not just the wider world, but themselves.” So climbing a tree, he says, is about “learning how to take responsibility for yourself, and how – crucially – to measure risk for yourself. Falling out of a tree is a very good lesson in risk and reward.”
When my husband was a little boy, he spent loads of time playing unsupervised in the forest. He’d disappear after breakfast and return home when he was hungry. He actually went, shock horror, collecting mushrooms because he’d been taught by his mum which were edible and which were poisonous. She was always delighted when he came back with a bag of edible fungi for their breakfast. I strongly suspect that he went from morning till night without washing his hands on more than one occasion.
One of my best friends and her brother were brought up on a farm and they used to disappear off with a picnic in the morning and re-appear at tea-time. They played unsupervised in streams, climbed trees and did all sorts of “dangerous” things that would make many modern parents’ hair curl in fright. In contrast, my knowledge of the natural world is shockingly bad partly because I never had those opportunities as a child.
For me, this issue is highly frustrating as I am Evie’s parent, I am aware fully of the risks and benefits of the Secret Garden, and I am making the informed choice to send her there. But that appears to count for absolutely nothing!!
I hope that common sense prevails and Health Protection Scotland and the Care Commission do not consign the Secret Garden, and other pioneering facilities like it, to history. I understand that they have a number of experts on their side willing to argue their case, which is encouraging.
If, like me, you want to support the Secret Garden, follow them on Twitter to keep up to date with what’s happening and contact them to express support or offer help.