Interview - Claire Warden

Educational consultant and founder of Mindstretchers

What prompted you to start the first nature kindergarten in Scotland in 2006?

Founding a nature kindergarten was an intentional action I took to provide a different model of quality education and care for children from the age of two to five. The negotiations with the licensing and quality inspectorate allowed us to open up a new pathway for practitioners, to create a nature-based model for early education.

Auchlone Nature Kindergarten has delivered outstanding quality reports, enabling people to see and feel quality provision in an outdoor environment. It has moved people’s perception of nature as a ‘nice to have’, to a way of teaching and learning that is referred to as nature pedagogy.

Is there a difference between a nature kindergarten and an outdoor nursery? Do they share the same philosophy?

The research I am currently engaged in delves into the subtlety of the way we work at Auchlone Nature Kindergarten. In my view, what differs in the philosophy of a nature kindergarten, when compared to an outdoor nursery where children will also spend the majority of their time outside, is that in a nature kindergarten there has to be a sense of engaging with nature in a wilder space.

This in turn threads back into our outdoor area and to our inside space, which is set up in a home-like and holistic fashion. Our learning process moves across all of the areas and spaces we are in.

What are the Talking and Thinking Floorbooks you developed, and how do they work?

I started using Floorbooks in the 1990s to support children, families and settings to value children’s voices, not only for an effective engagement strategy, but also to meet the UNCRC ‘Right to be Heard’.

The Floorbook is a working document that records children’s thinking through gesture, voice and action. This evidence is analysed to explore the possible lines of development (PLODS), which push learning forward. These objectives can be mapped back against a curriculum, to show accountability and demonstrate breadth and balance in learning. The books celebrate the process of learning, while allowing adults to be aware of core skills that arrive quite naturally through children’s fascinations.

What can you tell us about your new book, Learning with Nature – Embedding Outdoor Practice?

The book was commissioned by Sage, to support self evaluation in outdoor learning, so that settings can move away from ‘idea gathering’, towards understanding the ‘how and why’ we support learning inside, outside in play areas and beyond in wilder spaces. The book takes people through the process and then suggests how to work with parents and use Floorbooks for planning.

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