23 Sep 2018, Liz Roberts
Children today do not always get the chance to really connect with nature, but everything about The Childcare Hub – both inside and out – provides endless nature-based play opportunities for children.
Kids Play already had a busy, well-established nursery on-site when work started on developing a magical natural environment for children that really met their needs, with children as experts in their own play. What makes the hub different is that its design was designed and inspired by what the nursery children wanted.
The nursery carried out research into outdoor learning, using observational filming, and child focus groups to establish how children would benefit from the new hub. Children said they wanted free-flow access to the garden, to play outside all the time, to climb, dig, run and grow things, as well as to be able to relax and see out of the windows. Their ideas were incorporated by an inspiring architect who visualised the building as a tree. The hub opened in August last year.
Clad in wood, the building also has a rooftop garden with views of the skyline and a growing patch. Parents were also keen for their children to play outside more, reinforcing the direction the nursery took. The unique building design allows children to have free-flow access to the gardens from all the rooms, including wooden walkways among the trees from the first floor.
The first floor overhangs the ground floor to provide year-round shelter, and the windows are different heights and sizes, enabling children to relax on cushions, looking out at the trees. The giant slide from the roof – which the children talked about – was due to be installed this summer.
The rich natural environment is designed to stimulate all children’s senses – from tasting vegetables they have grown to smelling the flowers and herbs, and feeling the rain on their faces.
The hub employs qualified Forest School practitioners – children build dens, make camp fires and climb trees – either in the nursery garden or a local wood.
Risky play is encouraged with a zip wire, rock-climbing and water-zorbing (getting inside a large inflatable ball that allows you to walk, run, jump and dance on the surface of water without getting wet). All these activities help to develop confidence and self-esteem. Children are also given time to relax too, swinging in hammocks and listening to the sounds of nature.
The hub has implemented ‘planning in the moment’ through training with early years consultant Anna Ephgrave. A new hobbit house has supported this training, enabling children to use their imagination in storytelling. To learn appreciation for living things, the children look after guinea pigs, fish and Gary the Giant African Snail.
The hub also partners with 25 schools to provide wraparound care for children up to the age of 12 through day camps and out-of-school clubs, and hosts community events enabling local families to meet.
One parent says, ‘Since the opening of the Childcare Hub we have seen her thrive and develop even more, and watching your baby turn into a confident, independent child being prepared for school is heart-warming.’
"Really liked the risk-taking. Imagine I would have loved this place as a child" — judge
Honey Pot Day Nurseries, Liverpool
N Nursery & Family Club, London
For a nursery (individual or part of a group), pre-school, school or childminding service that has opened since 1 January 2017