Nettle Crisps and Foraging for Fruit in Sheffield, The Outdoor City

Nettle Crisps and Foraging for Fruit in Sheffield, The Outdoor City

12 April 2016

Photo caption: Helen Mark and son Ajay

Most people wouldn't believe that there could be a fully outdoor kindergarten in rainy England, but Helen Mark explains how successful her kindergarten has been in Sheffield and how come rain or shine they stay outdoors.

I have been the manager of Sheffield Woodland Kindergarten for one year now and it is hugely successful. I have always been a fan of the outdoors as well as looking after children so when I saw a job come up that mixes both, I had to take it!  

Dami Kendrick is the founder of the kindergarten and we run it with six others at Lynwood gardens, Sheffield, which is an inner city nature reserve and is the perfect location for our business. Lynwood gardens is like Sheffield’s best kept secret; our urban sanctuary where we can run different outdoor activities for the children. It is also close to the city centre so we often take trips to the Botanical Gardens, the Peace Gardens and Winter Gardens in the centre, whilst there are also good bus links for us to travel to places like Chatsworth and Bakewell. That’s why Sheffield is perfect for this type of business – it is a unique city to live and work in, being close to National Trust parks and the Peak District but with inner city gardens and parks as well - our children get the best of both worlds!

Everything we do is related to the outdoors, we even cook the kid’s meals on an open fire, making anything from nettle crisps to lentil dahl and getting the kids foraging for fruit. Despite having no electricity, no running water and using a portable kitchen outside, we still have a level 5 food hygiene rating – something we’re very proud of.

We find that by running a kindergarten outdoors, the children learn to respect the environment and nature, see every season in depth, become more confident and learn those essential everyday skills. It also teaches them to lead a healthy lifestyle; these kids are always active and have strong immune systems.

Last summer, I went on a skogsmulle leader course in Wales, which translates as ‘forest creature’ in Swedish and is the Swedish early year’s outdoor learning teaching. I was one of the first people to do this in the UK and it teaches you about a fictional woodland creature. Basically there are a number of stories and fairy tales about this creature which I use with the kids and it really heightens their imaginations. The stories are all about looking after the environment and nature which is so important given the effects we are witnessing from global warming. I’m so glad to be able to teach our children the importance of conservation and preservation of Sheffield’s green spaces, woods and parks with it being The Outdoor City.

We take a maximum of 20 children, aged between 2 and 6, a day. It's becoming very popular - I think parents like how hands on we are, the staff really get involved – one of us always has mud across our faces! We are also OFSTED registered, meaning you can get a free 15 hours from Sheffield City Council.

Believe it or not, we do stay outdoors if it rains. To be honest, we use the weather to our advantage; if it chucks it down we jump in puddles, collect water in buckets to make different sounds, or even paint! Today, for example, there were strong winds, so we decided to make mini parachutes for the children to play with! We do have a tipi for days when we need to take shelter, where we share stories, chat and play but we just make sure we are all dressed prepared for any weather...if you ask me, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!

We have a playgroup every Monday so if you are interested in giving your child that outdoor experience, why not come along to Sheffield Woodland Kindergarten on a Monday 10-11.30am no booking required, just turn up, it’s only £4 per family! Also, on Saturday 7th May, from 10-2pm, we are having an open day for families looking for September start places. We will have snack cooking, tea and coffee, examples of activities and all staff on hand to meet, greet and talk you through what we do! 

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