Whoever it was that wished for wet weather to get the 'real' Scottish experience got their wish! Setting off in the bus with our little picnic bag of goodies prepared by Sabine I heard comments wondering if what we were due to see today could possibly be as inspiring as the previous settings! Time will tell.....
On arrival the group was split in two with one group going to the forest school site with Jane and the other to the centre as we are a rather large group. At the centre we were warmly greeted by Lynn McNair, Head Teacher, who has been awarded an OBE from the Queen for the work she does with young children, and Leanne Higgins who has been a member of Cowgate for 20 years. Lynn shared information about their centre with us. Cowgate is owned by Edinburgh City Council and is open from 8am until 5.45pm for children aged from birth to 5 years for 52 days per year.
This purpose built setting was opened in 2002 and is a non profit organisation with skilled, mature, qualified staff. This centre presents with the ethos of a Froebels centre, natural colours, furnishings, avoiding bright colours, plastic - the children bring the colour. They follow a Froebelian Curriculum. Froebel believed that from the beginning the child must be surrounded by kindness, understanding and beauty - staff at Cowgate share this belief! Children are consulted on most aspects of their care and the staff recognise a holistic view of each child's development. They consider themselves protectors of childhood and will guide and facilitate rather than instruct. Lynn also feels that adults need to relinquish power over children and that children are not a homogenous group.
Children are seen as individual, not a homogenous group, they are not judged by chronological age and although there is a 0-3 year and 3 - 5 year old rooms, the doors are open and children have access to the whole space including the reception area. Siblings right to be together is respected. There is also a faith and trust in children, children of all ages make their own decision on what to wear outside and if they are cold they will know and come back for appropriate clothing.
Planning happens with the children and they take advantage of their central inner city situation with access to the castle, meadows, museums, libraries etc.
The forest school site is a small 1/2 acre site about 10 minute walk away, owned by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, a small natural oasis in the middle of Edinburgh city. Sir Patrick Geddes had the foresight to preserve some natural spaces within the city. The children spend half a day at a time here running, building, exploring and creating. In this small space there were nettles, brambles and other "prickly" plants but the children soon learnt which ones to avoid.
We were touched by the small but exciting space for children and many members of the group felt that this was really a Secret Garden. Dark corners, tunnels formed by the vegetation, uneven track, trees to hold a rope swing, small and colourful wild flowers, rose bushes and wild raspberries were some of the opportunities. There are disadvantages to the site and staff need to clear the area of litter and remove possible dangerous objects such as needles before the children are able to enjoy the space but the benefits far outweigh any risks.
The children also have access to "Stickland", a 26 acre site which they access 2 or 3 times a week making fires, cooking, using tools and exploring. They were very excited that they were due to receive a heated Yurt!
Claire (Mindstretchers) and Eboni (AISWA) thanked the Cowgate team for their hospitality and presented the team with a selection of books for the children. Gail (Darwin) and myself (Inspired EC) also presented small gifts.
The majority of the group elected to stay and explore Edinburgh so the huge bus returned with only 6 .... We hope the rest find their way back to Dunblane by train!