Grant holder
Lian Higgins, Simon Bateson and Lynn McNair, Cowgate Under 5s Centre, Edinburgh
Project status
In Progress

A Froebel Trust Practitioner Support Grant allowed an Edinburgh Day Nursery to evaluate the impact of their new garden and outdoor space on children's play, learning and development.

An evaluation of the changes made to a nursery school's outside space, by observing and recording the response of the children.

Project summary

Cowgate Centre for Under 5s is a Froebel influenced City of Edinburgh Council day nursery for babies and young children under 5.

"Our primary concern is the well-being, happiness and holistic development of each individual child. We aim to create a rich and diverse environment to reflect the social and cultural diversity of our community in which all children can play and grow together.

We encourage children to develop responsibility for their own emotional harmony, developing self-regulation and resilience. We aim to help children communicate, experience empathy, feel accepted appreciated and loved, learn to solve problems, make decisions and develop a social conscience. We provide the support necessary to lead them to care for themselves and each other, and adopt a caring attitude towards the environment that surrounds us.

We support each child’s development through a process orientated, play based approach, providing a wide variety of play experiences. Children play freely inside and outdoors. Resources are carefully chosen and are open ended offering opportunities for creative, imaginative, challenging and risky self-directed play.

Caring for and understanding the natural world is an important part of our Froebelian values. In addition to our own outside space children can choose to join others in extended, rich free play outside in a variety of different settings and landscapes through our Nature Kindergarten experiences."

Outdoor Play and Exploration at the Cowgate Centre

The garden is a central element of Froebelian practice. The children freely access the outside space at the Centre at all times of day and in all weathers. This space is particularly important as not all children choose to take part in our nature kindergarten experiences away from the Centre. 80% of our children live in city flats without easy access to an outdoor space. The quality of our outside space is therefore vital.

Children of all ages and stages use our outside space. One child uses a wheelchair and needs additional adult support to explore the potential of the outside space along-side her peers but cannot currently make full use of the space.

We acknowledge that our outside space does not currently provide the full and rich experience for our children, that we would wish. In November 2017 the Centre made a successful application to the National Lottery Awards for All. This award provided funding to improve our Centre outside space and adjacent public community space.

The purpose of this Practitioner Support Application is not to apply for funds to make our outside space, although an element of the grant (20%) will be used for resources. It will, instead, be used to fully evaluate the changes we make to the space, inform any further changes we make, learn from this experience and share our learning with others as outlined later in this section.

The changes we propose to make to the Centre’s outside space follow an extended period of participation, observation, visits, discussion, proposals and amendments involving all of us at the Centre.

Early on we agreed to create a space which offers the “….potential for children to ‘do’ and ‘think’ and ‘feel’ and ‘be’ all at the same time.” Special Places, Special People, Wendy Titman, 1994

We will do this by creating the type of space Wendy identified as being favoured by children, in particular we have six main aims:

  • Where children can ‘find’ and ‘create’ their own spaces
  • With natural spaces offering variety and diversity, and the ‘potentially’ for change (open ended structures, features and resources, day to day and over the long term)
  • With spaces and elements which present opportunity for risk and challenge
  • Where social interaction and privacy are facilitated
  • Is accessible as possible for all
  • Makes connections between the Centre and the other places the children go for Nature Kindergarten.

Practitioner Support Grant will be used to:

- Support an ongoing process of evaluating the changes made to the outside space via observing and recording the response of the children

- Fine tune later phases of redevelopment work in relation to the Master plan

- Provide resources at the start of the project and on an ongoing basis to support the ‘potentiality’ features and resources, to enable an ongoing process of creating a living, changing space in response to the children’s articulated and observed needs and desires

- Set up and evaluate routines for the sustainable acquisition, storage, care and disposal of resources for the outside space.

We want to know if we are achieving our aims of ‘found places’, ‘potentiality’, ‘risk and challenge’, ‘privacy’, ‘accessibility’, and ‘connection’ in our outside space.

In particular, we want to challenge ourselves in relation to providing a space and resources that provide real and extensive potential for the children to manipulate and change their outside space, day to day and over time, either by themselves or in partnership with the staff.

We will be able to properly evaluate the outside space in relation to supporting EA in her play choices and can ensure the space is accessible for other children who may have support needs or disabilities.

We want to share our learning with other settings.

This project will connect up with the ongoing Froebel research project ‘Lived Stories’ and existing research carried out by staff as part of their Froebel studies on the use of photography, thereby enabling greater impact and influence.

A final report is expected later in 2021 and will be published here.