Vicki Paterson tells the story of a re-wilding project at Balgreen Nursery School.

Vicki is the Head of Centre at Balgreen Nursery School - a council nursery school in Edinburgh - where she describes Froebelian principles as being "at the heart of the vision, values and aims" of the nursery. She created this short article about their re-wilding project during the Froebel Trust's Writing Workshop held in Summer 2022.


We were inspired by Froebel’s idea of the garden offering an ideal environment for young children to develop an understanding of the natural world and begin to appreciate its beauty and learn to take care of it. We embarked on what was originally called The Meadow Project.

The aim of the project was to re-wild a largely unused area of land belonging to the nursery through allowing nature to take care of itself and increase the area's biodiversity, to encourage the children to engage with the space and to encourage their thinking on the interrelationship of all living things.

Join our mailing list

Be the first to know about future Froebel Trust workshops and events.

Sign up

The child who has cared for another living thing, is more easily led to care for his own life.

Froebel in Lilley (1967:148)

Froebel believed that from the earliest years of a child’s life, they should be immersed in nature and have the opportunity to engage with nature first hand. Offering these real-life experiences supports children’s understanding of the interrelationship of all living things.

Being immersed in nature gives children the opportunity to connect with the bigger ideas of sustainability and biodiversity. It provides an opportunity to offer a response to the climate crisis through education and hands on experiences.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder….. he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in” (Carson, 1965, p.55)

We know that relationships matter, but they are of central importance to exploring wild spaces. Children need a close relationship with someone who shares an enthusiasm and curiosity about nature. (Tovey, 2022)

Outdoor play in the wild nature space at Balgreen Nursery School

Outdoor play within Balgreen Nursery is valued and children are encouraged to be curious and freely explore in the natural environment, which provides the opportunity to be responsive to the children’s interests and natural curiosity. We also provide the opportunity for children to plant, grow and harvest fruits and vegetables. However, at times, practitioners became aware that the outdoor area could often be taken over by “the stuff”: the continuous provision resources, planters, climbing equipment etc. We reflected on our observations of how the children used the outdoor space and how “hurried” it often felt when taken over by certain resources.

The nursery saw the unused piece of land as an opportunity to encourage children and practitioners to think about the outdoor space in a different way. To have an area that was completely wild and natural where children could experience, "Nature in all its aspects- form, energy, substance, sound and colour” (Froebel in Lilley 1967, p.148).

The Meadow at Balgreen Nursery School

Working with the children to re-wild an area of the outdoor space can provide this first-hand experience of creating a space to encourage growth, caring for wildlife and support their own self-regulation. It will also support their understanding of sustainability and nurturing nature and connect to the issue of climate change in a supportive way.

The children’s ideas were integral to the development of this area. We noted the children’s pre-existing knowledge and gave the children the opportunity to express their ideas.

We recorded conversations, shared ideas in our learning stories, and used stories and books to generate discussion and reflection with the children. We sat together in small groups in the space and asked, “What can we do on the Meadow?” The children’s ideas were inspiring and insightful.

“We need flowers, rainbow colours”

“More trees I can climb”

“Trees! We need trees, they help us breathe”

“Somewhere I can sit…… a log or a wall”

Along with the practitioners and very willing volunteers, the children took part in planting experiences, and they actively engaged in caring and exploring this wild area.

FT Nature Campaign Logo RGB
The Meadow Project

The local area was researched by a staff member and together we discovered what trees were native to the area. We asked for help from various other organisations and were lucky to be given enough saplings for each child to plant their own tree. Thanks to practitioner knowledge, we were given a variety of saplings commonly found around the nursery. This in turn inspired our parent volunteer who researched what land in the surrounding area was used for, which resulted in planting a small section of flax.

Within the space the children are encouraged to be curious and freely explore in the natural environment, which provides the opportunity to be responsive to the children’s interests and natural curiosity. In a space with only nature as the resource we found the children to be curious about key concepts in an entirely different way to the more conventional garden space. They built with sticks and leaves, they found patterns and colours in flowers and bark, they discovered tiny creatures living in their natural world. Some children just sat and quietly observed while others found the freedom of the open space exhilarating and exciting.

Using the children’s ideas, we researched wildflowers and together we chose the colours and discussed the wildlife they attracted.

The Meadow Project was evolving, and the children began referring to it as “The Sunny Meadow” which it is now called by many of us.

The aim of the project was to rewild this area through allowing nature to take care of itself and increase the area's biodiversity. We have enabled encounters with the natural world for the nursery and the local community and offer a response to the climate crisis through education and practical activities.

The Sunny Meadow has more than doubled the area available for wild landscape play (beyond the immediate nursery garden). The area enabled a continuing practice of encouraging encounters in the natural world; at what feels like a slower pace. To allow us all to wallow, slow down and wonder what our sunny meadow will offer next.