Sunday, 14 August 2011

A little bit of heaven in the middle of a busy city - part 1

The outdoor play area

I am relatively new to the whole concept of blogging - 8 months is nothing - one of the first people I ever came across has now been posting away for 3 years!! Juliet Robertson first mentioned the wonderful Cowgate Under 5's Centre in this post and I was immediately drawn to their outdoor area, as it seemed to be around the same size as my own playground but oh my goodness what they had achieved in a concrete space was amazing.
Fast forward a few months & I was heading to Edinburgh for a week for my holidays to take in the Fringe. I decided to contact Cowgate & see if I could go along for a visit (Juliet, again had a hand in this, as she had just posted a new note on Cowgate & reminded of it). I was delighted when Manager, Lynn McNair passed my request onto Lian Frizell and hey presto I was going to visit for myself.
The centre is off the Royal Mile in the centre of Edinburgh - it is also where the festival box office is sited so it is a very busy little passage way to make your way down. I went for a little recce the day before & the thing that alerted me to the centre was the giggles that I could hear from over the fence. 

I was so excited to visit the next morning & Lian made me so welcome from the start. The whole ethos of the centre is so calm & relaxed. I have been lucky to visit early years settings in Sweden & Norway & this Scottish setting feels very like it should be in Scandinavia. I was struck by the respect that exists between staff & parents and staff & children. I was so happy to see that parents are encouraged to stay with their children as long as necessary, they even have a parents room in the centre. This is a lovely space where parents can go to while their child explores the setting, it means they are close to hand if they are needed.
I was buzzing with ideas after visiting here & would love for all those who work with me to get a chance to see it too. What struck me most was the atmosphere - calm, relaxed and quiet. I love my job but there are days when I am frazzled by 26 children & only 2 adults, I do find myself having to rush children through their stories or activities and I don't like it. I cannot imagine this happens very often, if ever, at Cowgate. I need to reassess how my class works & why we do things a certain way. There is a lot of trust between the children & the staff at Cowgate. An adult is not always watching each & every child, they are trusted to be on their own in an area. I also saw this in the Mindstretchers nature kindergarten in Auchlone, perhaps it is a Scottish thing? I also saw this in Norway where the teachers didn't feel they had to be in 'instructional mode' all the time - they allowed the children to be responsible for their own actions. In the area in the photos below the children are free to play unsupervised and move from room to room.

I start back to school in 2 weeks and I hope that I can bring a little bit of Cowgate's atmosphere to my class as I would love to provide such a calm, happy and relaxing learning space.


  1. Hi Kierna

    Thanks for such a lovely and informative blog post. I would love to say that Cowgate and Mindstretchers typify most Scottish pre-school settings, but at the moment they both remain centres of excellence and lead the way indoors and out!

    However, where leaders go, others follow and we have some great centres in other parts of Scotland too. The Woods for Learning case study about Fife Nature Kindergartens are great as these illustrate some very good centres too.

    Baking bread every morning adds to the sensual pleasure of being in Cowgate too.

    Best wishes

  2. Ooh forgot to mention the bread!!! Must remember for next post. It was inspiring & you know what, I would work in a place like that as an assistant rather than be in a horrible setting as a teacher :) - (am not meaning my place here by the way!)
    I think it is great that Cowgate is a local authority setting - lucky parents in Edunburgh

  3. This sounds like such a calm, relaxed place for both children, parents, and staff!
    I would also love to have the chance to work there! :)
    I usually love to have my parents stay as long as they need to when bringing their children in for the day, and how nice to have a space set aside to welcome parents.
    Kierna, thanks for sharing your travels here!

  4. What a beautiful center Cowgate is Kierna. I have viewed Juliet's posts on this center too and it always impresses me. Sherry and I are having a wonderful time looking at other early childhood setting around Melbourne for our Education Directory ... It's so inspiring being able to peek inside other peoples spaces!! You may find some inspiration here too before you head back to school ...
    Donna :) :)

  5. Thanks Sherry & Donna - I know isn't it amazing that we can 'look around' so many great places from the comfort of the computer! I felt like it was a dream to actually be inside this place after seeing it on Juliet's posts!


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