Friday, 31 July 2015

Choice and Memories. Road trip to Lithuania Part 1!

I was fortunate to be offered a chance to spend a week with 3 friends and early years practitioners from around the world (Martin from Highway Farm Activity Centre, Cornwall, Unnur from Leikskólinn Stekkjarás Iceland and Lesley from Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School, Washington D.C.) taking part in work shadowing and sharing practice, ideas and experiences with colleagues in 2 outdoor nurseries in Lithuania - one in Vilnius and one in Kaunas.
Lesley, Zilvinas, me, Unnur and Martin.
Our host for the week was Zilvinas Karpis, the founder and impetus behind the outdoor nurseries known as 'Lauko Darzelis' in Lithuania. (http://laukodarzelis.lt) As a parent, Zilvinas, had been disappointed by the lack of outdoor experiences on offer in any of the more traditional nurseries he looked at for his own children. Rather than complain about it and wait for someone else to do something about the situation, he decided to set up an outdoor nursery in the incredible Pavilniai Regional Park in Vilnius last year. This is considered one of the smaller regional parks at only 2127 hectares! 
Over the past year the nursery has renovated a small wooden house in a larger area to provide a cosy indoor space for the children to retreat to in the winter or on very wet days. It is a 2 story building with the upper sloped floor providing a sleeping area for wet or very cold days - otherwise the children sleep outside under canvas to help keep them cool on hot days.
On the day we visited the children had just had their breakfast on the verandah and were ready to head out for a 2 hour walk around the park. They choose a different route every day and we broke up into 2 pairs to go walking with the 2 groups - the under 3's and the older children, the latter also included children over the usual nursery age of  7 as it was summer holidays and the nursery offers a summer camp for those older children who are on school holidays.
Our route took us into an old munitions building and the children had fun climbing up into the building and enjoying the acoustics while they sang before they had fun jumping off the big platform inside. They were lots of different plants to explore in this space too.

Lesley shares some of the photos she had taken of them jumping off.
The pace of the walk was taken at the pace of the children, we stopped if they came upon something of interest to them - like a pile of logs to clamber on and one of the teachers made them a seesaw by placing a log just so on the pile.
After walking for about an hour we stopped on the banks of the river Vilnia to allow the children to have some snack. They each carry their own snack and change of clothes in their own rucksacks and some even had little mats for sitting on when they stopped. his was an idyllic place to enjoy refuelling for the next part of the walk. Some of the children had been at nursery since 8.00 and had had breakfast provided by the nursery earlier, this snack as brought form home and was mainly bread, biscuits or fruit. I was impressed at their independence as every child unpacked their own snack and opened/closed their own boxes without any adult help.
A perfect spot for snack.
Some children sat with friends or with a teacher, others chose to sit apart enjoying watching the river flowing past. After most had finished they packed up and head off again.Even though we didn't speak any Lithuanian and only a few of the children spoke English, we had no problem communicating with each other, most of the children would just chatter away to us regardless of whether we replied or not. And they had no problem conveying their wishes to be photographed in a favourite spot!

After another while meandering along the path, the children reached a part of the bank where the river was less fast flowing and they soon had their socks and shoes off and were paddling in the river. The sound of their laughter was lovely to hear and those people walking past couldn't help but smile at their behaviour.
At this point we swapped groups and Lesley and I headed up the hill to meet the younger children whilst Unnur and Martin joined the bigger children in the river.
This group was walking at a much slower pace as dictated by the youngest child who was only 2. He enjoyed stopping ever 2-3 minutes to explore something exciting on the path. The little ones enjoyed gathering leaves to drop over the side of a bridge to watch them float down the river.
After around 2 hours we all arrived back at the main site of the nursery and they children had their lunch on the verandah. The nursery provides a hot vegetarian meal at mid day and the children all eat together. (It is a vegetarian meal because there are  a lot of children at the nursery who have a variety of food intolerances.)
After lunch the children had a sleep or rest time, on this day they were sleeping outside under canvas to keep them cool in the sun. Those older children who weren't tired played around the main building, climbing trees, reading books or digging in the sand.
As the children woke up they gradually began to play again within the main space where there are lots of loose parts to engage with. Martin and Unnur began to build an insect hotel with some of the many pallets that were lying about - I'll write a post about that later.
So many great loose parts available to play with.

We used this time to explore the wider site with Zilvinas, as he shared his plans for some of the other buildings on the site. I would love to return to this setting is a few years to see all  that is planned by them. 
We also met with the Mayor of Vilnius and some of his advisors to show them some short presentations on our settings. He was impressed that each country and setting was so different yet the message was the same - children who are offered the opportunity to play outdoors and learn in a more natural environment are more rounded individuals. Then we had an opportunity to chat with some of the parents and staff, to explain where our settings were at present with regards to outdoor practice. It as a good chance to answer any questions the parents had - this is such a new experience for many of them, they just needed reassurance from others that their children will be ok if they are outside in all weathers.
This is such an exciting time for all of those involved in this new outdoor education revolution in Lithuania, most of all it reinforced to me how far I have come in my own practice in the last 8 years, as I could recognise some of their fears of apprehensions as being the same ones I had had or encountered at that time too.
What I realised was that most parents want their children to have carefree childhoods filled with memories of climbing trees, paddling in streams, getting dirty etc. - most educators who claim that parents don't want that are deluding themselves.
More importantly Lauko Darzelis offers choice for parents who want something different for their children. We showed the parents that the nursery system does not have to be a one size fits all experience, as each of us are from very different settings and countries and yet are able to offer the children in our care outdoor learning experiences on a daily basis.
To quote Michael Fullan, the professional capital was high and getting the opportunity to spend time with like-minded individuals has helped to recharge me and re-enthuse me, ready for a new school year.

Lesley has also written a post on this setting, you can read about it here: http://takomacooperativeschool.org/2015/07/jump-trust-at-lauko-darzelis/

A massive thanks to Zilvinas and his family for all that they did for us during the week and to all the staff, parents and children who made our visit such an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.

7 comments:

  1. Such a wonderful school, the children must love it.
    Thanks for sharing your experience there, Kierna.

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    1. Hi Brenda, so good to hear from you. It is a very special setting indeed and we were made so welcome too. I have a few more posts on my experiences 'brewing', so hopefully you'll get the chance to see around the other nursery too!

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  2. This looks like a lovely nursery setting, they really are outside whatever the weather. Our forest school nurseries are similar, it's just a shame of the cost!
    I love how independent all the children are and how much fun they seemed to have.
    Thanks for linking up to #whatevertheweather, could you please pop the badge on your post too. If you need help adding it just ask. :) x

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  3. What a brilliant nursery setting this is, you can see by the looks on the children faces how much they enjoy their time at this nursery. It's great to go to places like this and get some fab ideas to take home to your pre-school as well as giving them ideas whilst you're there. It's great that between the four of you, you managed to dissipate some of the parents nerves at the new style of nursery. Thanks for linking up with me on Country Kids.

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    1. Thanks for hosting Fiona & yes it's always great to see how other places operate and glean ideas for taking back with me!

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  4. Thank you so much for linking up your experience with #whatevertheweather. This sounds like such a great time for you. I wish we had nursery's like this near where I live. I would love for my daughter to do these activities at nursery. She has a woodlands next to her nursery so I am so glad that she gets to explore these every now and again if the weather permits, but I love the idea of the nursery above. x

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    1. Thanks for hosting such a great new link up. I'm glad more and more nurseries and schools are using wooded sites for children to explore.

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