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City's first woodland nursery opens door to the imagination

New kindergarten based in park will teach children the value of the great outdoors

This nursery is different from the moment you arrive. For a start, there's no front door. There are no walls or windows either. Instead of a carpet, there's grass; instead of walls, only trees; and instead of a roof just a big blue sky smeared with clouds.

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This is Glasgow's first outdoor nursery and yesterday the two mothers who are bringing the idea to the city showed parents and children round one of the "classrooms": a beautiful wooded spot behind the Burrell Collection in Pollok Park.

Debbie Simmers and Alison Latta, who are both 31, read about how the outdoor nursery concept worked in Germany and Scandinavia. They liked the idea of sending their own children to such a nursery, but realised there was nothing like it in Glasgow. So they contacted Pollok Park and now have permission to open their own, Woodland Outdoor Kindergartens, in September.

Debbie, who has a nine-month-old daughter, Sarah, believes the nursery, which will take children aged three to five, could help address the trend for children to stay indoors too much.

"There are more things to keep children indoors such as games consoles," says Debbie, "but there is also a culture of worry among parents that the world has changed - but it has not actually got more dangerous."

Alison, who has a one-year-old daughter, Kirsty, says the priority is to provide a stimulating environment. "It's about allowing children to use their imaginations," she says." A child who attends the Woodland Kindergarten will be given lessons in animal tracking, den building and vegetable planting, although they will also follow the national curriculum.

Each of the sites will be risk assessed before the children go there and there will be boundaries. Staff (there will be a ratio of one to every six children) will also have a clear view so they can see strangers approaching.

There are two other outdoor nurseries in Scotland - the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife and Mindstretchers Nature Kindergarten in Perthshire - and Debbie and Alison believe that if the idea spreads, it could help tackle the country's obesity problem.

"The parents who are phoning us are parents who understand the concept," says Debbie, "but we would like to reach a wider audience."

The first session of the nursery will be in September and already 20 children have been booked in. It will cost £39 per day which is at the higher end of nursery charges. "That's because we have higher staffing levels because we are outside all the time," says Alison. They are also required to have a building for use if the weather gets bad, which is Eastwood Parish Church.

Not that they are going to be using it much. The idea is they will be outside all year round and that doesn't put off Margot Cohen, 39, from Busby, who has registered her son Ben for the nursery.

"I like the idea that they will be outside in the cold," says Margot. "We have become too soft and likely to say ooh, it's a bit chilly outside'. If you decided not to go outside in Glasgow because it was cold or rainy, you'd be indoors for six months of the year."

Margot's son Ben, who is four, is a healthy boy, so attending the Woodland nursery for her was more about teaching him a connection with nature. "We don't connect with nature in the way perhaps that previous generations did." COMMENT Andy Beveridge Enabling young children to experience learning in the outdoors must be one of the best starts that we can give to their lives. It is well known that any learning in the early years is more likely to become woven into their lifestyles as they get older.

So many children seem to do so well in this environment. I wouldn't like to pigeon-hole it as kids who don't get on well at school but that is very typical. I'm always amazed at the number of teachers that arrive here and say they can't believe that young David, who is so quiet, has responded so well and has a confidence, an ability to do things and has grown in the eyes of his peers. It is school but it's away from school - our classroom is the outdoors and kids just respond to that.

Improving the health of the nation is one of the big challenges which faces Scotland. Through outdoor learning, children learn to assess and manage risk, learn physical and social skills through which they develop confidence and self esteem as well as learning to care for our environment.

At our outdoor centre, we get people coming back 40 years later to look around. They say if they hadn't done this, they wouldn't have gone on to do all these other things in life. Andy Beveridge is principal of Benmore Centre for Outdoor Education in Dunoon.

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