‘Ultimate’ Fife nursery wins plaudits from Tatler magazine

Secret Garden staff and children. Picture: George McLuskie
Secret Garden staff and children. Picture: George McLuskie
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An outdoor nursery in Fife which teaches children “psychological resilience” has made it into Tatler, the top people’s “society bible”, for its 2016 list of the best pre-school establishments in the UK.

The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Cupar – which charges £38.50 a day – is the only Scottish nursery on the list, which also features Prince George’s Westacre Montessori School, charging only £33 per day.

The latest edition of Tatler describes the nursery as the “ultimate” in outdoor learning.

Based in 25 acres of woodland north of Letham village, the day starts with youngsters, equipped with small rucksacks with spare clothes, gathering in a local park before going on a half-mile walk up a hill to the woods.

Once there, the children can enjoy a range of activities such as “free play”, exploring, climbing and role play, and can be mentored by older children on how to build things or simply enjoy being in the great outdoors.

But founder Cathy Bache, a former drama teacher, said the nursery also teaches youngsters emotional strength and psychological resistance by challenging them to cope with conditions and activities others are unlikely to encounter.

A maximum of 14 children with two staff, or 18 children looked after by three staff, spend the day in one of eight locations in the woods, using a yurt for mealtimes, building fire for warmth and sheltering under a tarpaulin during heavy downpours.

Bache, who founded the nursery in 2008, said she was “quite astonished Tatler discovered us”.

“But then I thought to myself that this was a wonderful opportunity to share what we’re doing,” she added.

“I first heard of outdoor nurseries when I lived in Norway, where they are the norm. It planted the seed in my mind that ‘if it can be done in Norway, it can be done in Scotland’.

“I always felt very strongly children should be outside as they would be if they were living in the country.”

Bache said that as well as personal freedom the children, who are all aged from three upwards, learn mental strength and resilience.

“The children can be out in the rain all day and learn they can survive that. So often adults have a negative view of bad weather, which I think has a negative impact on mental health. So we have songs for when it rains and this helps develop fantastic physical and psychological resilience.”

Tansy Torkington, a Zero Waste Scotland co-ordinator whose son Finlay, four, attends the nursery, said: “Finlay went up the hill on his first day a little child and came down a boy. His body language was different and he had lots more confidence.

“When he first started the nursery he was frightened of steep slopes and heights but his key worker worked on that and being outdoors gave him the chance to work on it.”