One of Scotland’s best-loved parks could become home to Aberdeen City Council’s first outdoor nursery.
Proposals are being developed for an innovative pilot project which would use Duthie Park as the base for a new early years facility catering for children aged from two to five.
Outdoor nurseries are being embraced nationally in the public and private sector as a part of a strategy informed by the success of the same approach worldwide, with Scandinavia in particular championing the benefits of outdoor learning.
Cllr Jenny Laing, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, said: “The work being done to explore the opportunities for outdoor, play-based learning in Aberdeen is valuable. An enormous amount of global research sits behind this.
“In Aberdeen we have invested significantly in education infrastructure – most recently with the £60million commitment to the new Lochside Academy and Stoneywood School buildings.
“That programme of improvements and the construction of new schools and early years facilities will continue in the years ahead, but innovation is as important as investment. Outdoor learning is one of the important strands of our early learning and childcare expansion.
“Duthie Park has been identified as the perfect location to focus on for a pilot project and there are further opportunities throughout the city to utilise Aberdeen’s wonderful greenspaces in the future, offering more new and exciting options for parents and children.
“The aim of the outdoor project is to strengthen wellbeing and provide conditions that will achieve better outcomes for the city’s youngest children, recognising that over the years lifestyles have become more sedentary and the traditional benefits of the outdoor environment are not always being maximised.”
The creation of outdoor nurseries and hybrid nurseries – combining more traditional nursery provision with extended outdoor learning – is viewed as an important part of a wider city strategy.
Key aims include enhancing physical, emotional and social development.
Cllr Laing added: “Research shows that higher levels of active play are associated with higher academic attainment – but just as importantly helps improve motor skills and has great advantages in terms of physical and mental health, which are so important in terms of giving children the best possible start in life.”
Proposals for the Duthie Park nursery include provision for indoor space to allow for adverse weather, with the East Lodge set to be brought back to life as a hub for the outdoor learning facility. A wooden cabin in the park’s woodland would provide additional accommodation and access to the pavilion is also part of the plan, as well as dedicated toilet provision. Staff ratios would be enhanced from indoor levels to ensure the highest standards of health and safety are maintained and all staff will be trained in outdoor provision.
Cllr Laing said: “Duthie Park is a fantastic space, waiting to be explored. It is already a hive of activity in terms of outdoor learning, through the work of the Duthie Park rangers, and developing these options to expand that is a welcome progression.”
The outdoor learning proposals are expected to be brought before Aberdeen City Council elected members for consideration this year. They are part of an innovative package being developed as the Council works towards meeting the entitlement to 1140 hours annually of early learning and childcare for each child in Scotland by 2020.
Significant investment in new nursery facilities in key areas, including Tillydrone, Torry and Northfield, is included in the strategy and opportunities to utilise school buildings outside of core hours will also be embraced.