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Outdoor nursery on how it is gearing up for youngsters’ return

Emma Harwood, left, and Hayley Room of Dandelion Education, which has outside nursery at Aylsham and Eaton. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Emma Harwood, left, and Hayley Room of Dandelion Education, which has outside nursery at Aylsham and Eaton. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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The co-owner of a forest school nursery hopes the lockdown could lead to a shake-up of how we think about learning.

Dandelion Forest School was originally opened at a site in Erpingham in 2014.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYDandelion Forest School was originally opened at a site in Erpingham in 2014. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The challenges facing Dandelion Education are clearly different from those of a traditional school - all of its classes and play sessions take place outdoors.

Emma Harwood, who runs the school along with Hayley Room, said their outdoor approach made Dandelion one of the best-placed schools to open safely on June 1.

Miss Harwood said: “It seems now is the time to rethink education.

“One of the few positives of this terrible time is that we can see the need to keep children in the right environment.

A youngster climbs a tree at Dandelion Forest School Nursery, which has sites in Eaton and Aylsham. Picture: DandelionA youngster climbs a tree at Dandelion Forest School Nursery, which has sites in Eaton and Aylsham. Picture: Dandelion

“Indoor school classrooms with lots of children and few adults is not the best learning environment.

“Being outside has huge advantages - it’s better for mental and physical well being.”

The school has sites in Aylsham and Eaton for two to eight-year-olds and has just over 100 children on its roll. But Miss Harwood said they would be nowhere near full capacity if they were indeed allowed to open on June 1.

She said: “Some parents are planning to send their children back in July or September.”

A youngster puts a tool to good use at Dandelion Forest School Nursery, which has sites in Eaton and Aylsham. Picture: DandelionA youngster puts a tool to good use at Dandelion Forest School Nursery, which has sites in Eaton and Aylsham. Picture: Dandelion

Miss Harwood said the government advice was that young children could not be expected to stay two metres apart, and at Dandelion they would be allowed to play together.

She said staff would socially distance and wear disposable gloves, aprons and washable transparent masks for ‘intimate care’ such as changing nappies, or when a child needed a hug.

Miss Harwood said: “We wouldn’t have wanted to reopen if we couldn’t do that - it would be cruel and unkind not to be able to hug them when they needed support.”

She said the youngsters would regularly wash their hands, and the only toys they would have to play with would be ones they make themselves using tools that are regularly disinfected.

They have tarpaulin shelters to sit underneath when cover is needed.

The forest schools each have a yurt, but they have been closed during the lockdown, while the school has stayed open for vulnerable youngsters and children of key workers.


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