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by Susan McNeish

“An outdoor play course on a Saturday? No-body will come!” they said, but they did come. Over one hundred people turned out – parents, teachers, nursery workers and managers, playworkers, rangers, other outdoor professionals and the provost. This one-and-a-half minute video, shown at the conference, shows why they cared enough to give up their day off to learn more about play. It’s not just vital for children’s health and well-being – it’s also sheer, joyous, fun!

We had nine outdoor workshops, with leaders from three different councils (Edinburgh, South Lanarkshire and North Lanarkshire), five different organisations (OutLET Play Resource, Wiston Lodge, The Children’s Wood, Off Grid Kids, Icecream architecture) and one individual – the artist Alan Kain. The most popular was loose parts play, but there was also enthusiastic uptake for fire-making, dorodango, mucky play, making the transition from indoors to outdoors, easy dens, natural dens, story-making in the outdoors and natural art.

We also spent some time indoors listening to speakers

  • Eileen Logan – Provost for South Lanarkshire, and also a Brown Owl so very keen on what we’re doing.
  • Sue Palmer – author and Chair of Upstart, who made a passionate case for a play-based kindergarten stage for three- to seven-year-olds, with plenty of outdoor play.
  • Karen Dobbins from The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership, who’s also a Forest School Leader, was a ranger, and is an all-round wonderful woman. You can see her on this short clip from BBC Scotland, shown on the eve-of-conference news.
  • Jackie Meager – ex Royal Navy Weapons engineer, ex volunteer for CAVLP, founder of OutLET Play Resource and Music with Ann Dante (she’s my daughter – a badly kept secret!)
  • Alan Bannister – South Lanarkshire Council, Access Officer, also an ex ranger who is always amazed by how little people understand about Scotland’s wonderful access laws
  • Mike Brady – South Lanarkshire Council, Ranger Team Leader, my boss, who is probably Scotland’s best known Forest School Tutor. He trained me as a leader and then as a tutor.

I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the pessimists who thought no one would come because ‘Growing Up Wild’ was a really great day, and an opportunity for lots of dedicated people to get together. I’m a Countryside Ranger and part of South Lanarkshire’s Ranger Service and on a mission to encourage the public to access our wonderful green spaces. My manager says that I am “rewilding play” but I think it’s really about rewilding people! In her speech, Karen quoted me as saying “You can’t love what you don’t know”. I’m sure I stole that from somewhere, but I don’t care because it’s true!

Other rewilding activities include supporting two outdoor play groups – Little Pips, in Morgan Glen in Larkhall and Little Sapplings in Stonehouse Park, both of which I helped set up. The outdoor play groups seem to be a great way to get fathers to come along to what are essentially toddler groups. I also support Wild Time after-school club run by OutLET Play Resource. During the Summer I supported the play sessions run through CAVLP which meant I worked in both South and North Lanarkshire. North Lanarkshire Ranger Service is just beginning to discover play as a way of encouraging people to access the outdoors.

And the turnout at our conference shows there’s plenty of support for the idea in Lanarkshire and the surrounding area. Thanks so much to everyone who gave up their Saturday to make it such a success.

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