Once again the tension is high in the Robertson household. Today I arrived home from an interesting meeting with Elaine and John Stephen with one of their award winning Walkodiles on my back.
My husband was completely aghast. “Do children really need to be put in this in order to leave their school?” he demands to know, shaking his head when he saw the contraption. “What is the world coming to?”
His comments are not out of the ordinary. Walkodiles seem to raise debate amongst early years and outdoor professionals. I deliberated long and hard before getting in touch with John and Elaine Stephen who are passionate about their product. It is their baby, having taken years of designing, patents and patience to develop, not to mention a frightening financial outlay.
In theory I am not keen on children being strapped into a gadget to get outdoors. The whole point of being outside is for children to be allowed to run free, enjoy the space and learn to manage the risk. A Curriculum for Excellence frequently refers to children getting to know their local area, both natural and man-made. Walkodiles, by their very nature, seem to go against the ethos of freedom in which I strongly believe.
However, a quote by Yogi Berra, an American baseball play and manager makes a pertinent point: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is."
In other words, I need a reality check. Whilst my principles may be wholesome and politically right-on, these do not match the fears and concerns that the majority of pre-school staff have about taking children off-site. I know this from undertaking the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Forest Kindergarten Feasibility Study in Spring 2009. The survey suggests that more than 90% of pre-school staff believe that it was very important or vital for young children to be able to regularly visit woodland or greenspace. Yet only 16% of settings are taking children off-site to their local greenspace on a weekly or more frequent basis. In other words, the actions of staff do not match their beliefs.
So one way forward is to look at ways of addressing the fears and concerns staff have. Provision of suitable outdoor clothing can help mitigate concerns about weather. Straightforward explanations about how to go to the toilet outside or the use of portable potties aids understanding here. Practical games and strategies to reduce the chances of a child getting lost can be taught to staff and children. Thus common sense says that in a setting which is close to very busy roads or where there are very real or perceived fears and concerns about child safety when walking in the local vicinity, then using a Walkodile may make a difference. It’s a solution which may get more children outside more often. Now there’s a thought!