Sweden AdventuresIn 2011 I was granted funding by the Lady Allen Trust to investigate Children’s Playin Scandanvia. Establishing best practise models for use within my roles in the Playsector and to disseminate to other Play organisations.To start with, I spent 2 weeks in Sweden, followed by a week in Denmark andanother in Holland, visiting playgrounds and preschools all focused on outdooractivities with children. This write up covers the main points that contribute toadvancing children’s development using nature and outside experience which we donot implement in this country. My research was subjective and gathered from microbased engagements, so the bulk of the information gathered is founded onconversation with the professionals I worked with.There is a vast array of factors affecting children’s outdoor play and experiences. Inthis document I will begin with the largest influences reducing down to the smallerscale. The latter topics are easier to implement, whereas subjects at the forefront ofthe essay will take perseverance and major changes in the way we structure and viewour society requiring full overhauling of our general zeitgeist, governmental valuesand general priorities. All of which may be possible through unanimousdetermination.GovernmentThe biggest and most significant societal difference implemented by Scandanviangovernments is the funded contributions to the cost of childcare. All parents pay apercentage of their wages, the more money they earn the more they must contribute.However, the maximum fees incurred for any child at full time childcare is theequivalent of £80 a month. This is a strikingly different situation to the cost ofchildcare in Britain. Enabling all settings to build and improve as they have regularset incomes.Another government structure that differs from those found in this country ismaternity and paternity leave. Maternity is a minimum of 80 days, with moreavailable should you work at least one day a week during this time. The days can be
used up until the child is aged 8. The main comparison I was struck by was fathersbeing given very similar opportunities, making parenting much more of a shared role.Often mothers will take first 6 months off, then fathers the next 6 months. Dads inparks with children are a routine everyday sight. Again this is a major difference tothat of the leave granted to parents in this country.Government clearly hold power, however they in theory must reflect the attitudes ofits voters. It is difficult to distinguish in Sweden what is government motivation andwhat are the desires of the masses. But what is clear is that the outdoors has held alarge degree of prestige within society for a long time. For example in the 1970’s thegovernment funded and instigated the promotion of allotments in the capital,Stockholm, for those living in poverty in order for them to become healthier. Theallotments are still in many of the main parks today and lined one of the central riverbanks in the city. All the ones I saw were in pristine condition and well looked after.As much as this says about the government, it also marks the people’s willingness togrow and engage with nature and the outdoors whilst also happy to take responsibilityfor keeping themselves healthy (slide 15).The government’s desire to help people get outside is found not only for the youngermembers of society but also more recently the elderly. For example there is newstationary equipment being created in playgrounds based on simple exercises to keepthe body moving and active (Slide 12). In Tissino Park when these items were firstinstalled the elderly reportedly complained as younger ones used it more than theydid, but these problems have since been resolved.Playgrounds originally appeared on the government agenda in the 1970’s, as areaction to an increase in the number of roads being built consuming children’s playspaces. Playgrounds were part of a fight to keep children’s outdoor play opportunitiesin cities. They did their job well; there is a fabulous well used playground at everycorner you turn in the capital city. But the staffed play grounds have been on thedecline in the last 40 years reducing from 160 to 32 in Stockholm. The playgrounds Ivisited were staffed, and the government not only paid their wages but pay for andmaintain the stationary equipment, conducting all the necessary risk assessments,replacing any faulty equipment and they are responsible for all the insurances. This is
a similar situation for the preschools I visited, although all were self run cooperatives,the site area was the responsibility of the local council and they came to deal with anyreported problems.Evidently the government plays a huge role in the success of outdoor play provisionsupporting it in many ways.SpaceOn my first journey in Sweden, from the airport to Stockholm I was struck by the vastnatural landscape. There seemed to be never ending pine and evergreen trees, none ofwhich were particularly old. I later learned many are forest farms grown to bechopped. The sites I visited where forestry had recently taken place, it had been doneresponsibly, taking the biggest branches and filling in the giant tracks left by themachinery, making it easier for others to enjoy being in the surroundings.Walking in Stockholm city, there is park after park next to green space, and then inthe centre the national park: outdoor space is ample and easily accessible to all. Somuch so that one centre I visited, Utisken, used the council land on their doorstep fortheir activities;thus providing a public sand pit, and large woodland only a short walkaway. Other groups also use the area for free. These were fabulous resources againvery easily accessed.Local Councils monitor space used by Children’s Centres and maintain any necessaryupkeep to the tree’s fencing and so on.CultureIt is hard to distinguish if the amount of space and natural areas encourage affiliationsto it, or if the people love the land and that is why so much is available.But there is a definite society wide recognition of the value of the outdoors. Despitethis, some of the more mature staff of playgrounds recalls longer days of outdoorindependent play in their childhood. So the feel of decline in children’s autonomoustime spent outside is present in Sweden as it is in the UK.At many of the centres I visited staff reported that parents sent their children to the “Iror Skur” (Rain or Shine) centres because they did not take their own children out asmuch as they would like. The staff felt this was poor effort on the parent’s part, but it
does show the universal recognition of the benefits and importance of contact withnature.As a Playworker who works with children living in poverty in social housing, I wasaware there were not many schemes that targeted those in need, so I went in search ofplaygrounds in the less well off areas. I found lovely huge well maintained parks(slide 15 and 16), and nice houses, schools with basic playgrounds but well attunedwith play. In terms of indicators of poverty, there was one smashed window andgraffiti that said “tak tak” (“thank you”; slide 17). This does not compare to thepoverty in England. There is a much smaller gap between the rich and the poor inSweden. Some of the settings I worked in seemed embarrassed that they did notactively cater for those in need, and felt more should be done. It maybe this qualitythat allows the lovely allotments to be very loose on security and remain intactsuffering no vandalism and the publically used sandpit keeps all the toys out or in anunlocked box. At the Tissino Park building which had been there since the 1970’s incentral Stockholm there was no vandalism at all and they can recall very fewincidences of theft over the last 30 years. Whilst I was being told this in the centre, achild minder was present and she was clearly extremely shocked that anything at allhad been taken. The culture is obviously much more trusting with low crime. This isno great surprise with less poverty, and better standards of living across the board.Also care for the environment is higher; I saw very little littering and the rivers thatrun through Stockholm are so clean people swim in them.There is a Swedish tradition to take your shoes off at the front door, or in largerbuildings place shoe covers on top of your shoes. This tradition is very useful foroutdoor settings, where muddy feet are in and out. Although the concept is notcomplicated, the implications of it mean general everyday runnings are made mucheasier.PlaygroundsThe playgrounds have well maintained buildings, stationary equipment, animal huts(in some) and great loose parts and water pools in almost all spaces. All of which issubsidized by government funding (slides 2-17) . All staff wages come fromgovernment money, as does the insurance and responsibility for all equipment. Thestaffed play provision is valued in the nation as being important enough to pay for.
The main roles the staff perform are maintenance and management of all resources onsite, animal care (where needed), organising events and supporting parents andchildren. Like other open access play provision, they are not there to provide childcare, all young children attend with adults, and the staffs ensure the play is possible.Every person who steps foot into their buildings is greeted with a smile and will laughat least once whilst talking to the staff. As one manager said to me “happy parents,makes happy children”, it is a lovely environment to be part of. Other organisationsuse the parks; many preschools bring groups, as do child minders, and children andyoung people in breaks and after school. As with the preschools, finances make staffrun playgrounds easier to manage equipment is insured and maintained by the localcouncils (Stockholm SD), staff report to them when things need fixing and they cometo fix it.In terms of evaluation and monitoring, I’m sure it differs from park to park but themain concern of recording seems to be numbers of people using the facilities. I didnot come across much of the in depth evidence and proof based methods we use tosupport the work.Pre-schoolsThe staff at preschools are seen as professionals and respected as such also reflectedin their wages. They complete degree equivalents qualifications in Early Yearsteaching that all leaders must have to work in the industry. There are child carers atsome settings, this role requires college qualifications only. Comparatively, preschoolchildcare and work in the UK has minimal compulsory education requirements towork in the field, and subsequently could be said to be less respectful as anoccupation. Often workers are young women who move onto to other roles as they getolder, whereas the leaders in Scandinavia were mixed ages and tend to stay in theprofession for long periods.The staff I met were extremely capable and efficient at dealing with the children, theywere calming and facilitated child led play in many ways. In one setting when a childtripped over in the woods they would say “what have you found down there”immediately drawing the attention away from the fall, rather than making a fuss andpotentially indirectly encouraging attention seeking behaviour. I did not hear a raisedvoice at any of the settings once, all the children’s inputs are valued and acted upon.The child led ethos is so engrained it is not mentioned in conversation it just is how it
is. Sessions take place at the children’s pace, they decide that they want to paintleaves and twigs and they do. Regular consultation discreetly occurs, often thechildren are asked to paint what they enjoy the most at the setting. When the childrenpresent their arty creations to the staff, rather than over praising they ask themquestions about what they were thinking of when they made it. Often there is a storyor significant logic behind it. The leaders mentioned that they were careful not toconcentrate on any of the girls pretty clothing, instead remarking on how warm andpractical items are as they do not want to encourage best dressed competitions.The weather deterred many people from attending the play grounds, but not at their IrUr Skur centres. One day at Skogsgridden it had rained a great deal the night beforeand the midgies were out in force, some children were bitten. But hats were donnedand the session continued, it will always take place outside regardless of weather orany other challenges nature poses.Friluftsframjandet and MulleAll of the Ir Ur Skur centres I visited were part of an organisation calledFriluftsframjandet. This body is a core promoter of all things outdoors and for itsmembers (80,000), organising leaders to run outdoor adventures and over 200 Ir UrSkur Centres to run outdoor provision for early years (up to age 7). Many of the staffat the Ir Ur Skurs I visited began their career in childcare outdoor play workers asvolunteer leaders for Friluftsframjandet. Friluftsframjandet regulate a quest theme of acharacter which embodies the entire world of nature called ‘Mulle’. All children at thecentres are introduced to him from a young age, he is a bit of a legend like FatherChristmas, all the children want to help him and get engrossed in stories about himand his friends. Many activities are organised to fit with the concept: litter picking tokeep Mulle happy and clean, bug hunting to understand Mulle’s friends and life andrunning games using sayings Mulle says. Leaders occasionally dress up as him and hevisits the children with new songs and stories. The idea is spread amongst non Ir UrSkur centres also, children learn and have him in their lives till age 9 when they are inschools where the idea is around then phased out. I was told of a Ir Ur SKur in thenorth of Sweden that works with teenagers, the leader who told me this felt more withthis age group could be done. I find it strange that so much outdoor nature based playconcentrated on the younger ages, yet this seems to significantly reduce once thechildren pass 8 years old.
Mulle and Frilfrutsframjandet was initiated in Sweden but has since become moreglobal, being found in India, Japan and Germany among others. This organisation andconcept could quite easily be transferred to this country. I discussed this with some ofthe leaders I met and they were very excited by the idea and more than willing tocome to the UK to deliver a conference and training. I have been in touch with aFriluftsframjandet representative in the UK, ideas are being sounded out to therealities of what is needed and how to fund this proposal. Also I work closely with anindependent forest school charity (Nature Workshops) and they are now on thelookout for funding to get Friluftsframjandet leaders to our country.Co-operativesAll of the Ir Ur Skur centres I visited were cooperatively run on various levels, somehad a deal with local councils involving staff running everything but the site and thebuilding maintenance, while other centres were run by a parent board. All seemedhappy with their working arrangements.For the parent board organised centre, all parents that send their children there mustsign an agreement to partake in kitchen duties and regular meetings discussing centrematters. Ultimately the parent board is liable and responsible for the centre. Thissystem works now, and staff and parents have same values although there was asettling in period undergone to achieve this harmony.In another setting which is solely run by the staff, all staff control and determine theactions of their centre. However parental involvement is very important, theyregularly hold meetings to get the parents to the centre often parents help to improvethe site providing volunteer hours the staff provide food and drinks. Again thisarrangement is outlined in the contract when children join the centre. All centresseemed proud and pleased that they are independent and in control of theirorganisation.ActivitiesI witnessed many activities and much free play time, I have selected a few of the bestmoments for me.The challenge of walking part of way to woods in silence, and then being assigned atree to sit next too, few minutes later another leader led a children collection train past
all the trees for them to board the train. It was a lovely way to the introduce session inwoodlands and add something a bit different to the walk that is done most days.Lots of singing all the time; a song to mark snack time, songs before food, songs withgames and many songs throughout the day to day in all of the centres. Also storytelling was a huge part of the daily structure, often using beautiful little props toelaborate the words (slide 44 and 43).The centres used themes and focused all activities around them, for example:decomposing; collect materials to bury, investigate bugs that help rot, make bugs etc.Within the themes I noticed that learning was completed at a more relaxed pace with awhole 2 hour session concentrated on one letter. But what a great session it was:children were detectives given a story at the beginning they had to go on a ‘F’ findingmission (with magnifying glasses), plastic magnetic ‘F’s were hidden, as were many‘F’eathers on route, then the children had to arrange themselves into the shape of an‘F’, also an activity involving selecting something from a bag that begins with ‘F’other children have to ask questions to try and guess what it is, then they did painted“F”inger prints.A different way of exploring colours in nature: use old egg boxes and give childrendifferent coloured pens to colour in bottom of egg cups, they then have to collectthings to match the colours to put in each cup of the box.All centres were free of brightly coloured plastic toys, often with minimal walldisplays and more the atmosphere of a home rather than a centre. The activities usedminimal equipment, regularly engaging with the children’s imagination using natureas a resource as much as possible.Critiques of the Scandinavian ModelAlthough all the government practices do indeed facilitate best practise play inPlaygrounds and Preschools, some people I met were conscious that structurespressured people to conform to their ideals, for example with maternity leave you getthe best deal if you do some hours in the first year. However you lose out on days ifyou do not do some work in the first year. Some felt it important to be aware thatpushing powers were in place.In terms of Preschools I visited centres that were Ir Ur Skur, I did not visit any regularPreschools to compare the experience. It could be that I sampled the best and theothers leave more to be desired.
Finally, as a Playworker who predominantly works with 5-12 year olds I was veryaware that the focus on outdoor staffed nature play was omnipresent with under 7’s. Itwould be interesting to see how the schools are with the children over this ages.Reflections and ConclusionsOn reflection it is difficult to implement significant change rapidly as it is the superstructures placed in society that control them. This article will however be sent out tothe national Play magazine and the national electronic Play magazine, and manysignificant Play organisations and individuals. Hopefully it will contribute in the prelong term fight that Play has endured to remain the focus of governmental agendas.This piece will also be sent to all Play and Forest School Organisations that registeredan interest for them to influence change in within their capacity. I have already andwill continue to use the knowledge and experience gained to enhance the day to daynatural play in the organisations I work in. I am certainly more focused on quests andstories now, and I appreciate the endless potential nature has as ‘loose parts’ at ourfinger tips. The activity farm I worked at when returning has since implemented morebug areas for the children to investigate, and more risky play climbing structures.To conclude, I feel very lucky to have benefited from such wonderful experiences andto be able to put these into practise across the South West. However I wish there wasan easier way to implement the structural changes needed to make vastly significantimprovements. I look forward to the consequences and effects of disseminating thisresearch ann pushing thse ideas forward in everything I do.AppendicesSee PowerPoint attachment