As I visit the outdoor day care centre group at Viinamäenkatu 7, Turku, they are having a rehearsal for Finland 100 -themed celebrations at Hannunniittu school and the children are excited. They will be performing sports activities in the style of the 1950’s. For these active kids, a sports performance is a perfect fit, as they spend their days outside in the fresh air engaging in physical activities.

The outdoor day care centre group started in 2014 and has been very popular ever since – there is a waiting list for children who wish to have a place. Currently, the group has 14 children. Each child has been given a nature-inspired nickname. Also children who do not speak Finnish are welcome. Children learn Finnish from each other and sign language and illustrated cards are used to assist communication, if needed.

The constant demand tells me that we are on the right path.

Annukka Stolt

– The constant demand tells me that we are on the right path, says nurse Annukka Stolt.

The group is the first municipal outdoor day care centre group in Finland for children aged from 3 to 5 years where children spend the entire day outside. The idea of nature-based early education originated in Sweden and has spread to other countries, becoming increasingly popular also in Finland. This autumn, a functional preschool has also been established at Viinamäenkatu.

Environmentally friendly games

When the outdoor group initiated, the yard of the day care centre was empty. Now it is full of life - the children have duckboards to practice their balance, a hammock, a small exercise bicycle, a spot for water and sand games and lots of other ecological and recycled toys and equipment.

We can do anything that they do in regular day care centres, and even more.

– Here, we can do anything that they do in regular day care centres, and even more, Stolt points out.

Playing outside enables continuity, as the children do not need to put their games away for the night – they can leave them as they are and pick up from where they left off the next day.

Cold winters have not posed a problem – parents are advised to dress their children with adequate clothing and many layers to stay warm. If children feel cold, the adults activate them. A hut placed in the yard with a fire in the middle provides a warm place for children to have a nap and eat.

– All four elements can be found here – fire, earth, water and air, Stolt says.

Being there for the child

There is no rush in this group and both children and adults spend the day away from smartphones and laptops. The adults are devoted to children.

– We always have time for the kids – we are here for them.

We always have time for the kids – we are here for them.

Children can exercise spontaneously but also take part in organised activities. In the winter, they learn skating, Moomin skiing and snowshoeing. The group makes trips to forests twice a week all year round and in September and May, they have tent weeks when they sleep outside in tents.

Fresh air and constant activity have had promising results. The children are seldom ill and they sleep and eat well. Their motoric skills develop very well along with interaction and social skills and a strong sense of community. Feedback from parents has been positive.

In April 2017, Stolt was nominated Nurse of the Year.

– My work is very rewarding, and I feel confident when these kids head to preschool. I know they will be fine.

Text and photos: Aino Koivisto