It's what is on the outside that counts
However, she has seen a definite increase in interest in outdoor, play-based education for young children in Ireland.
“I opened five years ago with four children and I have 40 on my books this year. They don’t all come every day. People travel a long way to come here now, which is a message in itself.”
Flinn, who has seven children of her own, ranging in age from 14 to 31, also invites infant classes from primary schools in Limerick city to come and do an outdoor day with her.
Her whole emphasis is on trying to make it an experience for children that they wouldn’t have otherwise and one that they will always remember. That includes, for instance, nature walks and seeing the pet Jersey cow being milked – and then using that milk to make bread in the kitchen.
She believes the biggest obstacle to more outdoor education in Ireland is the providers’ concern about the risks, because of our suing culture.
‘It’s hands-on, under the sky and they can hear the birds singing’
Louisa Harley had sent her oldest boy, Taylor, to the Glen Outdoor Early Learning Centre, but she was a bit worried about sending his brother there, too. Three-year-old Jayden is a bit “accident prone”, she says and he doesn’t really like being outdoors. But she has seen a huge improvement in him since he started in September.
“He loves being here. He is much more confident outside now and can climb hills and trees without tumbling over.”
Some people, says Harley, give you a funny look when you explain your children are outdoors most of the time at preschool: “They say, ‘That’s a bit cruel isn’t it? But you’re only as warm as the clothes you are wearing,” she says.
“It makes sense them being outdoors, and he is always ready for bed at 7pm – there’s no complaints.”
She was a little concerned that Taylor might find it hard to adjust when he moved up the road to the indoor classrooms of Glenswilly National School. “But he settled in really well,” says Harley, who has no worries now for Jayden or their one-year-old sibling, who will also go here. “It’s a great start.”
Sinead Gallagher goes out of her way to bring five-year-old William (above) here for his free preschool year. She had him booked in elsewhere, in Letterkenny, where they live, when she heard about the Glen. “It just seems natural.”
While sometimes children are reluctant to go into a preschool for the first few weeks, it was the opposite with William: “He didn’t want to come home! He loves it.” Do friends think she is mad sending him to an outdoor preschool? “No, they are jealous.”
It is the nearest pre-school for John McCloskey’s four-year-old daughter, Ruby Anne, and he is delighted with the outdoor nature of the place.
“The children have so much energy, they need to burn it off. And there are so many different things to do.
“The beauty is that the weather doesn’t affect them,” he adds. “They are well wrapped.”
John Lafferty, who has brought his four-year-old daughter, Ava, from their home in Churchill, reckons being outdoors must make their immune systems better. “She suffers no colds.”
The family moved over from London a year ago, and when they heard about the Glen they came and had a look. Once you see it, he says, you see how it works.
His comments are echoed by Margaret McGeehan who has come to collect her three-year-old granddaughter, Danielle Lynch.
“I had heard about it and wondered how it worked and it works really well,” she says. “The children have the freedom to do what they want and experience everything – even something simple like splashing in the water. It’s hands-on, under the sky and they can hear the birds singing.”