'Alfresco' pre-schools let kids enjoy the muck and rain in open air
Nearly 100 pre-schoolers will learn how to count with stones in the rain next month in the only three 'alfresco' schools in the country.
The young children will create with muck and water, chop and saw wood to make bows and arrows and grow their own flowers in the open-air facilities in Meath.
The initiative was started by the Crann Support Group at its Navan school in 2011. At that time, only nine children were involved but this has now grown to 42.
A further 58 are due to start in two other outdoor centres in nearby Trim and Ballivor.
Once the children arrive at 9.30am, they put on their thermal and waterproof gear and wellies and go straight out into the garden until they finish at 12.30pm.
"There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing," said Crann's CEO Marie Daly. "The children go out in all weathers, apart from a full-blown storm.
"It's a play-based pre-school and they learn to work with natural materials. They can make a car out of old tyres, chop wood and make bow and arrows. They make pies from muck and plant vegetables and flowers.
"Often they are covered from head to toe in muck and they love being hosed down.
"We are known in Europe as a bubble wrap country and we have to start letting children be children again."
Ms Daly also said absenteeism in these pre-schools is minimal because the children's immune system has been built up by the outdoors.
All schools are approved by the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) for free places.
The Crann Support is responsible for providing sustainable, affordable childcare for the use of its members.
Further information can be found at www.crannsupportgroup.ie.