The Bristol Standard Family Conference September 2022

Following on from the Development Day, another great day in the Bristol Standard calendar is the conference and this year, a great day it certainly was.  The aim of the conference was for it to be a celebration of outdoor play and learning, to coincide with the new Outdoor Play and Learning Reflective Framework being released.  The setting was Engineer’s House and people’s journeys’ across the Downs in Bristol, whether on 2 wheels, 4 wheels or on foot, helped get everyone in the mood for focussing on the ‘great outdoors’.

The day started off with much catching up over coffee and delicious breakfast rolls as Bristol Standard teams from Bristol, South Glos, Wiltshire and London got together for the first time in a few months.  These different teams make up the ‘Bristol Standard Family’ and it really does feel like a family, with the conference being the ultimate family gathering.

Nicky Bale gave the opening speech and firstly gave updates on the digitalisation process (very nearly completed) and the new promotional film.  The film has been many months in the making and is very nearly ready to premiere.  Roll out the red carpet and move over George Clooney – the Bristol Standard has hit the screen (watch out for the musical that is yet to come!)  Nicky also reminded everyone about the Outdoor Reflective Framework that settings can use to reflect on and improve their outdoor provision.  It is very much in the style of the Bristol Standard and can be used as a stand-alone document or as part of an existing Bristol Standard submission.

The first keynote speaker was Pete Moorhouse, who spoke on ‘Holistic Development Outdoors’.  Pete is an artist/educator at St Werburgh’s Nursery School and he started off by taking us back in time with some wonderful black and white photos of when St Werburghs was the first open air nursery in the South West and we learned that even some hospitals were open air too.  It was a time when health was seen as important as education and he spoke of a mission to get learning outdoors.  He was truly inspiring as he spoke of rich enabling environments and children’s ability to think outside the box.  Creativity ran through everything he spoke about, which he said is needed if we are to cope with our rapidly changing world and he introduced us to the term ‘neurological engineer’ and the concept of the ‘wheelness of wheels’.

The second keynote speaker was Janet Packer, Co-Founder/Manager of Growing Wild Outdoor Nursery in Barnsley and Co-Founder/Director of Training at Outdoors Thinking.  Janet spoke passionately about setting up and now running Growing Wild, an outdoor nursery based on a farm, where the children have adventures in nature every day.  Out in all weathers, they experience the exhilaration of all the elements and learn how to deal with the wet, the cold and the heat.  Janet spoke about physical development underpinning everything and the connection between the body and the brain.  She said how children’s dispositions of curiosity, creativity, kindness, love of nature, sense of adventure and resilience are at the core of the provision, along with creating sustainable mindsets.

Lunch was next on the agenda and in true Engineer’s House style, was delicious.  There was a wonderful choice of hot and cold dishes and the only difficult thing was deciding what to have and how much could be piled up onto one plate.  As mentioned in a previous article, it’s not only an army that marches on its stomach!

With full tummies and more catching up done, it was back to business and the afternoon started with the great BAND activity.  This has been a regular feature of the conference for many, many years and is a chance for everyone to get in touch with their playful sides and have a bit of fun.  In the past there has been all sorts of capers going on for this, from fashion shows to spaghetti and marshmallow towers to running around finding things for a scavenger hunt, but whatever the idea, silliness is always a must.  This year the activity was to work in teams and to transform one of the team members into a glorious garden guardian, using scrap material and a bag of bits and bobs from the amazing Children’s Scrapstore and of course much imagination.  Everyone really threw themselves into the challenge and it ended with a parade of 6 wonderful garden guardians, dressed in all their finery, ready to take on the task of looking after nature.  They certainly got some strange looks from people as they walked past the window.  Was it as much fun as the on the door security course next door we wondered?

The afternoon presentation followed with Hugo Turvey, Jane Francis and Rosie McCallum-Faraday talking about their journey with the Certificate of Outdoor Practice project.  They are all completing this and spoke with such positivity about it that they swept us along on their journey too. They had us delving into our memories of play and it was no surprise that for most of us, our memories were of playing outdoors. They even took us outside to look for things that held special memories and there were whoops of joy as some could still whistle with a blade of grass.  They spoke of the outdoors being ‘all encompassing immersion’ that isn’t constrained and the importance of practitioners being present in their practice.  They said the course gave them the chance to play, something as adults we just don’t usually do, and that this really highlighted the difference between going outside and being outside.  It was real food for thought, brought to life with some wonderful photos of a trip to Ladye Bay in Clevedon.

The day whizzed by and was all to soon coming to an end.  Beth and Paul (BAND) gave the closing comments and we reflected on what a truly inspiring, uplifting and motivating day it had been.  Roll on the Bristol Standard conference 2023.


Nicky Bale – Foundation Years Bristol Standard Consultant

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