x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Nursery lessons from nature

At the Home Grown children's nursery in Dubai, toddlers will be taught using a 'green curriculum' that emphasises a respect for nature.

Lucy Bruce, a co-founder of Home Grown, stands in front of a plot of land being converted into the nursery’s garden. When finished the garden will include windmills and animal sculptures.
Lucy Bruce, a co-founder of Home Grown, stands in front of a plot of land being converted into the nursery’s garden. When finished the garden will include windmills and animal sculptures.

DUBAI // When the three-year-old Luca Viel starts nursery this September, he will be taught numeracy through exercises involving the bugs and twigs he picks up from a miniature forest created outside his classroom.

His vocabulary will be broadened by tending to an organic vegetable and fruit patch that will form part of the toddler's "green curriculum".

A villa in Jumeirah is gradually being transformed this summer into Home Grown, a garden-based preschool where playing in mud will not be frowned upon and respecting nature and all living creatures will be the first value taught.

"The idea to build a green space came after we spoke to a lot of mums who were concerned about the attitude of their children towards the environment, others and life in general," said Lucy Bruce, a co-founder of Home Grown. "I was constantly asked how to sensitise kids to this and see how fortunate they were to live a good life."

These concerns led Ms Bruce to brainstorm with her business partner Beverly Jatwani a year ago.

"I was creating activities for mums on how to make kids responsible by giving to the needy and protecting their surroundings," she said. "The nursery was a natural progression to those ideas.

"We want children to get back to nature as they do not normally have many opportunities to do so in Dubai."

Home Grown nursery, which will open with seven classrooms to accommodate more than 120 children between the ages of 12 months and four years, has been designed to use only eco-friendly fittings and fixtures, such as bamboo and recycled rubber flooring and forest friendly furniture - timber products that are not sourced from illegal and destructive sources.

The garden will be thick with indigenous plants, offering pupils a wide range of colours and shapes to learn from, while still being desert friendly.

"We will have a forest of fame: every child will plant a tree that will have their name plaque on it and they will be responsible for watering and nurturing it," said Ms Bruce.

Dan Rimes, the landscape architect for the nursery, said creating a school to mimic nature was a unique project.

"The core idea was about giving children direct contact with nature and the land," said Mr Rimes, who has worked in the UAE for five years.

He said the available space had to be converted into a green island with a "walk in the woods" feel for the children. "We are trying to create as much variety in the landscape as possible, by placing windmills and animal sculptures and bringing in sound and movement to make it visual."

When inside, the children will be taught in bamboo-clad classrooms where motor skills will be taught without wasting paper.

"The kids will learn using white boards and through interactive sessions in gym class and meditation," said Ms Bruce.

Even the play box will be filled with toys made of natural materials and coated with Lead-free paint.

Ms Jatwani said the British Early Years programme had been given a green twist and was "the first such curriculum to be introduced in the country".

"All the teachers are qualified to teach the programme and are being trained to incorporate the ecological concept in their lessons."

Children will be taught lessons in conservation, protecting endangered species and organic gardening.

"They will be taught to lead a simple life," said Ms Jatwani.

A percentage of the nursery's profits will go towards Harmony House, an India-based charity that keeps children off the streets.

"Every child that enrols here will be paired with one in India and a part of the fees will go to support their education," said Ms Jatwani. "The children will also be encouraged to bring in their toys to donate."

Luca's mother, Edwina, said she liked the concept of Home Grown when she heard about it from friends.

"I have not come across a nursery that actually puts kids in the middle of nature to teach them their daily lessons," said Mrs Viel. "Kids are like sponges and want to absorb all that they see and hear. This is a good way to make him a socially-responsible child right from the start."

aahmed@thenational.ae