Farm setting boosts children’s resilience

Nicole Weinstein
Thursday, March 28, 2024

Award-winning childminding setting provides thrill-seeking outdoor adventures to foster children’s emotional resilience and improve their wellbeing.

Adventurous outdoor activities at Cheeky Cherubs Childcare encourage children to 'expand their boundaries by taking risks'. Picture: Cheeky Cherubs Childcare
Adventurous outdoor activities at Cheeky Cherubs Childcare encourage children to 'expand their boundaries by taking risks'. Picture: Cheeky Cherubs Childcare


Climbing trees, sliding down mud mountains, jumping from high surfaces and playing out of adult sight are examples of some of the adventurous outdoor play activities that children at Cheeky Cherubs Childcare are exposed to on a daily basis.

The 20-place childminding setting, based on a working farm in a village in Leicestershire, has three outdoor areas: a front garden with a willow tunnel where children play-hide-and seek, a forest area with a firepit and rope swings that hang from the trees, and a free-flow purpose-build play area which extends from the indoor play room.

Each day after school the five- to 11-year-olds take a walk down the field to check on the crops, passing Pinky and Perky, the resident pigs on the way and often stopping to chat to Bobby the farmer, who hoots at them in his tractor.

“They’re fascinated with linseed, which sheds its flower each night and new ones appear in the morning,” explains Debra Meakin, owner of the childminding practice which has been running since 2007.

“They also love to get involved in planting pumpkins, peas and sweetcorn in our allotment, weeding the beds, harvesting the fruit and vegetables and using them to make soups and snacks.

“They’re learning first-hand how food is grown, and how plants need to be nurtured and cared for. They experience the seasons and lifecycles up close – we’re outdoors in all weathers except gale force winds – and they unite with the baby ducklings once they’ve hatched, after months of observing them with binoculars,” she adds.

With qualified staff that understand the benefits of outdoor learning, Meakin says that children are encouraged to “expand their boundaries by taking risks”.

“They pick up worms; climb trees; balance on fallen logs; scoot over scaffolding planks of wood that we’ve placed over manmade potholes; get muddy and learn about fire, road safety and boundaries. These are thrilling, adventurous experiences for young children,” she explains.

During Covid, Meakin installed a four-foot-high mound of mud with grass seeds planted on top and two moveable slides. “Crawling up and down the slope not only builds up children’s core development – vital gross motor skills needed for writing – but it also helps with their coordination, balance and stamina,” she explains.

“Other benefits include resilience, perseverance and willingness to engage in risk and challenge, which all have a positive impact on their wellbeing.”

But despite having plenty of space and freedom to explore the outdoors, safety is priority. “We are on a working farm with heavy machinery,” Meakin explains. “Boundaries are important and children quickly learn they must listen at all times. When it comes to fire safety – we cook toast, crumpets and marshmallows over the fire pit – there is an extensive period beforehand where we talk about the dangers and role play sitting around the fire pit indoors and outdoors before lighting the fire.”

For those that want a break from adventurous play, they can go on bug hunts, make bird feeders, or simply sit and stroke the resident rabbit or feeding the ducks. Some like to play imaginary games in the dense hedgerow, believing they are out of sight of the adults, which adds to the sense of adventure.


Children’s emotional resilience and social communication is enhanced through adventurous outdoor activities. “They take turns, discuss ideas and experiment with new concepts when they are outside [on] the rope swings or building dens,” Meakin says. “We’ve attached a steering wheel to a fallen tree and children have all sorts of imaginary adventures, such as riding to the seaside on a bus.”

Children love to swing on the ropes attached to trees, sometimes falling off, but getting back up and doing it again. When they ride their balance bikes over the scaffolding plank, with the metre-long and foot deep pothole underneath, there’s a risk they will fall in – and “many times they do,” explains Meakin.

“It’s about teaching the children how to do things safely so that they can learn to manage their own risks,” she adds. “Being a small setting, my assistant and I are always on hand to support the children. It takes lots of repetition to master the art of being in control of your physical body – and we give them the time and support to nurture this.”

Meakin says that outdoor play has a “massive” impact on children’s wellbeing.

“Outdoors is a changing landscape with the seasons, lifecycles and the weather,” she explains. “It also offers freedom and space to run, roam and explore. Their senses are exposed to natural daylight, rustling leaves, chirping birds and hands-on exploration of natural resources, such as soil and bark. One little boy with social communication needs, who came to the setting aged three and had difficulties forming friendships, thrived in the farm environment.

“He loved the tractors and benefited enormously from being outdoors. He started sleeping better; his social skills improved as he joined in with games and became part of the group and he started to express himself in ways that he couldn’t before.”

Cheeky Cherubs Childcare was named Childminding Business of the Year at the Nursery World Awards 2023.

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