SET Outdoors Enriching Health Interventions for Young Children

28th September 2021
Three young children playing outside

SET Outdoors is a unique initiative that seeks to support existing Trust therapeutic teams and healthcare partners, such as the Down Federation of GPs and Sure Start, to utilise nature and animals in their delivery of group health and wellbeing interventions for children across the South Eastern HSC Trust area. SET Outdoors work in collaboration with a wide range of partners and external facilitators to plan and deliver innovative, high quality, purposeful and fun mental health and wellbeing services to children and families. This has included programmes that have incorporated open water swimming, goat yoga, sailing, athletics, horticulture and forest-based experiences.

The Little Forest Buddies programme was designed to build on the fantastic work of SureStart, Ards who had been working with this group of young people in an indoor setting prior to lockdown.  The main aims of the group were; to allow young people to access opportunities to  play, to promote the development of physical, emotional and sensory skills enriched by experiencing nature with a significant caregiver(s) and, to allow caregivers the opportunity to engage with other carers who have a parenting role for children with additional needs, providing opportunities to promote attachment, attunement and play skills, alongside developing care-giver social skills, confidence and peer relationships within a safe, nature-rich, motivating environment.

The programme was co-developed and co-delivered by the National Trust’s Programming and Partnerships Team in the beautiful setting of Mount Stewart on the shores of Strangford Lough. Jillian Martin, Senior Programming and Partnerships Officer said “Learning outdoors with SureStart for the past six weeks has been a rewarding and beneficial experience for the families, staff and volunteers involved. The absence of walls and access to our natural play area increased the children’s confidence, capability and self-preservation in nature. As a conservation charity that looks after history, beauty and nature, we are committed to connecting people with nature and we know that time spent in nature delivers huge benefits for our health and wellbeing. Each week the group took part in different sensory activities which encouraged interaction between the children and their parents. Lots of messy, wet and sticky play resulted in lots of smiles. Our partnership with the South Eastern Health Trust outdoors initiative has had the best start possible and we look forward to welcoming the next cohort in the autumn.”

Grace Moore, Early Years Leader, SureStart Ards said “‘We at SureStart Ards have worked in Partnership with Mount Stewart to provide a six week programme of nature based play for children up to the age of four.  This opportunity is has helped to enhance adult/child interaction, promote the children’s gross and fine motor skills and has provided lots of topics for language development. The children, parents and SureStart staff have loved taking part in this group – the weather has been in our favour and the scenery and natural backdrop has been amazing. Many thanks to the Mount Stewart team for being so accommodating and for allowing us to experience learning in the outdoors.’

Clare Gardiner, Health Development Specialist, South Eastern HSC Trust added “Feedback from the families who engaged in this programme has been very positive.  One parent reflected that she finds it difficult to take her daughter to child-focused activities like soft play, due to her levels of distress.  However, when outdoors, her daughter was able to regulate her emotional state to engage in developmentally appropriate play.  Research and experiences from SET Outdoor programmes like Little Forest Buddies, demonstrate that health interventions can be greatly enriched by moving them outdoors, and into nature, as opposed to interventions always taking place inside the walls of a clinic or hospital setting  into nature”