A vet nurse who reduced her working hours when she became a mum, has launched her own outdoor play centre on land at her family farm.
Nicola Manson, from Brodieshill, has opened a purpose built unit at the farm a mile from the A96 between Forres and Alves.
However the focus is very much on outdoor play, farming life and getting dirty in the process!
Nicola makes it clear that mud and water are a ‘feature’ and she advises mums to bring clean clothes to the play sessions. The slogan at Brodieshill is ‘It’s Muddy Marevellous’.
She said: “We have used items found on the farm to encourage natural play and children to use their imagination. The level paddock has a remoulded area with some small hills, trenches and bridges/ramps for little ones to explore. It’s lovely to see how different children use it and their parents engaging in that fun.
“We want to make use of the burn that runs next to the paddock so our next project will be to open an area to access it.
This farming life
Nicola’s work as a vet nurse and her life on the farm, means animals are always part of the picture.
“I spent 24 years working as a vet nurse at a local practice. I loved the daily challenges working with different species, ailments and enjoyed working in a team.
“We have some very friendly Dorset sheep that love to eat feed from your hand and the occasional pet calf too.
“Our resident hens love interacting with people and being fed while our guinea pigs enjoy quiet petting.
“This summer will see the arrival of our pygmy goats so we are looking forward to welcoming them to Brodieshill. Lambing season brings pet lambs which require bottle feeding.
“We start lambing in March and the lambs are weaned mid-May. Our neighbours hatch eggs through the spring and summer and we foster the chicks for a few months. We currently have some 6-week, 3-week and 6-day-old chicks.
“My husband is a farmer and I enjoy helping at lambing time but I know some of my suggestions frustrate him. Apparently it’s not really practical to have a hospitalisation sheet for each of our 430 ewes!
Hatching an idea
Nicola explained the idea came about after a holiday. She loved meeting her friends at toddler group, but always wished for something to do outdoors.
“We had a family holiday in Cornwall a few years ago and, being married to a farmer, we spent most of our days visiting farms which had diversified in one way or another and our project hatched from that trip. We planned the area around what my children enjoy doing when their friends come to visit, it’s a project that will constantly evolve.
She typically runs one session a day in the morning, and says they are educational as well as enjoyable.
Learning through play
“We have some problem solving within our mud pit and treasure hunts to do. Child-led play encourages children to use their imagination with what is available.
“Our thicker sticks for starting dens have also been used to pole vault over our trench! We will be including some sensory stations during the year and we have a few crafts available to develop fine motor skills.
“We discuss a little about what the animals like to eat, how they behave and what they like/dislike. It’s amazing to see the children interact with our animals, it teaches them empathy.
“Our weekend sessions have a lovely energy with whole families coming out, during the week it is quieter with younger children exploring so it’s a nice balance but we would love to see more little ones through the week! We have a mixture of individuals, mummy group friends and dads enjoying some one to one with their children so it’s a lovely combination.”
Sessions can be booked at brodieshill.com