Sending your child to nursery is never an easy parental experience, but that anxiety is certainly eased for the parents who choose to send their children to Craighead Country Nursery, which was the winner of Scottish Rural Awards 2018 Business Diversification category.

The nursery is based just outside of Mauchline, in Ayrshire, on a working beef and sheep farm, and this set-up is more like a home from home than a nursery, particularly for children who come from a rural background, and for parents who want their children to have a rural and outdoor experience.

Owned by the Goldie family and managed by Elspeth Goldie, Craighead Country Nursery School opened in July 2016. Since then, it has gone from having three children enrolled, to 85, at present, and, in all, there are 15 members of staff working there on a full and part-time basis, as well as two modern apprentices.

Children who attend come from New Cumnock to Stewarton, and Ayr, with some of them going for two sessions a week , while other children for five full days a week. Elspeth also added that some parents do not necessarily need the childcare, but are choosing to send their children for the Craighead experience –mixing with other children and developing essential skills.

During their time at the nursery, the children can see what is happening on the farm, which gives a first-hand experience of how a farm works. They are also provided with freshly prepared meals and snacks. As much food as possible is locally sourced, and that includes milk from Mossgiel Milk, Mauchline, and meat from Country Fresh Meats, Tarbolton.

Elspeth explained how she established the nursery in order for it to reach its current set-up, which is an open-plan, modern, Norwegian-style building: “I worked for North Ayrshire Council for 10 years, in nurseries, but the council then started to remove teachers from nurseries, and so I was moved into a school, teaching primary 7 pupils. That was not where I felt comfortable. I enjoy the excitement and curiosity of younger children. ”

After much consideration, Elspeth decided that she could set up her own nursery, so that she could go back to working with younger children, as that is where her passion is.

Elspeth also explained that she herself was the ideal market for opening the nursery, because she knew exactly what she wanted for her children, and said: “I couldn’t find anything that I really liked, and the quality I was looking for just wasn’t really there.”

Elspeth then studied to achieve a post-graduate certificate in Early Childhood Studies, and during that time, she visited Norway to observe their educational practice, in which children learn from real-life experiences.

She was impressed with the way things were run there, and so decided to build and design Craighead to that standard, and that has proven to be a success.

She commented: “I find that parents are choosing to use our nursery because we utilise the outdoors, and the big push here is outdoor learning, which is similar to the nurseries, or kindergartens, in Norway.

“We give the children the opportunity to learn and play outside, whenever they want to, and I think that they learn so much from it; things like communication, as well as improving their imaginations.

“It also teaches them problem solving and negotiation skills,” she explained. “Staff are there to support and extend learning rather than to dictate it – children are encouraged to immerse themselves in free play and lead their own learning, their ideas are so much better than ours."

Children are encouraged to go outside, no matter the weather so that they are never missing out on that all important outdoors experience, and are also learning about the local landscape in different seasons.

In terms of age-range, children can attend the nursery from three-months-old to five-years-old, and they are divided into rooms which provide exciting and stimulating resources appropriate to their age range.

For three-months-old to two-years-old, there is The Nest, from two-years-old to three-years-old, there is the The Den, and from three-years-old to five-years-old, there is The Warren, although, these age groups are not set in stone.

“We use those age brackets as a guideline, but it all depends on the individual children. Some of them move through the rooms at a quicker or slower pace, and we always do this gradually, so that it is not a sudden change for the children,” Elspeth added.

Children at Craighead are also encouraged to do as much on their own as possible, without constant assistance from the staff, which encourages them to be more independent. They are provided with china crockery and glasses at meal times, from the age of two-years-old and over, because, as Elspeth said: “They aren’t going to learn that dropping crockery smashes it, unless they actually see it happening.”

Authentic resources are also used as often as possible, as well as an app named Famly, which is similar to Facebook, and allows parents to view their child’s activity throughout the day and receive real-time updates.

Elspeth explained: "This makes parents feel part of their child’s day, and the positive relationships built up between staff, parents and children are central to our culture."

Commenting on the importance of quality childcare, Elspeth concluded: “As a mum of two, I know how difficult it is to hand your child over to someone else to look after, and because of this, we aim to a provide a welcoming and nurturing ethos, where parents have complete confidence."

To find out more about Craighead Nursery, you can visit its website,, or enquiries can be made to Elspeth directly, by telephoning 07543 094874.