Children at Quackers ‘wallow’ in mud, in their own learning and in the pleasure of being, thanks to the pre-school team’s transformation of a challenging site into a garden inspired by Danish provision and filled with open-ended resources.
When the York setting moved to its current premises, the garden was a muddy, often waterlogged site – something the team viewed as an opportunity as well as a challenge.
Since then, the Outstanding setting has turfed the garden, created a slope for riding bikes or as an observation point, and used the logs from felled trees as stepping stones and climbing and jumping posts.
A hosepipe, sand and large loose parts, such as crates and tyres, are main features of the area, as well as a semi-covered mud kitchen, which has evolved in response to children’s requests and staff observations. Children have free-flow access all day, year round.
Central to the success of this environment are the practitioners themselves, who share the pre-school ethos and understand the value and potential of enabling children to pursue their own learning through open-ended resources within a flexible environment.
The team consider both the emotional and physical environments in their planning and have a clear understanding of their role as an enabler. They demonstrate by their body language that they are both ‘present’ and ‘available’ to the children, express genuine interest in children’s fascinations and engage in ‘good’ conversations with them.
One practitioner explains, ‘The children have the opportunity to follow a line of enquiry without being stopped. It’s an art form, knowing when to step in and ask questions and when to hold back.’ The team is also free of any hierarchy and fully inclusive.
Outdoors consultant Jan White, who has known the Quackers practitioners for four years, admires ‘their passion and commitment’. Impressing her too has been their positive approach to ‘benefit-risk management’, enabling children to become ‘risk-aware and increasingly risk-competent’; their degree of reflection and debate; the priority given to ongoing training; and their level of parental engagement. ‘Quackers,’ she concludes, ‘provides a truly inspirational environment, where children are not only enabled in all domains of development, but also enthused and empowered.’
Parents are hugely appreciative of the pre-school’s approach. One wrote, ‘Children who attend Quackers are given a solid foundation upon which to build their lives. They are welcomed, accepted, challenged, supported and encouraged to be themselves.’
Praise also comes from Heather Elliott, senior lecturer at York St John University, who has observed the children’s play for a research project. She says, ‘The word “wallowing” comes to mind; and indeed that is precisely what Quackers children do – wallow in delight in the wonderful opportunities provided for play in this environment.’
‘An inspirational environment where children are enthused and empowered’ - Judge
First Steps Forest School, Birmingham
Children at First Steps’ three Birmingham nurseries already had access to rich outdoor areas, but as an early convert to the Swedish approach to outdoor learning, owner Debbi Gould wanted to provide more.
After identifying a 2.7-acre site, three to five miles from the settings, it was quickly transformed, with a defined entrance, pathway and base camp. The ground was made safe and a shelter with Portaloo, changing facilities, water supply, storage and firepit were erected.
It is now thriving, beloved of the children who visit daily and the catalyst for many new activities in nursery.
Little Forest Folk, London
Thames Tiddlers, London
Open to early years settings that have developed elements of their provision to create stimulating, child-centred learning environments in line with the principles of the EYFS