An Oxfordshire project designed to enhance provision for two-year-olds has enabled us to transform our setting through a combination of grant money, training and our team's commitment to the scheme.
Rainbow is a 44-place voluntary-sector nursery, presently offering six funded places for two-year-olds, a number that we expect will increase when the 15-hour free entitlement is expanded.
The project started with an audit of our physical environment, interactions and safety and care provision using ITERS (Infant Toddler Environmental Rating Scales) to identify our strengths and weaknesses. We scored mostly 4, 5 or 6 out of a possible 7 across the categories.
Our local authority then awarded us £6,500 for redeveloping our resources and allocated us a Team Around the Setting (TAS) to support our development. The team included:
- an early years advisory teacher
- an EYSENIT (early years special educational needs inclusion teacher)
- a member of the Workforce Development Service, and
- a member of the Outside Learning Service.
After meeting our TAS team we discussed our dreams and possibilities before developing our action plan. We identified staff training and outdoor learning as key areas that would help us ensure the best possible outcomes for the children. Our TAS team continued to meet with us regularly during the programme to review developments and plan our next steps.
The project succeeded on many levels but the commitment of the staff team was key to its overall success, as was the whole team's involvement each step of the way and their desire to be the best we could be.
No amount of investment could have brought about the benefits we're now enjoying without their willingness to extend their knowledge and understanding of the changes.
The most obvious changes can be seen in our outdoor provision and in the ways in which staff interact with and support all children. Our garden is now a wonderful resource in which adults and children can explore together, developing and expanding ideas and knowledge in a safe, stimulating and challenging environment.
We moved into our current premises just over a year ago and although we knew our outdoor area needed changing, we hadn't raised enough funds to bring about any real change.
Where previously we had a single undefined outdoor area, the emphasis is now on nature and the space is seen as an outdoor classroom, divided into learning zones that include:
- a playhouse
- sensory garden
- a tepee
- woodland area
- story area with wooden mushroom stools
- collections of natural resources such as cones and slate
- willow archway
- digging area and wormery
- three-tiered water system and sand pit
- paved and covered area for painting, small-world play, etc
- chalkboard and
- music and sounds area.
The contrast with previous play in our old premises is even starker. There, equipment was often fixed, making children's play limited and repetitive. Now, in our revamped area, resources are open-ended, and the space flexible, cross-curricular and open to exploration, allowing the children and staff to experience the area and learn together. The children now spend the majority of the day outdoors. There is much more laughing and it's beautiful to watch the children whose PSED, in particular, confidence, has been boosted by the area and the opportunities it presents for more one-to-one play.
The improvements in adult-child interactions are due in large part to the training provided by Oxfordshire Early Years during the project which included Leadership and Management training, Let's Explore the Great Outdoors, Meeting the Needs of Twos and Threes and Babbling Babies to name but a few examples.
The move to our new premises meant we were looking after two-year-olds in much larger mixed groups for the first time, and as often happens with provision for this age group, practitioners sometimes see children of this age as little three-year-olds rather than unique two-year-olds with very different needs.
The training sessions, including one on brain development and schemas, gave our team more of an insight into two-year-olds' perceptions of the world. As a result, staff have come to see two-year-olds as a distinct group with their own needs and motivations. To ensure the whole team could benefit from the training and understand the changes and strategies being implemented, we took steps to cascade information down through the team.
The effects can be seen across our provision and is reflected in many different ways. For example, the project:
- has strengthened our key person role and improved communication with parents
- raised parental awareness about child development - we provided information on schemas for staff and families on display boards
- raised staff awareness of learning styles - so we now respond to the differing styles by, for example, telling stories 'on the move' to suit our more kinaesthetic learners.
ALL SIXES AND SEVENS
In our follow-up audit we scored 14 7s (excellent) and six 6s (good), marking clear developments across our provision, and we are incredibly proud of what we have achieved.
We are going to make sure the benefits for all those accessing our provision will be evident for years to come. We intend to continue to develop our provision in all areas to provide a supportive, loving and unique environment where all of our children can learn through play, loving support and laughter, utilising caring, knowledgeable practitioners that are sensitive to their individual needs.
I would encourage others to embrace opportunities for team working - the children, families and practitioners will benefit vastly.
'Thank-yous' go to the local authority for initiating and funding the project and for investing in the workforce to effect change; to the Rainbow team and Parent Committee; and to the TAS team for their hard work and commitment
ECERS, ITERS and FCCERS were designed to evaluate the quality of pre-school provision and later revised by their authors, Thelma Harms, Richard Clifford and Debby Cryer of the University of North Carolina. The revised scale Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS-R) evaluates provision for children aged from birth to 2.5 years
Scales are divided into sub-scales and items. A setting is scored in each item against a seven-point scale, which illustrates practice from 'inadequate' through to 'excellent'.