Learning & Development: Activities - Our bright idea - Knight time

The nursery was buzzing with activity sparked by the children's interest in castles, as Jean Evans hears.

Staff encourage children at Rainbow Nursery, Middlestone Moor, to initiate the direction of their play and learning. After recent investigations into the subjects of light and dark, and the excitement of playing in dark secret spaces, the children's interest in their 'ice castle' hiding place prompted endless questions about castles.

Eager to maximise this new interest, staff obtained pictures of local castles from an internet search. Children were quick to notice that their castle did not have turrets and cone-shaped pinnacles. The walls of local castles, they noticed, were built from large stones arranged in regular patterns. Eagerly they transformed their ice castle with the addition of a few cones and then created grey rectangular stone walls by printing rectangles over the existing walls with grey paint.

'The children's interest grew and grew, and so we provided materials for them to create large and small two- and three-dimensional castles,' says nursery nurse Alex Higgins. 'We provided dressing-up clothes for knights and their ladies and a range of story books set in castles.'

Planned learning intentions

To respond to significant experiences, showing a range of feelings when appropriate

To use talk to clarify thinking, ideas, feelings and events

To talk about, recognise and recreate simple patterns

To build and construct with a wide range of objects, selecting appropriate resources and adapting their work where necessary

To handle tools, objects, construction and malleable materials safely and with increasing control

To use their imagination in art and design, music, dance, imaginative and role-play and stories


For the role-play castle: a climbing frame; large sheets of thick card (an opened-out packing case is ideal); thick tape; grey paint; rectangular sponge blocks; cardboard cones; resources such as shiny tabards and jesters' hats.

For the model castles: pictures of castles (find images on a well-known search engine); a range of construction equipment, small-world characters and horses; recycled materials; collage, paper and painting equipment.

Books about castles such as In the Castle by Anna Milbourne and See Inside Castles by Katie Daynes (Usborne), The Kiss That Missed and Good Knight, Sleep Tight by David Melling (Hodder Children's Books).

Step by step

- We began by discussing the shape and purpose of our ice castle. Then we talked about any castles that the children had seen and what they could they remember about them.

- We looked at images of local castles, and the children were fascinated by their shapes and what they were made of. They decided to transform the ice castle into a traditional castle and suggested how they were going to do this.

- Once the castle was transformed, role-play developed from it, with parents and staff providing additional resources to enhance their re-enactments of castle life. Relevant stories were read in the castle, and non-fiction books were explored.

- Creative and construction areas were buzzing with castle-making projects and the children became highly involved in a group picture of a castle.

- We introduced a display area for children's work and photographs of their involvement. The usual captions and learning explanations were added so that parents could follow the direction and success of their children's initiatives.

- Interest in castles is waning now, but we are wondering where the children will take us on our next learning journey.

Alex Higgins, a nursery nurse at Rainbow Nursery, Middleston Moor, County Durham, spoke to Jean Evans

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