Learning & Development: Emotional well-being - Feel-good factors

Attention to a child's emotional development begins before they arrive at this nursery school, whose staff tell Jean Evans about their practice.

At Horden Nursery School, County Durham, the development of the whole child is seen as the basis for learning. Above all, children's well-being is paramount. Every child is valued, and the development of confidence, self-esteem, feelings of self-worth and individual differences are celebrated.

Head teacher Barbara Wilkin is proud of her staff team's communications which ensure that they know the children 'inside out'.

'We have detailed plans in place to make the transition from home as smooth as possible,' she says. 'The children meet staff through a series of home visits before visiting nursery and during these visits, staff play with the children and talk to parents about any specific likes and dislikes their child might have.

'When they arrive at nursery, a key worker is ready to greet them to provide support, continuity and a familiar face. Parents are encouraged to stay as long as they need to so that the settling-in period is a smooth and happy process for all concerned.

'The nursery environment is designed to provide children with experiences that link with home - for example, with domestic play resources in the home area or opportunities to rest or share a quiet story session with a familiar adult.

'An important aspect of promoting children's well-being is to help them to discover their own identity and to celebrate what makes them special,' she continues. 'We encourage lots of observation of individuals on photographs, plasma screen displays and mirrors, and we talk to children about these images. Children paint, draw and contribute to displays about themselves and we actively celebrate our differences.'


Assistant head teacher Karen Morton says, 'A successful resource in promoting emotional well-being has been the introduction of Beat Babies (see column) to encourage children to express themselves and be comfortable about discussing their feelings.

'Children really empathise with these little characters, who are curled in a ball and can be unrolled to reveal a shy little face. Individual children are happy to share their feelings with their own special Beat Baby assigned to their key worker group. We encourage children to use language to express emotions as they play with a Beat Baby.

'Today Abigail has talked to me and her Beat Baby about how she always feels sad when her brothers take her toys and happy when they bring them back again. A friend then came and sat beside her and she passed her Beat Baby to her friend so that she could talk to her about how she was feeling.

'We also use mirrors a lot to encourage children to observe their changing expressions and to talk to one another about how their faces reflect their feelings.

'Books and stories about characters involved in emotional situations are invaluable (see column). As we share them with small groups and individual children, we ask them to imagine how the characters might be feeling.

'Discussing emotions together, and discovering more about how friends, storybook characters, puppets and Beat Babies react, helps children to understand that we all experience emotions and that if we tell someone about them, there are ways of dealing with them. Our children know that their feelings, however strong, will be accepted and that they can express them freely.

'Some choose to do this in a quiet place with a familiar adult, while others share emotions more confidently with a small group. Whatever the situation, children are encouraged to realise the importance of listening to one another and respecting feelings.'


Karen adds, 'We arrange the indoor and outdoor environment to support well-being. Children quickly become familiar with the allocation of resources and are accessing them independently within days of entry.

'All equipment has a designated place and children soon realise the importance of returning items to the right place when they have finished. They know they can ask for additional resources to fit in with their play focus.

'Our outdoor area is an exciting place to be, designed to provide children with opportunities to try things in different ways, on a larger or smaller scale. Children have suitable overalls and boots (see column) to put on so that they can experience changing weather conditions. Resources are provided to explore the natural world by caring for our rabbits, tending the garden and hunting for tiny creatures.

'We provide open and enclosed areas to run, jump, climb and hide, and all of these opportunities play a part in building children's confidence and sense of well-being.

'Staff are ready to give extensive support with skills such as visiting the toilet and getting ready for playing outdoors, until we feel they are ready to do these things for themselves.

'Rather than a routine snack time we provide children with the opportunity to enjoy a snack when they need to. It helps them become aware of their own needs and to make personal choices.

'At first, staff are always around to help children with skills such as washing hands and registering their arrival at the table. They always encourage discussion about children's preferences and extend vocabulary about the names of the foods on offer.'


'Although we encourage children to be independent, we still immerse ourselves completely in their play, ensuring that we empathise with them and support their actions so that we can guide them smoothly on to the next steps in learning,' says Karen.

'We plan for challenge. For example, through our local parks department we bought some outdoor equipment to lift loads with a series of levers or to pour water down connecting gulleys. Adult support is often needed with this equipment at first, and this helps to build closer relationships as adult and child share a joint experience.

'We encourage group experiences, like music and singing, to develop peer and adult relationships, and always make sure that those who feel slightly daunted by these situations initially have a familiar adult alongside.'


At Horden, a key aspect in the development of children's self-esteem, self-worth and individual differences is the observation of their play in order to establish their current interests. 'We can then extend these interests and support their learning further,' says nursery nurse Samantha Greener.

'Recently I observed a small group of children making cakes in the sand. I asked if they would like to make some real cakes and they really enjoyed the experience. The children talked about where they could buy cakes, which led to a visit to the local baker. There, they took photographs of the bread and cakes on display. The pictures were laminated and left on the dough table.

'Soon children were making cakes and bread from the dough and asking if they could bake them like bakers,' says Samantha. Anticipating the children's interest, she made a salt dough mixture so that they could bake their "cakes" in the oven. After these cakes were baked, the children painted and decorated them.

'We are now setting up a baker's shop and will be singing "Five currant buns"!'.

Excited to observe the extended play that developed from the children's exploration of sand, Samantha also created a pictorial display so that parents could share their children's experiences. Links to the EYFS made clear the learning that had taken place. 'I hope that parents will continue to provide "baking" experiences at home,' she adds.

Another recent example of following interests developed from one child's interest in buildings. The child lived alongside a building site and was fascinated by the work of the builders and the materials they used.

Samantha says, 'We invited a builder to visit us and then transformed our large outdoor digging area into a building site by providing hard hats, overalls and tools.

'The construction area indoors became a smaller building site with pictures of buildings, books and mark-making tools.'


- Beat Babies - finger puppets, toys, CDs and publications (www.educationalpublications.com)

- Storage trolleys, units, coat racks etc (www.communityplaythings.com)

- Outdoor play clothes (www.waterproofworld.co.uk)

- Everybody Feels: Happy by Jane Bingham (QED Publishing) (Also in the series: Sad, Angry and Scared)

- All Kinds of Feelings by Emma Brownjohn (Tango Books)

- Dogger by Shirley Hughes (Red Fox)

- Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Red Fox)

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