Making loose parts the staple of its provision has transformed practice at Sunbeams Day Nursery in Leeds and resulted in an ‘unimaginable’ difference in children's learning, with boys showing greater creativity and girls developing more confidence and a ‘have-a-go’ attitude among the many changes.
Housed in a converted barn with an acre of land, Sunbeams had already adopted the Reggio Emilia approach and ‘in the moment planning’, which focuses on children's current interests. Providing open-ended materials enabled the nursery to build on both of these approaches and introduce greater elements of choice and risk-taking into children's play. Procedures are in place to ensure that all resources are safe, and lots of training and pre-planning helped allay any practitioners' and parents' concerns about safety.
The resources and layout of the rooms mean the whole environment is now accessible to the children, allowing them to lead their own learning. Training has helped the practitioners become more confident in ‘seeing’ and responding to teachable moments with meaningful questions and comments about explorations. staff now scaffold and support learning only when necessary.
The nursery has noticed ‘a remarkable improvement’ in children's behaviour since the changes were made, with children now endlessly interested and engaged in their play – a change that has also reduced staff stress. The children talk more with staff and each other, and enjoy the problem-solving and decision-making that come from using open-ended resources daily. ‘Children are excited by what they can make and design,’ notes the nursery, ‘and will confidently tell practitioners what they are doing.’
The children have also become involved with Halton in Bloom (HIB), a community gardening team of mainly elderly volunteers. Initially, children helped plant flowers, but this has now progressed to HIB members visiting the nursery to garden with the children.
The judges were impressed by the nursery's ‘solid pedagogy’, their commitment to following children's interests, characteristics and schematic behaviours, and making the most of ‘teachable moments’.
Parents have praised the strong and supportive relationships that underpin practice at Sunbeams. One said, ‘staff are also outstanding when it comes to supporting the parents/children.’ Another explained, ‘staff are so friendly and welcoming [and] make a personal connection with not just our son but us as a family. My little boy's key worker now is absolutely superb. He loves her and she knows him inside out.’
The nursery's Ofsted report notes, ‘staff ignite children's curiosity and their thirst and enthusiasm for learning with a wealth of rich, highly challenging, captivating and innovative resources and activities. Their qualifications and motivating high-quality teaching significantly enhance children's learning. Children flourish, make rapid progress, and develop exemplary skills and attributes that magnificently prepare them for school.’
“Solid pedagogy and making the most of ‘teachable moments’
HIGHLY COMMENDED South Acton Nursery School & Children's Centre, London
A bright idea and a $500 donation later, South Acton Nursery School took delivery of its very own Vauxhall Agila. Called Freddie, the car is the perfect way to tap into children's ongoing interest in transport and find a purposeful way to use an underdeveloped section of their outdoor area.
Since arriving free of charge – thanks to a team member's partner working for a car website, and the American donor – Freddie has been ‘child proofed’ and ‘a garage’ created, partly with donated resources. The team has collated a bank of ideas on how Freddie can be used to promote all aspects of learning and he features in all the nursery's planning and enhancements of provision.
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Open to early years settings who have developed elements of their provision to create stimulating, child-centred learning environments in line with the principles of the EYFS. This could be any aspect or area of the setting, including outdoor area, Forest School, under-threes provision, movement play area, free flow, children's access to self-chosen activities, etc.