At Priesthills Nurseries we strongly believe that children are innately ‘programmed’ to learn and that the role of the adult is to support this intrinsic learning process rather than to ‘teach’ in its more traditional sense.
We have created an environment where children are free to learn in their own time and in their own way with free access to open ended resources and un-restricted access to the outdoors.
We aim to help children achieve their maximum potential by supporting them to develop the tools they need for a happy and successful life - confidence, resilience, self-motivation, enthusiasm, independence and an insatiable curiosity about the world. We aim to acheive this through loose parts play, in the moment planning and focus weeks.
In The Moment Planning
Traditionally, planning in Early Years settings such as nurseries is done by observing children, considering their stage of development and deciding what their ‘next steps’ are. Settings then plan activities based on children’s ‘Next Steps’ and what they know of the children’s interests to help them work towards these next steps.
Children’s interests, however, are not fixed – they change from minute to minute; and although they may have a general interest in some themes (like dinosaurs) the specifics of their interests still change (what I am going to feed this particular hungry dinosaur based on the options in front of me right now).
Traditional planning methods also mean that you are in danger of missing those moments when a child is most fascinated by something because you are working towards a specific goal.
At Priesthills Nursery we have adopted a system of planning called In the Moment Planning (ITMP). We use the same cycle of planning, but it is all done right then and there. In the moment planning frees up time practitioners would otherwise have used recording and planning and allows them to spend more time actively engaging with children, it means we are less likely to miss moments of fascination and means we are able to engage with children in a more meaningful way about their interests in the here and now.
As we are using in the moment planning, we are constantly working with all children on their learning and development. Because of this it would be impossible to record all of our interactions for every child and still have time to have any! Instead, we nominate each child as a focus child for at least one week each per term.
Before your child’s focus week you will be asked to complete a form which will give you a chance to have an input into our assessment of your child’s learning and development. It will also allow you to let us know about any special events going on at home and to share photos with us of things that you have been doing at home so that we can look at these with your child.
During their focus week, all of the practitioners in your child’s room will spend time focusing on their learning and development. They will be observed by practitioners in whatever area of the nursery they are playing and practitioners will explore ways to extend their learning and development. Documenting the full planning cycle in observations on their focus week sheet.
At the end of your child’s focus week, all practitioners within the room will come together to assess their level of development in all areas of learning. They will then put on observation into your child’s learning journey which will include photographs and videos of your child taken during the week, a photograph of their ‘focus week sheet’ and some longer observations in the text section. This will then be linked to all areas of learning showing where your child is currently performing in relation to the early years’ curriculum. This observation will then be moderated by the management team before being released to you (this process can cause some delay to the observation being released
Loose Parts Play
Loose parts aren’t prescriptive and offer limitless possibilities. A stick, for example, may become a fishing rod near real or imaginary water, a stirrer in a mud kitchen, a tool to nudge a football that is stuck in a tree; it can be thrown, floated, snapped, pinged, bent, hidden, added to a pile, burnt, tied to something else, split, catapulted or discarded.
The list of possible loose parts is endless but can include:
• natural resources - straw, mud and pine cones
• building materials and tools - planks, nails, hammers
• scrap materials - old tyres, off-cuts of guttering
• and, most essentially, random found objects
Children need environments they can manipulate and where they can invent, construct, evaluate and modify their own constructions and ideas through play. They require opportunities to develop ownership of the environment where they play. The introduction of loose parts such as scrap materials, sand and water increases the possibilities for children to engage in these types of behaviours even in ‘artificial’ environments, outside or in.
There is a long-standing tradition of using household items for play, using tools for gardening and woodworking, and having ‘tinkering’ tables where children can experiment. For the very youngest children, heuristic play offers treasure baskets of simple objects such as wooden spools and cotton reels for babies to explore with their hands and mouths. Children learn best when they are able to play freely. They need to be able to use real resources in their play, as well as toys. Many education approaches such as Steiner Waldorf or Montessori advocate the need for real experiences in order to acquire life skills. Playing with a variety of loose parts assists with these approaches.