Learning through Play
Principals of Learning
Children learn best through play, when they are having fun and have developed trusted relationships with those around them. We also recognise that every child is a unique individual and what engages one child might not necessarily engage another.
For children to learn from our curriculum we believe that all children need to have
A high level of personal and social wellbeing
A high level of engagement and motivation
Highly skilled workforce who recognise every child as a unique individual
Planning which is flexible and can be adapted in the moment
An environment that allows child initiated play with a measured degree of risk
A High Level of Wellbeing based on mutual respect
The child’s well-being heavily influences the level of engagement and motivation they are able to reach during the nursery day. Our team work hard to enhance well-being by treating children in a ‘respectful way’ making children feel secure, valued and understood. As children are unique individuals how this is done will vary and practitioners will try and find ways to respond which suit the child.
For example, a child who loves to be outdoors and on the move all day may find it difficult to spend lots of time indoors taking part in circle time. As a result, practitioners aim to maximise both indoor and outdoor opportunities throughout the day offering access to both at the same time.
Well-being is further enhanced through our Transitions Process, Key Person Approach, Parent Partnership and Behavioural Management, which are standalone policies and can be found on our website.
A child’s well-being is dependent on many different factors both at nursery and at home and we ask parents and carers to share details of any changes which may influence their child’s well-being, such as moving house or preparing for the arrival of a new sibling.
Each practitioner assesses the wellbeing and involvement of their children three times a year using the Leuven Scales that were developed by the Research Centre for Experiential Education at Leuven University. Based on the results of this assessment adjustments to practice, planning and the environment are made.
A high level of engagement and motivation
‘When children are deeply engaged’ in the activities around them, ‘their brain is developing and new synapses are forming’ (Anna Ephgrave, Planning in the moment with your child, page 9)
All children have an innate desire to learn and become engaged and at our nurseries practitioners work hard to create the conditions in which their children can become deeply engaged, such as:
  • Maintaining high levels of well-being
  • Providing a challenging environment with autonomy, where possible, allowing them to choose what to do (child-initiated play)
  • Responding ‘in the moment’ to a child’s activities to maintain and stretch engagement further
  • Providing consistent boundaries, expectations and routines
For example, children in the Pre-School will partake in circle time at certain times during the day, but the amount of time spent allowing the child to engage in child initiated activities will be maximised during sessions. Children will also be encouraged to tidy up as they go along, rather than their play being interrupted to engage in ‘tidy time’ at the end of the session.
In the Toddler Room circle time will be much shorter than the Pre-School and may occur in smaller groups to accommodate for the child’s stage of brain development, but many of the principles of the Pre-School will still apply.
In the Baby Room and Rising Two’s the team use schema’s to plan and extend activities around their children’s interests. Schemas are described as patterns of repeated behaviour, which allow children to explore and express developing ideas and thoughts through their play and exploration. The repetitive actions of schematic play allow children to construct meaning in what they are doing.
Each practitioner reviews how engaged and motivated their children are three times a year using our Interests and Play Assessment, based on the Characteristics of Effective Learning. Based on the results of this review adjustments to practice, planning and the environment are made.
An enabling environment that allows a large proportion of child initiated play with a measured degree of risk
For children to learn and develop, the environment needs to be enabling allowing children to feel safe and secure. This will help the children to feel free to explore and take risks safely. The children must be allowed to experience the world around them in a full, messy, muddy and wet environment.
An enabling environment also allows children to be able to pick and choose their own activities through self-selection and open-ended resources. Open ended resources cater for individual interests as they have multiple uses and limitless possibilities. For example, a simple cardboard box can be turned into a pirate ship, a rocket or a police car.
Access to the outdoor spaces is very important and as much access as possible is encouraged through the provision of shaded and sheltered areas and provision of Forest School and our off-road buggies for the younger children.
Each room has compiled a list of items that should be available at all times as part of the basic provision in the room. This is reviewed monthly, to ensure the basic provision is maintained and this is enhanced based on children’s interests and play through weekly planning.
Each room reviews the environment three times a year using our Interests and Play Assessment to see how the children are using the environment. Based on the results of this review adjustments to practice, planning and the environment are made.
Highly skilled workforce whose expertise enables them to recognise every child as a unique individual and provide accordingly for them
Our team are key to supporting a child’s learning and development and we employ where possible staff members who hold relevant childcare qualifications. Team members who do not hold qualifications are encouraged to undertake further training to learn as much as possible about children’s learning and development.
All of our team undertake a comprehensive induction during their first 6 months of work at one of nurseries to help them maximise the impact they can have on the children in their care, especially when taking on a key person role.
The team are encouraged to follow the following principles outlined by Anna Ephgrave in ‘Planning in the Moment with Young Children’ (2018):
  • Provide consistent boundaries, expectations and routines
  • Go to the children, get down to their level and be interested in what they are doing
  • Be relaxed
  • Listen to what the children are doing, watch and wait and plan their interaction with the child during this time
  • Allow the child to lead the interaction. If they have questions answer them. If they would like the practitioner to join the ‘tea party’ then the practitioner is encouraged to join
  • Respond appropriately, ponder and reflect
  • For younger children focus on the prime areas
Planning which can be adapted in the moment
The planning process encompasses a number of elements which are all supportive of each other. An overview of the process is illustrated below.
  1. Weekly and In the moment Planning
  2. In the moment planning is a concept that involves allowing child initiated, real time, learning through play based on capturing the interest of a child at the current time. Responding immediately to children’s interest is the most powerful way to teach in early years. The practitioner uses skills to observe what the child is doing and needs to do next, assesses the ‘teachable moment’ from the child’s perspective and is skilled enough to know when to intervene and when to stand back and observe.

    We operate in the moment planning using the following principles:

    • Staff use ITMP to support planning for the children alongside focused activities agreed as part of weekly planning. Focused activities may increase in the case of school readiness or children who have SEN.
    • This type of planning involves looking, listening and noting, children’s interests and planning what to do next in that moment.

  3. Observations and Moments
  4. All observations of children will be recorded in our electronic observation system (FAMLY), which our parents are granted access to when joining the nursery (See FAMLY section below).

    Your child’s key person will upload a minimum of 2 detailed observations a month linked to learning and development that your child’s key person has been planning for. Observations will usually be linked to the Seven Areas of Learning and Characteristics of Effective Learning.

    Moments will be less detailed and not linked to any areas of learning. We use these when we want to let parents and carers know what their children have been up to in a snap shot.

    Parents and carers are encouraged to upload photos of importance onto FAMLY, allowing practitioners to talk to the child about these photographs and experiences consequently extending their learning.

    Observations during Transitions

    When a child is starting nursery or transitioning to a new room we encourage our practitioners to capture more observations and moments of their children’s activities during these times so parents can see and talk to them about their experiences at home.

  5. Supervisions
  6. Supervisions take place every 3 months and are an opportunity for each practitioner to discuss their key children and the progress they are making.

    Before attending their supervisions team members are asked to complete the following for each of their key children:

    • Wellbeing and Involvement Assessment (see Appendix C) – children who feel positive and involved will learn better. Our nurseries want to nurture a sense of wellbeing
    • Interests and Play Assessment (see Appendix D) – to understand how engaged and motivated the children are and how they are using the environment around them.

    In the supervision meeting practitioners will talk about each of their key children, including the outcomes from the assessments they have completed in advance. Discussing their children’s progress and planning what next for them is the flexible part of our curriculum.

    The outcomes from these meetings feed into the Room Development Plan (RDPs), Professional Development Plans (PDPs) and all Planning.

  7. Summative Assessments (including Two Year Checks)
  8. The nursery uses FAMLY to undertake Summative Assessments of each individual child, at regular, timed intervals.

    Baseline: This is completed in partnership with parents when the child joins the nursery to give a baseline of their learning to date. Approximately 6 weeks from the child’s start date they will receive a short written assessment by their key person detailing how well they are settling in, how their relationships are developing and whether they need any additional support against the three Prime Areas Learning.

    Summative Assessment: These will be completed every 12 months and will usually be undertaken when the child moves between rooms at nursery. For children under the age of 2 progress will only be marked against of learning. For children aged 2 and older progress will be marked against all areas of learning.

    Two Year Check: The assessment written close to the child’s second birthday will be considered the Two Year Check. This is made available for parents and carers to take it with them to the child’s Two Year Check with their Health Visitor.

    More information surrounding the Two-Year Check can be found at: www.foundationyears.org.uk

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