We can’t believe that we are nearing the end of the first half of the Autumn term at Venture Kitley Farm. It is at this time of year that we usually like to invite parents into our settings to gain an insight into the unique model of learning we use at Venture, but as current guidelines don’t allow for this, we would like to take a little time here to explain why this is so effective.
Autumn has always been our favourite time of year at Venture. As the weather becomes more wet and wild, we can really begin to see the benefits of an outdoor setting. The adults enjoy the challenge and the reward that it brings. Every day feels like an adventure and we go home feeling like we have achieved so much. We know that the children also share this experience, although most of the time they (unless they are reminded by a parent) don’t seem to notice the sideways rain and gale force winds!
We mustn’t forget that this challenge is one of the most important parts of what we provide and indeed why Venture was created. An indoor setting is an easier journey for children. They can sit in warm shelter on the carpet comforted by playing with toys that are familiar to them (maybe a train set) without having to make an effort to engage and use their imaginations.
We are very aware that some people may wonder about whether their child should be in a more conventional preschool and that this would be better for their ‘learning’. At Venture we place a high emphasis on pure, child-led play as it is through play that children learn most effectively and our approach perfectly covers and exceeds the expectations of the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) curriculum. Our approach to learning and the impact it has on the children is why at our Hope Cove setting we achieved an emphatic “Outstanding” rating from Ofsted.
‘Child-led’ is a term often used but not fully implemented in most early years settings. Other professionals who have visited us, and indeed many of our new members of staff, have commented on the fact that at Venture we truly do take everything at the child’s pace and the children truly are in control of their own play and learning.
We have watched this term as the children settle into their play, as they decide what to do next, without obvious predictable activities set up for them. Instead they have to think, wonder, dream and create things to do on their own. This has led to some fantastic ideas such as creating the ‘mud patch’. Some of them have spent a long time working together, planning, designing and building, clearing a path, digging an area, using guttering and joining pipes together. All of this was done as a team, welcoming new people each day, negotiating, problem solving, sharing, making decisions and taking risks and changing strategies. Add to that the incredibly rich language used in order to complete these tasks together and we have something really very special! The resources we provide for the children to play with allow them to try their own ideas, ask their own questions, discover their own answers and create new possibilities.
‘Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write and count. It is a small window of time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for each individual child. Earlier is not better’ Magda Gerber.
We make the most of the three natural opportunities to sit together everyday, as the children eat. This is a time for discussion, learning to speak to the whole group, learning the art of conversation, feeling valued for what they have to say and how to listen to and take account of what others say. During this time the children are listening because they are interested. We don’t need to tell them to sit still and listen because it is led by them, they are taking the reins. We talk about books we have read, we tell stories, they talk about their homes, places they have been and what they have been doing with their families. We discuss other traditions and cultures and the children learn that they don’t all enjoy the same things. We count, sing and make shapes with our hand wipes. We learn about phonics and recognising letters, words and numbers.
The children cover all aspects of physical development within the natural and real environment: climbing, balancing, jumping and handling equipment and tools. Their fine motor skills are developed for school in all of the many tasks we undertake such as zips, ropes, vegetable peelers, pegs. We mark make wherever we go, with paint, charcoal, chalk and mud or using clipboards and pens.
The children naturally learn the importance of a healthy lifestyle. We talk about fresh air and exercise and instil in them a healthy approach by spending time outdoors playing rather than the focus being on indoor play and technology. Healthy eating is promoted and modelled by staff and we place emphasis on the children becoming independent in self-care.
We count steps, sort and categorise objects we find, talk about weight, position, distance, shapes, time, quantity and we problem solve using these skills. We are surrounded by nature and all the natural interest that this brings. We investigate nature and talk about changes in seasons and the children learn to make observations of animals and plants and learn why things occur whilst experiencing first hand changes in the environment. The children use cameras, a stopwatch, walkie talkies and an ipad as they play, or learn to use kitchen equipment during afternoon snack, and their use of technology is always for a particular purpose.
The adults stand back and allow the children to play and their ideas to flow. We do not stop them when they are engaged in important role play with friends, through which they are able to represent their own ideas, thoughts and feelings.
Our focus is always the children’s emotional well-being. We know that with confidence and good self-esteem everything else will naturally follow. We focus on independence and a positive mental attitude, encouraging the children to do things for themselves and offering just the right level of support so that the children really benefit from that sense of achievement. At first it might be the smallest of tasks such as unzipping their own coat, getting themselves organised at lunchtime, learning how to open their tupperware, or peeling an orange, but the confidence this gained carries forward, so that the children will feel they are ready to tackle anything.
As adults, we get on with real jobs around the children, involving them in real life situations. We allow them to watch us and question, we discuss what we are doing as we work. Every day we feel excited to be able to share with you the incredible experience of Venture Outdoor Kindergarten. It is undeniably, as we have witnessed, a brilliant way to deliver Early Years education and it is giving your children an opportunity to become engrossed with all of their senses in the natural world, to make their own decisions, to use their imagination and be allowed to think independently rather than be spoon fed knowledge. The children gain so much from this and we are overjoyed to see it on their faces as they make such quick progress in all areas of life!
Read the rest of the Venture Kitley Farm newsletter here.