Why the adults at Venture are ‘not helpful’

What an incredible term we have had so far. We are so proud of the achievements many of the children have made and our hearts sing as we scan our eyes across the garden to watch a flurry of enthusiastic, happy and busy children. 

As we have had some questions and queries from parents since our opening and we would normally have had the opportunity for a parent evening to discuss these, we thought we would take this opportunity to explain a little about our background and methods.

As some of you are aware our first Pre-School was opened in 2018 in Hope Cove, with the aim of providing exceptional and unique outdoor child-led education. In 2019, encouraged by an “Outstanding”  assessment from Ofsted, we decided to open a new setting at Kitley. However it all began some time before that.

About 7 years ago we had a chance meeting in some woodland on the Flete Estate and struck up a conversation which soon led to a realisation that we shared a passion for providing young children with the best care and environment possible for their growth and development. Up to that point we had been solely concerned with our own children, but we soon began working together at Holbeton Pre-School and enjoyed re-shaping existing practices according to our own standards and principles.

Between that moment and now, we have spent all of our working days (and a worryingly large amount of our personal lives) discussing over and over the intricacies of early childhood and how caring for children at this most precious and important time should be done. We both read extensively on the subject and incorporate the best practices that we can find either in the UK or abroad. We have visited some incredible examples such as the Secret Garden in Scotland which was written about by Richard Louv, and Little Forest Folk in London. These settings have inspired us, along with our own ongoing learning about many different pedagogies, and we take a little from them all. But ultimately what we have come to realise is that, in Venture, we have created our very own unique and very special pedagogy.

Every day that the two of us are together we are talking and tweaking our method. Sometimes even at 5 am on a Sunday we are messaging one another, reflecting, wondering how it should be done, how could it be better, changing even the smallest details. We will never stop working towards making this the absolute best Early Years experience we can. 

This term we have been interviewing, and we have so far considered or interviewed 28 candidates. It is a very careful process and we spend a long time evaluating what we feel constitutes the most important element of Venture, the people. Once we take on staff there begins a process of training and a journey for them which will continue throughout their time with us. Every detail of how the adult interacts with a child is scrutinised and carefully thought about. The detail and subtlety in this is vast, down to when to make eye contact, when it should be just a nod or a wink, when to get involved in an argument. All of this will depend upon which child it is, what they have going on at home, what they might be currently struggling with. When you see us standing in the garden watching the children, there is a careful process going on of gleaning as much information about that child, along with caring for their needs with a totally non-invasive approach. From there we can scaffold their learning, but above all else nurture them, allow them to flourish and ensure that when they leave us they are bursting with confidence, independence, resilience and self-esteem. 

We received an email this term from a lovely parent who had some queries and feedback for us and asked about why we don’t necessarily follow the same format as other Preschool settings, one example being that we didn’t do anything for National Garden Bird Watch week. We thought perhaps there may be more of our families who have wondered similarly, so here is a little of the reply:

“At Venture, as you know, we take a different approach to other early years settings or schools. Our offering is unique and is the product of years of development, consideration and observation. We believe that the children should be, first and foremost, nurtured, so that they are confident and that their self-esteem is always boosted. Therefore, we spend a lot of time getting to know the children and doing things at their pace until they are well settled in the environment.

This of course encompasses a multitude of challenges in all weathers and they get to experience first-hand some pretty extraordinary days of wind, rain, mud and of course the beautiful changes in the seasons. We are also working hard, extremely hard in some cases, to encourage independence and resilience, which we have heard from many reception teachers shines through when they compare a Venture child to children from settings where they have an adult do everything for them. We all know that learning can only truly take place when a child feels happy, capable and confident.

During this time, and every single day they attend Venture they are discovering nature. A ladybird, worms, slugs, centipedes, birds, woodlice, wasps, hollowed out cobnuts, mermaids purse’, bees and mice are a few recent examples.  The children often discover these things for themselves and it is from their own interest and innate curiosity that they learn about them. 

Therefore, in answer to why we often do not always conform to what other early years settings may offer, such as the garden bird watch. Firstly it is important to us that the children discover these things for themselves and that they learn from their own interests, but also what these adult planned activities offer would be what our children are lucky enough to experience everyday. On the day when we have arranged bird watching and craft the children could be more interested for example in the ice that has formed in the garden overnight, and would therefore feel pressured to do and attend to what the adults want rather than having the independence and freedom to follow their own interests and passions.

Over time it has become clear that often children who are coerced into learning about what the adults have chosen, are effectively turned off learning altogether. 

It is also more important to us that the children enjoy their day and the process of making something rather than sending them home with an adult led creation which would be solely to impress and keep parents happy.”

“True learning – learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning — can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner.” -John Holt

Read the rest of the Venture Kitley Farm newsletter for Spring 1 2021 here.

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