A visit from Ofsted… and some exciting news!

We have had another fantastic term at Venture and I know that our amazing Venture team have also enjoyed every minute of it. We have all appreciated the reward that the more challenging winter weather brings. There is nothing like feeling that you really deserve a hot chocolate by the fire, and your lunch always tastes that bit better after struggling through a howling gale. We have enjoyed getting cosy in the Reading Rooms, putting our hats and socks on the heater and sitting under the Christmas tree. We have tried to teach some of the children the etiquette of not hogging the fire!

The highlight of this term has to be our Ofsted inspection. It was just a very normal day at the kindergarten and the only reason for any lack of sleep for us was pure excitement that we were finally able to show off. However we have spent the last 2 years becoming slightly fed up with our own voices constantly saying the word Ofsted. I know that in my mind I had decided that if Ofsted were to tell us that what we had created was in some way not good enough, we most likely would have lost our enthusiasm to continue. Because every day that I am with the children at Venture I am relaxed, happy and confident in the knowledge that we simply couldn’t do a better job of nurturing them and giving them the best possible start in life.

The day unfolded in the usual way, with the children initiating all the best ideas, such as digging out the now slightly soggy pumpkin flesh, then working together to collect water to pour inside and discovering that this made the seeds float to the top. A perfect example of a ‘lesson’ that we could have planned beforehand, but could not have guaranteed would capture the children’s interest at that moment. We could tell that the inspector was enjoying herself as she chuckled with delight at how Rafe had discovered a new technique for getting water from the tippy tap by using his head. With a queue of patient friends making gentle conversation whilst filling their various receptacles and thanking Rafe for his help, we knew things were looking good. At around 12:30 pm she took us to one side. She said that at that point she was thinking we were definitely ‘good’ but she was hoping that once she had finished asking us a few more questions and had carried out the management meeting she hoped that she could give us outstanding. As she saw the look on our faces, and the tears well in our eyes, she said that she had been struck by the obvious passion we had and that she could see how important it was to us. She continued to say that what she was witnessing when observing the children was very obviously as a result of a lot of hard work and a strong belief in what we do. We then had a slightly nerve wracking hour of her sifting through various bits of paperwork before she sat back smiling and announced the result.
There was a lovely moment when the inspector was checking the staff appraisal forms and pointed out, one member of staff’s comment that she had “never been so happy”. For a few days afterwards she called us on a daily basis to talk to us and give us more feedback. She told us that we were the first outstanding she had ever given and that her colleagues could not believe that she had finally given someone outstanding. After she had spoken to them about us and what she had seen that day they apparently all wanted to come and have a look. She kept saying what an amazing experience she’d had and thanking us for giving her such a wonderful day. She said that she had been talking about us so much at home that her son would ask her to lie in bed with him and tell him more stories about ‘the special kindergarten’. She told us that she wished that her children were still young and that she would have sent them to us without hesitation. She talked about other places she had recently been to, and that the memory of her day with us would stay with her forever, that it would cheer her up when she was feeling downhearted by other inspection visits. She told us that the inspector who had been previously to register us in Hope Cove had spoken to her about us before she came and had said that she had been really struck by how passionate we were, and that she just knew that it would be a positive experience. She wanted to know all about the progress that we had made in the past 2 years and asked that our inspector call her afterwards to let her know what it was like.
Once the inspector had written the report it had to go to her manager to be checked. The manager commented that it was the most positive report he had read for some time. At the end of it all, she said that she hoped she would have the privilege to come and inspect us again in Yealmpton and that she would continue to follow our progress with admiration. If you haven’t read the report yet the link is below.

https://files.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/50129250

Onwards…

We are very excited to announce that we have been registered for our new site “Venture Kitley Farm” in Yealmpton. We have re-submitted the planning permission as it is on a slightly different patch of land. It is directly behind Ben’s Farm Shop and next to Growers Organics. It will be a fenced garden with a 24ft teepee and log burner as our inside space. It will no doubt develop over time, taking into account the children’s interests, but to give you some idea it will have a tool area, fire circle, mud kitchen, gardening plot, digging patch, loose parts on a grander scale, water play and a stage with dressing up. We also have permission from the owner of Kitley estate to roam wherever we want to with the children, so we will visit the surrounding woodland. We will hopefully have the opportunity to get involved with the businesses surrounding us, with animals to visit and the opportunity to teach the children about growing organic produce. Once the planning is on the portal we will let you all know, and if any of you could do a letter of support for us we would really appreciate it.

We have also applied to open in Kingsbridge next year. Again this is something we have been wanting to do for some time. The plan for this would be to run in exactly the same way as Hope Cove, using the library as our base. We will then visit the parks, surrounding countryside and estuary. But we are also very keen to add an urban edge and allow the children the time, for example to explore the high street, the fishmonger window, the cinema, the community gardens, the museum and art gallery. We both remember times when we were rushing a toddler past things that they so wanted to spend a long time looking at. It will be a wonderful opportunity to allow them to fully immerse themselves in their surroundings, in a location offering a slightly different perspective.

 

Read the rest of our Autumn 2 newsletter here.

“Don’t you know that everything at Venture is just magic!”

What a truly wonderful first half term at venture for lots of new children and myself too. It is quite incredible to see how quickly both old and new venturers have settled and wonderful to observe more experienced children holding a hand and showing new children the ropes, myself included. Our days at venture are slow paced and children are given the freedom and time to explore, spending a whole day leading their own learning in natural surroundings that feed their curiosity is something that is quite unique. Children are eager to learn as their experiences are real life and relevant. They aren’t playing with plastic bugs in an already made bug hotel, they are finding slow worms in the mud and finding out what they need to create a suitable home for them. They aren’t tapping a letter on an Ipad screen, they are pointing at a sound on a sign on a wall and questioning what does that say? why is it there? They aren’t moving a small world digger across some brown material pretending to be mud, they are watching from less than a metre away how the controls of the digger move to adjust the bucket as it scoops tarmac from the road.

‘The best learning happens in real life with real problems and real people and
not in classrooms’
Charles Handy

Each child’s thoughts and who they are as individuals is valued and their well-being and happiness is integral. We spend long periods of time observing and listening to children, learning about their character and understanding them as individuals to support them along their learning journeys. Children at venture are learning to be aware of others, to be kind considerate and polite to each other. It is heartwarming to see children helping each other, offering a hand when their friend is sliding down a muddy hill, zipping up each other’s coats as the rain starts to fall and emptying one another’s boots when they have filled with water. The surroundings of Hope Cove are just breathtaking and not a day goes by that we don’t see something different. Yet there’s no denying that it can be a challenge in this ever-changing environment but the confidence and perseverance that children show is something I have never seen before. There was one moment in particular that has stuck with me for the last few weeks. It was at the end of a day in the woods, the wind had started to blow and the rain had started to come down, and the children were strolling along up the hill. As we reached the top and looked down across the hills, I heard a little voice say, “that view is magic!” I replied with “it certainly is” the little voice continued “Don’t you know that everything at venture is just magic”.

Read the rest of our Autumn 1 Newsletter here.

Find us in The Green Parent Magazine

It was lovely to be approached again by The Green Parent magazine, this time to be included in their special edition on learning. They asked us how we create such a strong sense of community at Venture. We recommend buying this interesting and inspirational magazine, but you can also take a sneaky peak at our little bit here!

Tree climbing for school readiness

The last few weeks at Venture have been particularly dreamy. The days when we decide to climb the hills are definitely some of the most memorable. But there has been something else which has been really incredible to watch, another way in which the children can change their perspective, and this has been tree climbing. It is the first time that we have experienced the older children deciding to really push themselves and get as high as they can. Of course, a wonderful benefit of climbing trees is that it can suit every child so the younger or less abled children can also join in, hanging around on the lower branches. All the time watching, learning from and aspiring to be the child high up in the tree smiling and looking down on everyone. You may not know that this simple activity has so many incredible benefits for a child. We all have memories of being alone high up in a tree with a wonderful sense of freedom and feeling alive. You are so aware of being almost wrapped inside a beautiful piece of nature and feeling suddenly strong and confident. Think about by way of comparison a child climbing on play equipment compared to a tree. The tree climbing child is working with something unpredictable and needs a lot more focus and concentration. It is an exceptionally sensory experience and one that is proven to rapidly develop spatial reasoning skills and form complex neural networks in the brain. You need to be a problem solver and have a resilient can-do attitude, developing flexibility not only of the body but of the mind.
During our recent interviews for a leader at the kindergarten, we have met many reception teachers. One of our questions to them has been ‘what do you feel are the most important traits for children to have when they come into school.’ Their answers have resoundingly been that there is an immense concern that so many children are arriving in the school classroom unable to do things for themselves and unable to cope due to a lack of focus, determination and resilience. The seven traits of resilience are: insight, independence, relationships, initiative, creativity, humour, and morality. Studies of risky play have identified four characteristics in a resilient child: social competence, problem-solving skills, autonomy and sense of purpose and future. All of these traits can potentially be derived from tree climbing. Well, we can very proudly say that we have been striving to ensure that for every child we send on from Venture Outdoor Kindergarten to school a lot of work has been put in to ensure that they have these qualities. How brilliant therefore that rather than sitting them down to do phonics and maths lessons (the teachers we spoke to all said that sadly this is what far too many preschools are doing) we have been climbing trees!

Read the rest of our summer 1 newsletter here.

What on earth are they doing?!

What on earth are they doing?! Is the look we have been given from onlookers many times so far this term. As we battle our way through the wind and the rain or sit having a picnic in a squall. We were even offered shelter in someone’s house on the day of the hail, which of course we declined. Because the answer is that we are having a lot of fun, learning and embedding some incredible memories. Just think of how many children, some of our own included, were in a stuffy classroom missing these life-affirming moments of wild weather. We have done a lot of reflecting recently as in January we reached the milestone of being open for a whole year. There is still not a day that goes by when we don’t remark to one another how utterly wonderful it has been and how lucky we are.
We have children who have been with us for a year and a half this term, and some new children who have just joined us. We would like to welcome our new families and we are very happy with how well the children have settled. As ever we have been really proud of the children as they help one another and happily show new children the ropes.
At Venture we like to take a long time observing, listening and taking notes on what the children talk about and what they are interested in. The adults discuss the children before they arrive, whilst they are with us and when they have gone home. We think about them at home and often lie awake wondering how we can improve their environment. Every child’s wellbeing and happiness is carefully discussed and we tweak things accordingly. We sit with the children for extraordinarily long periods of time chatting and listening to each other. Everyone’s thoughts and who they are as individuals is valued. They are always engaged and interested and this means that we very quickly get to know new children and, in turn, they also learn about each other.
One of the challenges we have talked about recently is not getting caught up in the pressure parents increasingly feel under for their child to achieve things by a certain age. We find that all of us happily discuss with other parents the differences in reaching milestones such as walking, talking or weaning. But when it comes to literacy, for example, we can feel panic and competition if they are not at the same level as their peers. At Venture we never force the children to move from one planned activity to the next, ticking off on a sheet when all of the children have completed it. We feel this presents the danger of eventually dulling their desire to learn. We have seen first hand how quickly this approach can turn a child off learning and how it squashes their imagination, fascination and curiosity. How wrong it would feel to force a child to do a counting activity when they may have woken up that morning with a yearning to create. Instead we allow the children to take the reins. In fact, our aim is that for the majority of the day the adult presence is hardly noticed.
“When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself”
Jean Piaget.
Each child is treated individually and we try to create an environment whereby it is the children who are eager to learn, they are hungry for it and inspired. They are experiencing real things in a real and dynamic environment which is changing from day to day, season to season and year to year. Therefore it makes sense, it applies to them, it is relevant. Last week one child asked where the hail had gone, I answered that I wasn’t sure, allowing him to think. After a while he said, “I think actually it has gone back into the sky”. Another child remarked, “No it has melted” and someone else said, “Yes in the rain”.
For the children who have been with us for over a year, we have worked predominantly on their social skills, empathy, confidence and self-esteem. Some of these children are now beginning naturally to want to take things a step further and that is because they feel ready, confident and inspired to take on a new challenge.
We have had the pleasure this term of inviting other practitioners to the setting for interviews and we have had some really lovely feedback. One lady said how she had read the website and looked at our Facebook page over and over, and thought that she had a good idea of what we were all about. However, having spent a day with us realised that in fact there were no words to describe the magic she had witnessed and it would be impossible for anyone to properly understand what is happening and how unique it is!

Read the rest of the Spring 1 2019 newsletter here

Birthdays and Broccoli: a formula for happy, balanced children.

The curriculum is only a narrow part of the formula for happy, balanced children.

What do we believe is important at Venture Outdoor Kindergarten?

Manners, conversation, confidence, resilience, less technology, more time together with loved ones, discussion/debate, exercise and fresh air, being read to, being loved, taking days off for no particular reason, spending birthdays together, teaching them you can’t solve every problem, mindfulness, kindness and eating your broccoli!

All of these things come from people who love them or who can offer a strong supportive relationship. It is hard for early years settings who have Ofsted’s boot on their necks asking them instead to teach them to read and write and solve mathematical problems before all of the things above have been accomplished. There is no point in a child being able to count if he cannot share. There is no point in teaching a child to read if she has no imagination.

We need to focus on emotional intelligence and mental resilience. The children we are teaching today in early years are going to need to be able to cope in a rapidly changing world.

So what do we at Venture Kindergarten do to ensure that the children are getting what they really need for this uncertain future?

We talk to them, we ask questions and we listen. We teach them to listen to one another and to help each other when they can see someone struggling. We teach them that they need others, a dependable presence to help them in their achievements. We become one of those reliable people and we tell them we are proud of them.

We show understanding when things go wrong and explain why they feel upset. We show them that this is okay and try to think of strategies to help them. We teach them to be independent and to try and do things for themselves, but that it is okay and important to be able to ask for help. We provide an environment where they can learn through play without feeling an adult hovering and watching their every move. We allow them to feel alone and we allow them to make their own decisions.

We stand back and let arguments happen, as we are aware that they need to learn to stand up for themselves. If an adult always steps in they learn to expect this and will always look for a judge. In this situation as well there will always be one child who feels they have had their power/pride taken away. They need to learn how to negotiate.

We talk to the children about how they are learning and improving. We remind them of things they once couldn’t do such as climbing over a gate, using a drill, sawing a piece of wood or packing away their lunch. We tell them they can achieve anything and we continually build their self-esteem. We talk about how it is okay to find things hard thus building up their strength for future challenges.We teach and model optimism which is essential when we are faced with a howling gale and sideways rain as we power up a steep hill. We talk about how good it was to face this, what we have learnt and how much we are now looking forward to our hot chocolate!

We teach them to think outside of the box to come up with crazy ideas and to appreciate different ways of looking at things. We teach them to reframe and to see the positive side of everything. We provide a model by talking to them about real things that have happened to us, allowing them to see that we are just like them. We encourage resilience by showing them that we too have struggles and disappointments and talk about how we overcame them.

We value their opinions and listen carefully to what they have to say, consider it and respond.

We encourage the children to take risks and allow them to judge them for themselves giving them responsibility. We rarely have to tell a child to not climb any higher as they know we are leaving it up to them to decide. We might say “Do you still feel safe up there?” rather than “No, come down!” We allow them to walk a little too far away from us before stopping them to talk about how we would prefer for them to stay closer to us because we would like to keep them safe. We ask them where they feel the boundaries should be, giving them ownership of the decisions. We carry a boundary flag and give them the responsibility for putting it where they think they should stop.

Allowing this freedom also means that they are learning that they can cope when things go wrong. A child who hasn’t had to take risks in early childhood might be reluctant to step up and answer a question in a science lesson or put their name down for the school play, for fear of getting things wrong. We allow the children to get things wrong and show them that it is a good thing, that we also get things wrong and that this is how we learn.

We don’t rush to solve problems for the children. We allow them to cry over cold hands or wet socks. We talk to them about how it feels and we tell them we also have cold hands, but we know that it will be okay. It is easy to worry about a child who is crying and feel that we should quickly step in and resolve everything for them, but then where is the learning? A small amount of adversity and pressure means that they will have better coping skills for stresses and challenges later on.

We are always sensitively observing the children in order to properly understand every individual’s needs. We do not expect any child to do something that they are not ready to do. We, therefore, do not set them up for failure but for achievement.

Jennifer Papenfus
Venture Outdoor Kindergarten. 26-01-19

A whole year of Venture Hope Cove!

Here we are at the end of our first year in Hope Cove. We are feeling really happy with what we have created and extremely excited about the future. To be honest we entered this term with a little trepidation, wondering how everyone would cope with the weather. How wrong we were though, as we have seen such determination and resilience from all of the children and as always they have relished the new opportunities winter brings. The above photograph was taken last week and I think was one of my favourite moments at Venture. It was a day of roaming and the children wandered along until they found a grassy hill. They threw off their backpacks and began to climb up and roll or run back down again. The air was filled with laughter and they played all morning until they were exhausted and collapsed in a heap, using their backpacks to lie on for a rest. As they lay here they talked about “Bear Island” and whether it was called this because it was shaped like a bear or had bears living on it! There also pondered questions such as “How big is the sea?” and “What happens when you just keep going?”. This led on to them talking about space and planets and then asteroids and dinosaurs. How many children have the opportunity to gaze at a view as spectacular as this and ponder and question these things? One of the most magical aspects in the last few weeks has been watching the group come together to work and play as a team. They have space and time to talk and listen to one another and without constant directions, opinion and coercing from an adult.

The results of this are that relationships are developing for the sake of each other rather than for our benefit. They no longer always look to us for reassurance or to settle a dispute but they work it out themselves and together. We have seen an incredible amount of kindness among the children. They really care for one another, they will stop and find out what is wrong if someone is upset. They help each other up the slope or to cross a stream. They point out to us if they feel one of their friends has moved too far from the group. If someone doesn’t turn up in the morning they want to know where they are and if they are poorly. This affection is often obvious to us by the nicknames they begin to use, such as Dougie, Hets or Aubes!

 

Read the last newsletter of 2018 here!

Challenge in the Autumn

The first half of the Autumn term has gone by so quickly. The children have been really busy and happy we are so pleased with how well both old and new Venturers have settled. We mustn’t forget that Venture is a challenge and that is a large part of why we are all doing it. 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. When we arrive in the woods or the beach we often get the opportunity to stand back and watch as they begin to come up with their own new ideas and play wonderful imaginary games together. We can’t help but feel very proud and also happy that you have all chosen a setting which, yes is sometimes more challenging, but is undeniably better in that 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 everyday we get to see it on their faces as they complete a challenging task independently.

We watch 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 lead to some fantastic ideas such as the ‘toilet area’ some of them have spent weeks planning, designing and building, clearing a path, digging an area, tying rope across trees to stop people entering and laying bamboo canes to mark the pathway. There has also been bridge making, pirate ships, redirecting the reading rooms gutter water, making a waterway in the stream and so much more. All of this was done as a team, welcoming new people each week, 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.

 

Read our first autumn newsletter here.

Summer time news

We have all thoroughly enjoyed the summer term at Venture, it has been incredible to see Hope Cove transform from raging seas and mud to a beautiful, peaceful sunny haven. Now we are all looking forward to the return of mud, wind and the sea crashing over the wall! This is one of the many benefits of an outdoor setting, the children can become fully immersed in the changing seasons. They start to appreciate the differences in what nature has to offer, we have had conversations this term where they have remembered places where they splashed in a big muddy puddle or felt the sea against their cheeks and they tell us they are looking forward to doing all of this again. This term amongst a list too long to mention we have come across and learnt about flowers, seeds, butterflies, caterpillars, crabs, sea slaters, lobsters, dragonflies, snails and bugs galore! We have watched the stream in the garden dry up, the grass dry out and change colour and talked about how dusty the slope looks as we climb up into the woods. We have seen enormous changes in the children as well, with so many of them making huge exciting developmental leaps. A very important part of what we do at Venture is to teach the children to be aware of others, to be kind to each other and to be polite and considerate to the group and to the people we encounter as we travel around the village. We are so proud of them all as we watch them helping one another to pack away their lunch or undo a backpack, they really look like a cohesive team. We have also this term enjoyed watching the children take ownership of their own learning, becoming independent learners. They are discovering that they can find information all around them, they are developing their own curiosity in the environment. They now search for letters on signs that they recognise and there are numerals everywhere that they delight upon finding and telling us what they are. They decide for themselves that they want to record things in their little books or find out what different signs or blackboards say or mean. When they find things on the beach they are carefully collected and examined before looking them up in our books to find out what they are called. We have used hammers and nails and the drill and they all loved making boats and fathers day presents. Quite often what they come home with will look nothing like it did as they modify through the day or sometimes take it all apart again, so please remember it is all about the process rather than the end result! As we completed our recent assessments on the children we were delighted to see that they have all made really good progress as far as the EYFS requirements are concerned. Though we are confident that in the environment we have created and ensuring the children all feel valued, respected and nurtured that everything else will naturally follow.

 

Read our end of summer newsletter here.