A peek at a day at Venture Kitley Farm and Venture Hope Cove

A peek at of some of the adventures shared in this weeks' learning journals: Monday this week at Venture Kitley Farm and Venture Hope Cove.


Monday at Venture Kitley Farm

Arriving into the Venture garden fresh from the weekend, all the children had lots to get on with!

Over the weekend a fort/ castle/ pirate ship appeared at the very top of the mound. Lots of children decided it was a pirate ship and were bringing loot from far and wide to hide safely in it.

Other children noticed the magical potions in the mud kitchen, just ready to be made and turn people into all kind of magical creatures. One put in magical sound effects, saying POOF! every time she added a new ingredient.

During the day lots of children had a go at leaf bashing using the hammers and making different patterns using lots of different leaves found in the garden.

At snack time we all sat down and listened to Bear on a Bike, with some children remembering the ‘Please wait for me’ sentence and asking 'Please wait for me!' very enthusiastically along with the story.

After snack, Jess raked up a huge pile of leaves and one child tried to bury themselves in it while others threw it around and pretended it was snow! Some realised if you gently shake the tree branches, you can catch the ones which are ready to fall.

There was lots of role play as the police were trying to catch a very persistent robber, and even more role play as Father Christmas and some very hopeful children. One said ‘I’m Father Christmas, but you can’t have any presents because you weren’t asleep’ which was met with some very believable sleeping role play.

At lunch time everyone joined in with Hairy Maclary and enjoyed talking about his friend Zachary Quack.

After lunch some set to work cleaning the mud kitchen which was some task!

Other children put on fancy dress and put on a show of the Lion King. They lined up some stools and made and handed out free tickets. Good job it was free because the robber took all of our money earlier.

Other children went to work hammering nails in the tool shed and building new toys.

Some stunt bike drivers were cycling through the tunnel while others sat on top of the wobbly tunnel like rodeo riders trying to hold on to the wobbly horse.

We finished a very busy day with a digestive biscuit and learning a brand new song!

Jess Hoare.

Monday at Venture Hope Cove

Our day began with stick collecting in the woods ready to make jingle sticks.

We then set off towards the waterfall beach but stopped half way by the slipway for snack time. There were lots of surfers in the sea so we decided to sing them a few of our songs!

We headed on over the coast path stopping along the way to see a black ladybird with orange spots, to search for their numbers on a sign and to chat to the workmen fixing the fence. When we arrived at the beach the children were quick to notice how it looked different. There was quite a steep sand bank which was very fun to try out different ways of moving up and down it, including rolling backwards and landing upside down.

The children found what they decided was a shark tooth and a big piece of metal. There was a lot of discussion about what it was and how it got there but in the end it was decided that the shark had tried to bite on the metal, thinking it was food in the sea, but it made it's tooth fall out. This then inspired a big clean of the beach!

We were lucky enough to see a lobster on the way home and found out that it was blue because of what it had eaten.

We had some yummy damper bread cooked on the stove for snack whilst watching the waves roll in!

Megan Heathman.

Give me the wild children… aching to run through a field of stars…

At this time of year, we often have many discussions about the challenges that children encounter throughout a day at Venture. However, our discussions more recently are more focused on how we are totally astonished by the tenacity of our children and how much they have all overcome in just a few weeks.

We are very mindful that as parents you may question your decision to send your child into the woods knowing the challenges they will likely come across. How will they manage a whole day outside? Will they be able to find another jumper if they are cold? Will they be able to climb as high as the older children? We thought that by sharing this email from one of our current parents will hopefully give you reassurance that you have made the best decision for your child.

‘When I dropped Maggie off this morning at the woodland gate and watched her try repeatedly to climb up the muddy steep bank I was reminded of a few lessons we so easily forget. I was humbled by my 3 year old. As I watched her try and repeatedly slide down the muddy bank I am ashamed to say I thought she wouldn't make it up there. Even suggesting she go round the easy way.  The whole way home I felt ashamed of that. She kept going and she kept sliding and she still kept going and eventually she made it.  Yet there I was, the adult, telling her to take the easy way round. She wasn't going to let that bank defeat her. My determined little toddler showed me that just because it’s tough doesn't mean she can't achieve it. I was reminded that although our children are little they are more capable than perhaps we sometimes give them credit for. Given enough time and space I know they have the determination to achieve so much. So that’s also why I felt happy. Happy that she is spending her days with people like you. You let our children discover the world for themselves and overcome problems with sheer determination. I love that they're encouraged to tackle the day in their own way at their own pace. You stood back and watched her attempt the bank knowing she would do it in the end.  Thank you for letting our children blossom and for nurturing their spirits. Maggie adores Venture, she loves her days there and the people she spends them with. I can see why. When I pick her up, muddy faced and boots full of sand I’m happy in the knowledge my strong willed little girl is getting to blossom and grow in such a wonderful environment with such amazing role models.’

During our parent meetings it has been really heart-warming for us to hear that the parents of children who have been with us for a while share the same view as us. That facing challenges and overcoming barriers instils determination and confidence and the time they have spent at Venture so far has given them the belief that they can achieve anything they wish.

‘Give me the wild children with their bare feet and sparkling eyes. The restless, churning climbers. The wild ones using their outside voices, singing all the way home. Give me the wonder-filled, glorious mess makers dreaming of mountains and mud, aching to run through a field of stars.' Nicolette Sowder

Read the rest of the Venture Hope Cove newsletter here.

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.

What is Child-Led Play? Or why we take a step back, observe and wait to see what emerges.

Humans, like all mammals are born with the natural urge to play. It is the way in which they learn about their world and about how to live alongside the other humans that inhabit it. Children are play experts. They instinctively know what they need to achieve the next step in their learning and when given the space and freedom to do so, will naturally gravitate towards the type of play and experiences to move themselves forward.
The role of the adult is to offer a safe learning environment and allow children to follow their own play urges whilst being a 'supportive presence' for the child who is deeply engrossed in play. It is necessary to take a step back, observe and wait to see what emerges, allowing as much time as it takes.

Learning to interact with the world
We learn through the use of our senses and the more senses that are engaged at the moment of learning, the more beneficial that learning is. Children need to be immersed in the world in order for them to learn about it. Child-led play means allowing the time and space to smell, look and listen without interruption, to feel the elements and sometimes to taste too. Through child-led play in a natural environment, there are endless opportunities for children to use their senses simultaneously and to do so when they themselves feel ready.

Children gradually become more competent at engaging with their world and assessing risk through child-led play. As adults we do not rush them to take on physical challenges that they may not be ready for but instead take a step back, observe and wait to see what emerges in their play. Given time and space a child will only attempt what they are ready for and they are very aware of their own capabilities when they are used to deciding for themselves and taking on physical challenges without adult 'help'. As the adult has spent time observing the child, they have the confidence to see what unfolds or to give verbal support if needed

Learning to interact with others

During play which is controlled by an adult, the children rely on the adult to get everyone involved, assign roles and decide what is to happen. Child-led play means allowing the child to play at what they want and with whomever they want. They are responsible for engaging others, for keeping the play going and collaborating to decide what will happen. They learn how to build relationships and see others’ points of view, whilst get their point across and stand up for their own beliefs. At times this may lead to conflict and as adults, we may feel uncomfortable watching conflicts happen, especially as we often think that we could offer a solution and quickly restore peace. Child-led learning means that, as long as no violence is involved, we take a step back, observe and wait to see what emerges. We allow space for the children to negotiate for themselves. It may take some time for a solution to be reached, but the children learn a powerful lesson in trusting themselves to work things out rather than the lesson that adults always have all of the answers anyway and that they don’t need to consider these issues for themselves.

Many adults feel that children can only learn if someone with more knowledge than them shows them and teaches them about the world. By teaching in this way, power is taken away from the child and what the child actually learns is that they are not competent, that they don't know enough and that they should rely on others for what they need.

We all know how gratifying is when we feel we have mastered something new, particularly if that something was especially challenging. It is important not to take that feeling of fulfilment away from children by rushing in with the answers or solutions to problems. Even if the conclusion that the child comes to is not the universally accepted 'correct' one, they will get a buzz from having made a discovery or mastered something for themselves. That buzz is pattern forming, and is the way in which children 'learn to learn', empowering them to master whatever they aspire to master as they go through life.


by Zoe Purkis on 7.9.17