NAME OF SETTING: Alfreton Nursery School, Derbyshire
Alfreton Nursery School was built in the late 1980’s and is situated in Alfreton, a former coal-mining town in the North of Derbyshire. The Nursery runs a morning and afternoon session and accepts children aged between three and five years old. The current Head has been in post since the school opened and has played a key part in the school’s development and expansion over the years. The original single storey building has been expanded by the addition of a Phase I Children’s Centre, and the outdoor space also continues to evolve and increase due to the mutually beneficial relationship that the Nursery has built with the secondary school next door.
EFFECTIVE OUTDOOR PRACTICE:
I visited Alfreton Nursery on a sunny morning in May 2012. The Nursery has a deliberate policy of providing access to the garden from the moment children arrive –believing that they need the time to be active, energetic and physical before they can be more focused in their play and learning. By the time I arrived at 9.45am the few children I encountered in the well organised and attractive classroom areas were calm and purposeful and, as might be expected, most children were outside. What was immediately noticeable when I stepped into the garden was the continued sense that children were also busy and engaged in this space. The outdoor space is well established and carefully zoned to provide children with a wide range of play experiences in the different areas. The nursery garden has an inspiring mixture of what could be labeled ‘traditional’ play equipment , such as the climbing frame, as well as innovative new play materials, such as the Atelier Box –a treasure chest of open-ended resources developed by a member of staff. Some equipment is fixed, for example the low level trim trail, however, children also have access to moveable resources –for example crates and bricks, and outdoor role play materials. The large Atelier Box has been a very successful addition to the garden and has been featured in an article in Nursery World . Click on the link below to find out more about this resource.
The Nursery has dealt imaginatively with a common problem faced by early years settings; unsightly perimeter fencing. The creative use of willow trained in large arches all along the fence has softened and disguised it without shutting out children’s view of their world beyond the Nursery garden. Staff and children move freely between the indoor and outdoor areas, and the outdoor space is available to children all year round whatever the weather! The large verandah running along the back of the building was once open to the elements but has now been enclosed to provide a generous transition space with attractive displays and all weather clothing storage, where children and staff can prepare for being outdoors. The solar dome (pictured in the slideshow above) provides a warm and sheltered environment for growing plants and is also used by children who want to opt out of more energetic activities. Children use bikes on a separate tarmac pathway complete with pelican crossings and traffic signs. The bikes have their own storage shelter where they are parked overnight. Good use is made of storage ‘depots’ located around the garden to ensure that staff and children have the equipment and resources they require exactly where they need them.
A small outdoor space adjacent to the kitchen and originally intended for bins has been repurposed and put to much better use as an outdoor snack area. Children choose when to have their snack and sit at tables with a member of staff. The space is an attractive environment with food related displays and a focus on healthy eating. A height chart on the wall helps reinforce the link between healthy eating and growth.
In addition to all of these outdoor opportunities, for over five years the Nursery staff have been developing their onsite Forest School, and all children attending have two terms of Forest School activities. During my visit I observed a group of children staff and parents participating in their weekly session and overheard a parent commenting on how much her child was enjoying mixing earth and water to make mud pies. The Nursery continues to promote and develop outdoor practice and is currently creating an orchard and wildlife garden on an unused strip of land at the perimeter of the secondary school playing field. As well as putting the surplus land to good use this initiative has provided meaningful opportunities to strengthen links between the Nursery and the secondary school pupils –many of whom once attended the Nursery!
BENEFITS AND POSITIVE IMPACT:
The snapshot of practice that I observed outdoors suggests that the Nursery’s use of this unique and special environment is making a valuable contribution to the positive outcomes for children and families. The Nursery’s most recent Ofsted report (Sept 2011) noted that the ‘children show a real joy for learning and love their school. From the moment they enter they are active learners, exploring ideas and interests in depth. Relationships are exemplary and this helps the children to be supremely happy and confident in their play. They behave exceptionally well, keep very healthy and safe, and are exceptionally well prepared for the move to Reception’.
This accolade from Ofsted is well deserved, the long serving head and the low turnover of staff has resulted in an educational environment where the past is acknowledged and understood, the present is valued without complacency, and the future can be shaped according to the needs of children. The garden is a living and evolving example of this approach to creating an enabling environment where children and families can grow and develop. This approach is evidenced by the personal and professional development of staff who go onto further training and bring enriched practice back to the Nursery, and through the partnership with parents who use the Nursery as a stepping stone and support for their own personal growth. But, most importantly it can be seen in the children, who remain at the very centre of the Nursery’s practice; children are independent and confident, they pursue their own ideas , they are creative, they cope well with new challenges and show determination to succeed.
The Ofsted report judged that ‘The school continues to provide an outstanding start to children’s early education. In all key areas of provision, excellence has been maintained since the last inspection and good improvements have been made. The success of the school is firmly rooted in the superb leadership of the headteacher, a team of exceptionally skilled staff and a highly effective governing body. They are all, together, totally committed to the children’s success, happiness and safety. They successfully implement the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework within a wonderfully stimulating and supportive ethos. A great strength of the school lies in its excellent partnerships with parents and carers, who value highly the tremendous support they and their children receive, especially in difficult times. The school fully deserves its reputation in the locality as a leading practitioner of excellence. Strong links locally and further afield contribute significantly to first-rate community cohesion’.
The outdoor practice at Alfreton Nursery School illustrates what can be achieved when the staff team, the leadership and the governing body place importance on the use of the outdoor environment. Their time, energy and determination and commitment has resulted in an enabling outdoor environment that provides very effective support to children’s play, learning and development.