NAME OF SETTING: Little Explorers Day Nursery, Rochester
Little Explorers operates from a building that was formerly the caretaker’s cottage attached to an adjacent school. The provision is privately owned and is registered for up to 41 children, including nine children under two years. The nursery is open each weekday from 8am to 6pm for 51 weeks of the year and it serves the local community.
The day nursery has been open for six years and in that time the outdoor area has been developed from a ‘blank canvas’ to an enabling environment for babies, toddlers and young children. The transformation has involved everyone at the setting; staff, children, families. It has included the imaginative use of free and found resources, as well as a successful bid for funding from Medway Early Years team to create a canopied area for shade and shelter in the south facing garden.
The initial vision for the garden was to create a space full of interest and texture. This was achieved by introducing a range of levels and surfaces, such as gravel, bark, grass and paved slabs, and the clever use of planting, low level fencing, and venting pipes to create different spaces around the garden. Each year vegetables and fruits are grown from seed, planted and cared for, then cooked and eaten. Further interest has been added at little cost by creative use of recycled objects, such as the fence flowers made from plastic bottles (see pdf link below), the small tyres begged from a local go-kart track, and cable drums donated by a local builder.
At Little Explorers they recognise that the best outdoor spaces include ideas and involvement from everyone at the setting and this approach has informed the development of the garden over the years. The leadership and management team believe that outdoor environments are dynamic places that need to continually evolve; to meet the needs and interests of different children, and to ensure that the equipment and resources and spaces remain interesting and an inspiring catalyst for play. They lead by example, taking an active role in the development and use of the garden. They demonstrate their commitment to good quality outdoor play through publicity, marketing materials, policies, staff development, and finance. There is a annual budget for maintenance and replenishment of dispersed materials, such as bark and gravel.
The staff are quick to recognise children’s interests and adapt the garden to support their play ideas; for example the building site next door was originally screened by a tarpaulin but when staff realised that several children were peeping behind the tarpaulin and were fascinated by watching the builders at work they decided to take action! The tarpaulin was removed to give children a clear view of the workmen and a building area was created in the garden so that children could act out what they had seen happening next door.
The staff also value the input from parents about the development of the outdoor space. Parents dropping off their child by car enter the premises through the garden and this means they are familiar with the space as it changes throughout the seasons. As is common in lots of settings some parents have anxieties about their children having access to materials such as gravel, or are concerned about their child falling or tripping on uneven surfaces. The staff at Little Explorers take time to reassure worried parents, and explain the value of managed risk in children’s lives. They also explain how they work with children to create a shared understanding of how to use materials to keep themselves and other children safe! For example, gravel can be dug, mixed, scooped, poured, and transported, but not thrown or eaten. This partnership approach to working with families has brought further benefits; since parents now recognise and value the opportunities their children have outdoors, they donate seedlings, and offer to volunteer or share their own skills. An old tree stump was carved by a parent to create a totem pole depicting the three wise monkeys.
BENEFITS AND POSITIVE IMPACT:
The involvement of everyone, and recognition that developments outdoors require commitment from the management, motivated and enthusiastic practitioners, a well organised and attractive space, and daily practices and routines that facilitate children’s access and use of outdoors has resulted in a vibrant environment that is valued by all, well used throughout the year, and offers enriched opportunities for children’s play and development in all areas of learning.
Contact Little Explorers by visiting
To find out how to make a flower from a plastic bottle click on the caption below this photograph