Boldon Outdoor Nursery is the only maintained nursery school that is based in the outdoors… a place where most children want to be for most of their time. We are immersed in and with nature both in our immediate garden, our wilderness and the beyond.
The United Nations recognises play as a fundamental right of children. (Article 31, Convention on the rights of the child 1989) Play is a natural, instinctive behaviour for children and children prefer to play in natural sites.
A brief History…
Between 2007 and 2009, the team at Boldon began their research journey into the power of working in and with nature. This involved visiting other settings and exploring the principals of their approach in Denmark, Italy, Norway, Auchlone and Czech Republic. We looked at the data, the impact and the benefits of an alternative model and decided to begin to create our own version that we could effectively implement in the UK. In 2012, the nature-based curriculum was developed, and the school was officially named as the Outdoor Nursery (Governance 2012).
• As Nature Pedagogues we acknowledge our expertise in understanding and connecting children with nature
• Nature pedagogy heavily influences the way we work with children, connecting their spaces inside: our home from home, outside: our garden and studio, the beyond: our visits out into our local and wider community to create the most powerful learning
• Reciprocal relationships between child and child, adult and child and adult to adult are crucial
• Our image of the child is that they are rich in potential, strong and powerful, competent and connected to adults and other children
• Children are allowed to play and explore their ideas and feelings, in a safe space with no restrictions time
• Outstanding Early Childhood will have a direct positive impact on long term health outcomes, improve future opportunities and school attainment
• Parents are respected and valued
• Well-being, cooperation and working together are deeply respected
• Our ventures into our community and beyond are crucial to our relationships
So, what is it we do? How are we different? Why are we successful in our approach?
We provide a quality provision which gives children access to three interlinking spaces to explore, create, learn and feel safe in:
1.Home from Home
Children access learning in the outdoors for most /all their session. If they come inside, it is to use the indoor bathroom, the dining area, the beautiful studio space or to cook in the kitchen. The indoor space is our home from home. It is very different to most other classrooms. It’s a space where the child can come inside and take advantage of the mounds of blankets, throws and cushions, fruit to snack on, be immersed in the soft lighting, and perhaps select from the array of books to settle down with, in comfort to read and share. Comforting music in the background to add to the calm, warm,feeling. They may access the abundance of natural resources in the studio, creating and thinking, in the most beautiful space. Often, we bring a floor book inside supporting the children to journal about their learning, their voice captured and there for all to see and hear. We know we are very different from almost all other early year’s classrooms however, what you would expect to see, hear and feel in those classrooms you will find in our studio, garden and beyond spaces, just on a much
2. The Studio
Our studio doors open onto our beautiful garden which invite children into the amazing creative space. When working in the studio children have the option to take their outdoor kit off or leave it on, it’s up to them and often based on what they are doing. The studio has so many resources for the children to use and explore. We mix our own paint from berries,
leaves, or powder colours. They may bring natural materials from the outside or take resources to the outside to work with. The children can continue work over a period of time in the studio, revisiting and extending ideas and projects.Treasures we collect on our visits into the beyond often influence the work which takes place in the studio. It is home to our shadow and light work, with a projector, stage and steps the children can use to explore perspective and manage risk.
3. The Garden
The garden was envisaged and then designed from our initial research, with consideration for the ideas expressed by our children, the parents and carers of Boldon community and our Governing Body. It is a beautiful natural space, a sensory haven rich with smells, sounds and textures where children are immersed in the outdoors and in nature. Specific areas of the garden are designed to facilitate and provoke learning and exploration across all areas defined in the Early Years Framework. It offers many physical challenges to support early development such as core strength, upper body strength, gross and fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. It offers children spaces to explore communication with each other, alone and with adults.
The beach Is the first thing a child will see as they enter the garden, something they are familiar with, part of their culture as we are a coastal town. The beach has a replica of Souter Lighthouse, another landmark, cultural heritage they are familiar with which is strengthened by visits to the real lighthouse in their first term in nursery! Our beach evolves with the children’s understanding of the landscape, sand pebbles and water are added.
The tyre swing on our big and beautiful tree is always in use. Children will swing, hang, relax and just move slightly,swaying with the breeze. As their confidence grows children begin to really push themselves, seeking height, speed and risk which develops vital muscles and stamina.
Our nature kitchen is a social space where children take on roles, develop their social skills, begin to record for a purpose, become creative with natural resources and mathematical tools. Children can be heard chattering in the kitchen, to each other, about what they are making, selling, mixing. This space offers support to our non-verbal children, one word level children and those with speech and language difficulties. The space has provocations added to reflect the children’s interests and is a hub of the outdoor space.
The water trays offer children the opportunity to experiment with water at different heights, different speeds and different depths. Across the seasons the trays are adapted to host an array of different materials, such as bark found in the garden,leaves and sticks which often make the perfect boats. Additional water spaces offer resources to allow children to transport, to tip and pour and explore moving water.
The orchard offers a place to hide or to lay and take in the smells. We watch as the fruits grow and fall from the trees, and we put our home grown produce to good use in the kitchen.
The firehouse is the central hub of our garden. A place to gather, sing and share stories to create a sense of belonging. Together we light the fire, prepare and cook snack and keep warm during the cooler months. The cabin is a cosy nook filled with comfy spaces and sensory resources. A space to relax and self-regulate when it gets a little busy.
Our felled tree provides children with opportunities to develop climbing skills, co-ordination and risk management. Additional resources are added to this space to challenge children ensuring they can practise problem solving and negotiation whilst developing reasoning skills and resilience. Natural loose parts support den building, team work and creative arts, performance and construction.
The Nature space is an area where we encourage wildlife to be part of the experience. A space to watch and listen to the birds, to hunt for bugs and offer a home for nocturnal animals. In summary, the garden is a magical place to be, full of awe and wonder and endless possibilities.
The following section provides examples of how vital areas of learning and development are facilitated by our unique Curriculum and Provision:
(Definition from the EYFS framework)
Intricately interwoven with emotional, social, cognitive and language development, physical development underpins all other areas of a child’s learning and development. Extensive physical experience in early childhood puts in place the neurological, sensory and motor foundations necessary for feeling good in your body and comfortable in the world. The
intimate connection between brain, body and mind must be understood; when they are viewed as one system, the of physical play, health and self-care are observed and the effects on a child’s early brain development and mental health of adverse childhood experience, including malnutrition, illness or neglect, is recognised. Health, well-being and self-care are integral to physical development. Prioritising care opportunities and a collaborative approach with long children supports development of lifelong positive attitudes to self-care and healthy decision-making. Each child’s journey relies on whole-body physical experiences. While biologically programmed the unfolding of this complex, interconnected system requires repeated movement experiences that are self-initiated and wide-ranging. Fine and gross motor control must develop together in an integrated way, so that the child can achieve what they set out to do. We must ensure that children have movement-rich lives indoors and outdoors from birth.
Vestibular development is supported with the tyre swing, sliding down the mud slide and bank at top of garden (wet/weather/winter), rolling and pushing tyres, swinging in the hammocks, running in the space.
Proprioceptive development is supported with the pushing of the tyre swing, pulling and lifting loose tyres, carrying wood, heavy planks and blocks, branches, hanging from the swing and hammock, throwing leaves, sticks , mud and snow balls, stretching from branch to branch on the climbing tree.
Cross-lateral development is supported by climbing our multi stem and fallen trees. Walking and running around the uneven terrain outdoors and clambering up the dunes at the coast and hills and banks at the forest.
Pivotal joint development is supported in many ways, one being in our beach, moving and transporting heavy loads of sand, digging and raking with a variety of tools and equipment. Another is in the nature kitchen, moving mud from the mound daily, transporting between areas which is heavy lifting for the children.
Sensory experiences for foot development are facilitated by challenging surfaces, hard and soft ground. The garden is uneven and bumpy, full of textures…crunchy leaves, tickle grass, soft squelchy mud, soft wet sand. During visits to the forest and the coast children encounter unpredictable surfaces depending on weather and seasons. Opportunities for being barefoot are offered when appropriate in all seasons.
Experiences for development of the hands are everywhere as children poke, point, reach, grasp, grip, shake, stretch, squeeze, squirt, twist, hang, throw, stroke, smooth, press, pat, hit, bang, stamp, brush, wipe, hold, handle, lift, carry, turn, mash, grind, whisk… all of these opportunities are in abundance across all areas of the setting. These actions develop
small muscles in the fingers, hands and arms. The beach, mud and water outdoors provide essential experiences for hand development. Activities across the day continue to support fine motor skills for example, using tools in the garden, threading leaves, scraping plates after lunch, pouring their own drinks are all a must each day. Children are involved in the
peeling and preparation of their fruit and vegetables for snack and preparing for cooking activities on the fire.
Vision/Perception development is supported by the offer of a rich, sensory outdoor environment which the child can access all session. Hand eye coordination and foot eye coordination is developed through the outdoor offer of rich natural materials, observation, movement and balance.
High activity levels within and beyond the setting are a priority. Day visits to the beyond have a positive impact on developing children’s stamina and resilience. Children are active for up to 6 hours a day, their full session is outdoors, on the move, keeping healthy and fit, reducing potential for sedentary behaviour. Calm, rest and sleep are supported with the hammocks in the fresh air, the cabin and the fire house, offering warm comfortable spaces for quiet calm rest.
We use the following checklist (every child a mover- Early Education) to ensure our children have access to the following:
• Variety of surfaces
• Interconnecting pathways
• Different levels and ranges of ways to move between levels
• Raised surfaces
• Clamber, climb and wriggle through
• Large vertical and horizontal surfaces
• Digging and filling
• Things to lift, carry and transport
• Containers to fill, empty, move including large wheelbarrow/carts
• Spaces to retreat
Communication and Language Development
Experiences in the womb lay the foundation for communication and a baby’s voice is evident from the beginning. Babies use their bodies, facial expressions, gestures, sounds and movements to seek connections and respond to those around them. Young children depend on back-and-forth interactions with responsive others to develop confidence as effective
communicators and language users. Communication and language development are closely intertwined with physical, social and emotional experiences. Communication and language lay a foundation for learning and development, guiding and supporting children’s thinking while underpinning their emerging literacy. Language is more than words. As children grow, they begin to be aware of and explore different sounds, symbols and words in their everyday worlds; a language-rich environment is crucial. A child’s first language provides the roots to learn additional languages and parents should be encouraged to continue to use their home languages to strengthen and support their children’s language proficiency as they join new environments.
Children’s skills develop through a series of identifiable stages which can be looked at in three aspects – Listening and Attention, Understanding, and Speaking. While not all children will follow the exact same sequence or progress at the same rate, it is important to identify children at risk of language delay or disorder as these can have an ongoing impact on
wellbeing and learning across the curriculum.
Personal Social and Emotional Development
Who we are (personal), how we get along with others (social) and how we feel (emotional) are foundations that form the bedrock of our lives. As we move through life, we are continually developing our sense of self as we weave a web of relationships with self, others and with the world. Personal, Social and Emotional Development is fundamental to all other aspects of lifelong development and learning and is key to children’s wellbeing and resilience. For babies and young children to flourish, we need to pay attention to how they understand and feel about themselves and how secure they feel in close relationships: in so doing they develop their capacities to make sense of how they and other people experience the world. Children’s self-image, their emotional understanding and the quality of their relationships affect their self-confidence, their potential to experience joy, to be curious, to wonder, and to face problems, and their ability to think and learn. A holistic, relational approach creates an environment that enables trusting relationships, so that children can do things independently and with others, forming respectful friendships. Early years practitioners meet the emotional needs of children by drawing on their own emotional insight, and by working in partnership with families to form mutually respectful, warm, accepting relationships with each of their key children.
Literacy is about understanding and being understood. Early literacy skills are rooted in children’s enjoyable experiences from birth of gesturing, talking, singing, playing, reading and writing. Learning about literacy means developing the ability to interpret, create and communicate meaning through writing and reading in different media such as picture books,
logos, environmental print and digital technologies. It involves observing and joining in the diverse ways that different people and communities use literacy for different purposes. Most importantly, literacy is engaging, purposeful and creative. Developing literacy competence and skills is a complex, challenging yet rewarding journey that requires high – quality pedagogical activities to enhance learning. Young children need to be listened to by attentive adults who recognise and value children’s choices. They need enjoyable, playful opportunities of being included and involved in the literacy practices of their home, early years setting, and community environments. They need experiences of creating and
sharing a range of texts in a variety of ways, with different media and materials, with adults and peers, both indoors and outdoors, as well as learning about using different signs and symbols, exploring sounds and developing early phonetic foundation skills.
Mathematics for young children involves developing their own understanding of number composition, quantity, shape, measure and space. Babies and young children have a natural interest in quantities and spatial relations – they are problem-solvers, pattern-spotters and sense-makers from birth. This curiosity and enjoyment should be nurtured through
their interactions with people and the world around them, drawing on their personal and cultural knowledge. Every young child is entitled to a strong mathematical foundation which is built through playful exploration, apprenticeship and meaning making. Children should freely explore how they represent their mathematical thinking through gesture, talk, manipulation of objects and their graphical signs and representations, supported by access to graphic tools in their pretend play. Effective early mathematics experiences involve seeking patterns, creating and solving mathematical problems and engaging with stories, songs, games, practical activities and imaginative play. Plenty of time is required for children to revisit, develop and make sense for themselves. This is supported by sensitive interactions with adults who observe, listen to and value children’s mathematical ideas and build upon children’s interests, including those developed with their families. It is crucial to maintain children’s enthusiasm, so they develop positive self-esteem as learners of mathematics and feel confident to express their ideas.
Understanding the world
Understanding the World provides a powerful, meaningful context for learning across the curriculum. It supports children to make sense of their expanding world and their place within it through nurturing their wonder, curiosity, agency and exploratory drive. This development requires regular and direct contact with the natural, built and virtual environments
around the child and engaging children in collaborative activities which promote inquiry, problem-solving, shared decision making and scientific approaches to understanding the world. Active involvement in local community life helps children to develop a sense of civic responsibility, a duty to care, a respect for diversity and the need to work for peaceful co-
existence. In addition, first-hand involvement in caring for wildlife and the natural world provides children with an appreciation of ecological balance, environmental care and the need to live sustainable lives. Rich play, virtual and real-world experiences support learning about our culturally, socially, technologically and ecologically diverse world and how to
stay safe within it. They also cultivate shared meanings and lay the foundation for equitable understandings of our interconnectedness and interdependence.
Creative and imaginative development (Expressive Art & Design)
Children and adults have the right to participate in arts and culture. Expression conveys both thinking (ideas) and feeling (emotion). Children use a variety of ways to express and communicate, through music, movement and a wide range of materials. Creative thinking involves original responses, not just copying or imitating existing artworks. Expressive Arts and Design fosters imagination, curiosity, creativity, cognition, critical thinking and experimentation and provides opportunities to improvise, collaborate, interact and engage in sustained shared thinking. It requires time, space and opportunities to re-visit and reflect on experiences. Multi-sensory, first-hand experiences help children to connect and enquire about the world. Appreciating diversity and multiple perspectives enriches ways of thinking, being, and understanding. Skills are learned in the process of meaning-making, not in isolation.
In addition to this document we have the additional documents which support constructing our curriculum:
- Who’s Curriculum – Combining the adult’s curriculum and the child’s curriculum.
- Role of the adult – what you can expect to see adults doing and why.
- Foundations for two year old’s – Early exposure for our youngest children.
- The Curriculum journey – starting points and next steps / Generic Vocabulary / Reading Spine / Seasonal & supporting Texts / Traditional Tales & Rhymes / Phonics overview.
- Progression in Phonics
- Seasonal Cycles – Areas of Continuous provision & the learning opportunities across the year.
- Setting Specific Vocabulary – Technical Vocabulary.
- Adaptive approaches – Reshaping expectations.
- Progression in Specific Skills – A journey with clay, paint, fire & tools.
- The Beyond – How the curriculum is extended into the community and the wider world.
- Predictable Events – Typical events across the academic year.
- Maths Coverage – Progression of skills.
- Nature Vocabulary – Definitions for places, things and the elements.
- Play – the importance of play in all its forms.