Exploring and learning outdoors

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Rossett House Nursery has developed innovative outdoor learning experiences that engage children and help them develop literacy and numeracy through role-play.

Number of pupils: 22
Age range: 0-4
Date of inspection: 14 & 15 June 2016

Information about the setting

Rossett House Nursery is an English medium nursery situated in the village of Rossett near Wrexham.  The setting is registered for up to 61 children and takes in children from three months to four years of age.  Nearly all children come from English speaking backgrounds.  There are currently no children identified as having additional learning needs.  The setting is open between 7.30 am and 6.00 pm five days a week.

There are 21 members of staff in the nursery.  Five members of staff are employed to work in the preschool room and they have a very secure knowledge of Foundation Phase practice.

The setting has extensive grounds, which form a significant part of the learning environment.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The setting provides a wide range of innovative learning experiences that meet the needs of all children exceptionally well.  Managers and practitioners continually review the impact that the outside environment has on children’s learning.  Practitioners plan flexible activities that are stimulating and exciting and meet the requirements of the Foundation Phase curriculum fully.  These experiences provide an excellent level of challenge for the children and build well on their existing knowledge and skills.  There is a good balance between activities that are adult-led and those that are child-initiated.  The setting ensures that all children are successfully involved in making decisions about their learning.  Both planning for learning and the quality of interaction between practitioners and children have been key elements in creating a very effective outdoor learning environment that promotes and supports children’s independent learning skills extremely well. 

Description of nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

The setting has developed innovative outdoor learning experiences that engage children well, focus effectively on developing their skills, and provide regular opportunities for them to make independent choices about their learning.

The setting’s practitioners understand that role play and exploration offer many excellent learning opportunities for children.  As a result, the setting has focused on these aspects of play to create an attractive and stimulating outdoor environment that makes a significant contribution to children’s learning.

Central to this development was the creation of a role play village comprising six play houses.  These include a builders’ yard, cottage and garage.  The remaining three cottages take on different guises depending on the children’s interests and planned themes.  At various times these might become a police station, fire station, café, shop, vet, doctors’ surgery or post office.  Practitioners choose resources for these role play areas carefully to ensure that children have worthwhile opportunities to develop a wide range of skills.  These include skills that practitioners have identified as children’s next steps through their observations and assessments.  Provision for developing children’s literacy and numeracy skills is always included in planning for the role play areas.  For example, in the builders’ yard, there are note pads, receipt books, tape measures and rulers.  In the post office, there are different types of paper and envelopes, and a till with coins, calculators and weighing scales.  All areas have a good stock of pens, pencils and stationery along with an assortment of written materials including magazines, catalogues, signs and posters.  

Through skilful observation, interaction and intervention, practitioners make very effective use of these areas of the outdoor learning environment to teach children new skills, support the development of existing ones and encourage them to practice using these skills in their play throughout the village.  As a result, nearly all children transfer these skills across all areas of learning confidently and expertly.  In the post office children write out a request for some money before counting out their coins and eventually taking these to the shop or the café to pay for their purchases.  In the cottage, they write letters and invitations to their friends before going to the post office to buy a stamp and post them.  In the farm shop they choose and weigh fruit before taking it to the café to prepare snack.

Where it is not possible to create a role play village, this practice can easily be adapted to work successfully with temporary areas set up within any outdoor space.

Practitioners use the outdoor environment very well to provide many meaningful opportunities for children to develop their information and communication technology (ICT) skills, and their thinking skills.  They plan worthwhile opportunities for children to use still and video cameras to record their observations and achievements, and walkie-talkies to communicate with one another.  By using various electronic devices such as sound boxes, metal detectors, remote controlled vehicles and programmable robots, children learn to apply their ICT skills to solve problems very successfully.  For example, children use metal detectors collaboratively to find hidden objects such as tractor parts, and they programme the Bee Bot robot so that it moves to a location of their choice.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

The outdoor provision contributes significantly to the development of children’s numeracy, literacy, thinking and problem solving skills.  All children enjoy themselves in the outdoor area and become actively engaged in their learning.  Nearly all children develop excellent number skills, for example when counting coins in the post office, and they use mathematical language very well when weighing vegetables in the farm shop.  Children respond very positively to the opportunities to develop their oracy as they talk and listen to one another whilst acting out their chosen roles within the role play village or work together to find objects using the metal detectors.  Nearly all develop an excellent understanding of written communication as they use emergent writing purposefully to complete MOT reports in the garage, write letters and address envelopes to post at the post office and record orders in the café.  Children develop outstanding thinking skills as they plan, develop and reflect upon their involvement in the linked role play areas in the outdoor environment.  As a result, they become confident and independent learners, who are happy to persevere with different tasks and confident to try different approaches if they do not succeed the first time.

How have you shared your good practice?

The setting is involved with many link agencies and shares its philosophy and practice regarding learning in the outdoor environment with settings in the locality, across Wales and internationally.   Through its extensive networks, the setting has shared elements of its practice with other settings in Wrexham, Flintshire, Powys, Cardiff and Swansea.  It has shared its good practice internationally with practitioners and academics engaged in research about children’s learning from several countries including India, and Canada.

Links:  rossetthouse@activechildcare.co.uk