Planning for good quality outdoor learning

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Strategic leadership at Gogerddan Childcare has embedded outdoor learning in the nursery’s provision. As a result, there have been improvements in children’s confidence and language development.

Number of learners: 49
Age range: 0-4
Date of inspection: September 2016

Information about the setting

Gogerddan Childcare is located in the village of Penrhyncoch, near Aberystwyth in Ceredigion local authority.  The setting is bilingual and practitioners speak both Welsh and English.  It opens for five days a week for 51 weeks a year.  

The setting is registered to take up to 49 children at any one time, between the ages of six weeks and four years.  The provision for three-year-olds cares for up to 16 children.  At the time of inspection, 13 children attended the three-year-old setting, eight of whom were funded by the local authority.  Flying Start supports a few younger children at the setting.  Most children speak English as their first language.

Thirty-four practitioners work in the setting.  Room leaders manage the different age groups and five practitioners work with the three-year-old children.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The inspection report states that: ‘The proprietor is extremely effective at promoting and sustaining improvements over time.  The setting implements and monitors the plans for improvement purposefully against realistic actions and timescales.  This is an outstanding feature as it includes the use of funding sources from a variety of support organisations to develop innovative, successful and community based provision.’ 

Woodland and natural life surround the nursery and, a few years ago, the setting was not making the most of this wonderful environment to benefit the children.  To extend her own knowledge and understanding, the proprietor secured a grant to go and see outdoor learning at its very best on a shadow and exchange trip to Finland.  During the visit, she observed children who were resilient, independent and taking risks as part of their play.  Seeing good quality outdoor learning in all weathers was inspiring and led to a determination to use the natural environment on the setting’s doorstep to its full potential.

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

The proprietor planned each step carefully.  She began by employing a specialist teacher to lead the Foundation Phase who also had a passion for outdoor learning.  Together, they observed and monitored the positive impact working in the outdoors had on small groups of children.  This inspired confidence to embed outdoor learning throughout the setting’s provision. 

The next step was establishing a suitable site close enough to use regularly.  The proprietor obtained permission from Natural Resources Wales to use a nearby woodland site and secured grant funding for this as a community based project.  This supported her vision of developing an area that would benefit the whole community, including families, out of school club, and a local mental health charity.  

The project lasted a year.  There were four key aspects: land improvement, staff training, community engagement and children’s engagement.  It involved a lot of planning, co-operation and collaboration between groups.
Making the project sustainable was an important priority.  The proprietor recognised that providing training for all staff was crucial to this.  She invested in level one Forest School training for all practitioners, using a local training provider.
Preparing the woodland site was a huge task.  Volunteers from an Aberystwyth based mental health charity, families, staff and friends, as well as local contractors paid to do specific jobs, all contributed.  The project generated enthusiasm and excitement among everyone involved and brought real benefits to the wider community.

The setting involved the children effectively at every stage, nurturing their appreciation of the natural environment.  The setting now offers active first hand learning experiences on the woodland site all year round.

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

Exploring the outdoor environment boosted children’s confidence and language development significantly.  Practitioners observe that quiet children relax and lead others in their play outdoors.  There has been a significant improvement in children’s physical skills.  Children who were reluctant walkers have developed stamina and resilience.  Children no longer notice the rain in their excitement and eagerness to set off for the woods.  They are thoroughly involved in tasks, showing real enthusiasm for their learning and co-operating very well with each other.  They develop imaginative play effectively, and lead their learning confidently.

Over time, staff have become more confident and enthusiastic about working outdoors.  Parents who had previously been concerned about risks to children’s health from cold weather now understand the great benefit of outdoor learning for their children. 

How have you shared your good practice?

The setting shares their good practice regularly with schools, settings and advisory teachers from other counties across Wales.  They presented their story at the National Day Nurseries Association member’s event to 220 delegates in November 2016.