Behind the scenes… learning through play in Nursery
We go behind the scenes with Miss Joanna, Head of Nursery, to find out why her working day is all about learning through play!
What is your biggest belief when it comes to EYFS education?
That is a tricky question as there are so many things that spring to mind… I think my biggest belief is that education is about instilling a deep love of learning that affords children the courage to develop their imagination and explore their individuality. Children should be excited by their experiences in school and learning should ultimately be fun for both the learner and the teacher. In their earliest years, I believe this means that children should be given the time and space to explore their individuality by learning through play. This approach allows children to learn how to challenge themselves, problem-solve, share with others, use their own senses, communicate… the list is endless.
Why are these years so vital to development?
There is lots of highly-respected research out there that points to the fact that a solid early years foundation is the key to the future success of a child. It is so vital to get the years from 0-5 right so children have a good base to build upon as they grow through their educational years. Someone once described the importance of early years to me with the analogy of building a house and it has stayed with me ever since. It is like someone choosing to create a really beautiful loft conversion; with all shiny new appliances and lovely decoration. Without a solid foundation for the house itself, this shiny new loft conversion would soon come tumbling down. Early years education can be seen in much the same way; you get the foundations right, you give children every opportunity to have a great future ahead of them.
Why is it important for kids to get messy?
Messy play is not just about having fun, it teaches children to explore and challenge a wide range of senses at one time. I often say that the messier the uniform at the end of the day, the more of a sign it is that the child has had a successful and rich learning experience. On top of this, messy play is a great way to get young children to confidently communicate as they share their thoughts and ideas around how certain materials feel, smell and look. I will often look at the messy tray in my own class and see a large group, playing happily together, smiling, laughing and talking while they explore an open-ended activity as a group. Messy play can be calming as well; repetitively exploring the look and feel of slime, for example, can be quite meditative. Getting messy is just great, I cannot advocate for it enough!
What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
The little smiles on the children’s faces when they see you in the morning. My job is rewarding in so many different ways, but developing those safe and trusting relationships with these vulnerable little beings is definitely the reason why I get up in the mornings! I also love seeing how far they come in the year. I know that’s the same for all teachers of all ages, but there’s something about these little people that come in covered in tears when they first start, growing in confidence and ending the year being able to listen, follow instructions, speak English and share in the fun of life together.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Getting the children from one place to another without any tears! At the start of the year, it is quite honestly like Monty Python’s ‘100 yard dash for people with no sense of direction’. But by the end of the year, they’re walking in a lovely little train from one side of the Pre-Prep to the other all in one line and that’s a huge achievement; and they know it too!
What is unique about education at RST?
What makes our Early Years unit so strong is the emphasis and time we allow for play-based learning. In Pre-Nursery, almost every activity that is on offer is open-ended, and while the stimulus is there to inspire the children, what they choose do with it and how far they decide to take it is entirely up to them. On top of this, the Specialist Teachers that we have make a great contribution to the children’s development. Each child has two PE lessons, a Swimming lesson and a Music lesson in Pre-Nursery and I feel this is pretty special at this age.
How does a typical day in your class embody the RST ethos?
In the Nursery years we teach the children socially, emotionally, physically, culturally and spiritually, as well as academically. Our school mantra is ‘the whole person, the whole point’ and Pre-Nursery embodies this in all that we do. It is not about academic excellence for me at this age, but about instilling children with a real zest for learning; providing them with fun and engaging school experiences that mean they enjoy coming in every day. It is about lighting that spark that makes them want more. If I can achieve this, then it has been a successful year for me!