Children learn best from first hand experiences

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Little Acorns Day Care Nursery in Bridgend offer regular first hand experiences to their pupils. This has a very positive impact on their learning and has resulted in motivated, curious and confident children.

Number of pupils: 57
Age range: 6 weeks – 5 years
Date of Estyn inspection: November 2014

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The inspection report states: “The setting provides an exceptionally good range of high quality learning experiences, which meet the needs of the children exceptionally well. There are superb planned opportunities for children to develop their curiosity, thinking and problem solving skills.” In addition, “the learning environment is highly engaging and is enriched by a superb range of visits and visitors.” “The way in which practitioners respond spontaneously at times to children`s ideas for learning is outstanding. This results in high quality learning because the children are exceptionally well motivated and enthusiastic.”

Description of nature of strategy or activity

We believe strongly that children learn best from first hand experiences. We make the most of the local community and the local environment consistently to provide as many stimulating, real-life first hand experiences for the children as we can. For example, we arrange visits to the bank, post office, greengrocers, food establishments, including a Chinese take away to learn about Chinese New Year, a local church and the library. We also make good use of the nearby mountain trail and forest area to nurture children’s knowledge and understanding of the outdoors. These experiences provide worthwhile opportunities to develop children’s literacy and numeracy skills. For example, children enjoyed counting coins and dropping them into their moneyboxes one by one following their visit to the bank. After our visit to the post office, the children were eager to role-play writing letters and addresses on envelopes, practising their early writing skills. The use of the outdoors also contributes to a strong connection with the natural world. For example, the children can easily identify butterflies and frogspawn following their experiences on the mountain trail.

When we arrange visits, we look as close to home as possible. We telephone businesses in the town to see what experiences they can offer to young children. Many are happy to help free of charge, seeing this as a way of contributing to their local community. For example, our local supermarket provided a tour of the store for the children and an opportunity to see a delivery to the warehouse. The bakers showed the children how to knead dough to make their own bread before baking it for them to take home. The children also scanned items at the checkout and printed receipts. Both the staff and the children came back to the nursery inspired, and excited to learn more.

We also invite people into our setting as often as we can to stimulate the children’s interests and develop their understanding. We contact charities such as the Owl Trust, and organisations such as the local emergency services. Many are able to come and visit us. For example, a representative of the Dogs’ Trust brought a guide dog puppy to the nursery. This led to valuable discussions about caring for animals, as well as thinking about our senses, especially our sight.

We make sure that we follow children’s interests and will change the context of a task spontaneously if necessary. For example, children were excited by a heavy hailstorm and so we went out to collect hailstones, and stored some of them in the freezer. Later in the week, the children were not showing interest in learning about ‘full and empty’ in the dirt tray. The practitioner responded straightaway and offered them the opportunity to experiment with the hailstones from the freezer instead. Immediately the children began exploring and describing the hailstones. They said that the hailstones were “cold”, “slippery”, “round like little balls”. To extend the experience we added food colouring along with small pots and scoops for the children to fill and empty. Following the children’s interests in this way meant that, in addition to filling and empting the containers, the children learned more about the properties of ice, describing it as ‘cold’ and ‘slippery’ and noticing that it melted in the warm room.

Outcomes / Impact on learners

Offering many first hand experiences to our children has a very positive impact on their learning. We see what the children are able to do on their own, what they already know and what they need to learn. This helps us to plan appropriately to suit their interests and meet their needs. Our children are well motivated and curious and grow in confidence because of spending time in the outdoors and going out of the setting on visits in the local area. They are developing a good understanding of their place in the community and a strong sense of awe and wonder at the world around them. This gives them a positive attitude to learning and experiencing new things as they begin their education. They are developing skills successfully across all areas of learning in an interesting and constructive way that motivates them well. For example, following their visit to the local supermarket, the children eagerly joined in role play, making shopping lists, developing the strength in their fingers by kneading dough, talking about making bread ‘plaits’, and pretending to use money and making receipts.

We have a strong commitment to passing on ideas that have a positive impact on children’s standards. To do this, we have developed an open and honest relationship with other settings in the local area and further afield. We share information over the phone, through arranged visits, by letter, email and using social media. We have also shared our good practice with the Local Authority. We recently published an overview of our practice in an online magazine directed at childcare providers, to reach a wider audience.

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