TEY hears from Rageena Tahir about Fennies nursery group’s new initiative to inspire children and staff…
At Fennies, we’re always looking for ways to enhance children’s learning. During our observations with children and conversations we had with staff, it became clear that they were all energised by the sharing of ideas, and we fast concluded that inspiration is a key part of our pedagogy.
When people are inspired, it ignites that passion in them and, within our field, brings out a love for learning in the children and in the staff as well.
We enhanced the seven areas of learning to pull parts out of it, and those enhancements became our ‘Fennies Inspire’ programme.
Our main starting point was ‘stretch and challenge’: how can we stretch, challenge and inspire children in all of these areas of learning, and support staff to understand that all of the areas are interlinked?
So rather than think, ‘what can we do to enhance maths?’ we consider how many different areas of learning these activities and experiences cover for our children.
‘Fennies Inspire Expressions’ promotes the development of communication, language and literacy, and aims to help our children express themselves.
This involves a variety of activity ideas and highlights that communication isn’t limited to speaking; all children have a voice, and that voice can be expressed in many different ways.
Expression can be through music, role play, art and design, and of course facial expressions and gestures. Every experience we provide for children has the potential to support their communication and language skills.
For example, if children are engaging in transient art, there are plenty of opportunities for children to develop communication, language and literacy through their interactions with staff and peers, as well as how they express themselves with their ideas and artwork.
We’ll provide examples of famous artists’ work and the children will have a go at recreating the pieces in a variety of ways, like collage, transient art or by using different tools.
We provide a little background about the artist, talk about how the art makes the children feel, and give them free rein to express themselves and choose what to create after they’ve been inspired.
What we don’t want to see is 12 exact replicas of the original piece; children should have the opportunity to explore, to take inspiration from what they see and hear, and produce their own expression.
All the rooms at our nurseries have a dedicated art space, but we have an art specialist who is fantastic at role modelling to staff that art isn’t limited to those areas. Take it outside, be bigger, take it into the construction area – what different pieces can you use there? This supports staff to understand that the areas of learning are interlinked.
We also provide art opportunities that the children are unlikely to have at home. Children might have pens, paints and paper, but I don’t know how many households allow their children to roll around and do body cornflour play – I think they’d prefer to keep that at nursery!
When children take part in this kind of play, they can take the lead. They’re empowered as they’re in control of what they do; staff are simply on hand to support and enhance. Children are choosing what they want to be involved in, taking what they already know and strengthening their understanding, which also plays such an important part in developing that confidence and self-esteem.
Our Child Development Expert, Professor Sam Wass, plays a key role in feeding into Fennies Inspire, helping to shape our teaching, learning and environment. We always look to back up what we do with research, and what better way than to have our own expert working alongside us, to throw ideas around and give their opinion from a biological and neurological perspective.
We know that everything we do has an impact on children’s learning and development, and their outcomes later on in life. Sam brings a deeper understanding for us. For example, at the moment our nurseries don’t have anything on the walls because we’re looking at overstimulation. This is because stimulation should come from the activities and experiences that are on offer.
Sam was able to verify that children are not as able as adults to ignore distractions as they don’t have that level of control yet. So, when we minimize what’s up on the walls and around the children, they can focus on their play and learning. Busy surroundings can also affect stress levels in children and impact their ability to self-regulate.
Supporting children with self-regulation has been an especially important focus since lockdown, so staff have access to a range of activities and techniques that can support children in understanding their emotions, such as cloud spotting or bean bag breathing.
We will choose a calm, darker area where children can lie down, place a bean bag on their tummies and be mindful of their breathing and how that bean bag lifts and falls with each breath.
Some children will take themselves off to this area of the room, pick up one of the bean bags and just lie for five minutes. It’s important for them to know that they can do that if they need some quiet time.
We also reflect on the environment – our nurseries have dimming lights so we can adjust the lighting according to the mood of the children and the time of day; our reading areas are bathed in natural light; and darker areas of the room are often used for quiet den spaces.
As part of our Inspire Expressions programme, we’re looking to implement talking spaces, reviewing layouts to ensure there are areas where children feel they can communicate and just have that quiet space. We’re also reflecting on the flow of the rooms, for example, going from quiet to noisy spaces.
A carefully thought-out environment can inspire creativity, and support children to explore, learn and discover.
We also make the most of outdoor areas, and physical activity is incorporated into daily play. Our PE specialists tailor sessions to children’s interests and other areas of learning.
So, if we’ve been reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, the PE session may be going on a bear hunt around the garden, combining literacy with physical activity.
This was important as we didn’t want PE to sit as an add-on but as something that will enhance the learning that’s already taking place.
Without inspired staff, we couldn’t possibly inspire children. An important part of the Inspire programme is upskilling staff teams so they can develop their teaching styles, really focusing on the individual ways that children learn.
Staff need to be just as engaged and motivated in their own professional development, so we look at different ways we can inspire our teams.
Rather than simply handing over a book with activity ideas, we work collaboratively, share ideas and offer a variety of training in different formats, role modelling sessions, monitoring the impact of this and adapting where necessary.
It’s really important to obtain feedback from our staff and listen to what they have to say.
Rageena Tahir is Head of EYFS at Fennies Nurseries.