Decisions, decisions

It’s that time of year again, school applications are open. Those days of nappy (cloth or disposable?) and weaning (purees or baby-led?) choices for your little one probably don’t feel that long ago but the time has come to make a decision around the formal education of your child.

Just for context, for those coming from education systems outside of the UK, children in England must be in full time education form the school term after their 5th birthday (September, January or April are the typical entry points). However, most children begin in the September when they are 4. All children access learning through a curriculum based upon play and giving core foundation skills for future learning.

It can be a minefield and as parents you may feel a little muddled in your thoughts as you become influenced by local reputation, hearsay and the thoughts and opinions of friends and family- whose own educational experiences may have been some time ago! Here are our top tips when considering choosing a school for your child:

  • Logistics- travelling a distance to reach the right destination is not unheard of and should definitely not be a barrier to your choice of school but always consider whether the school has facilities which can support you as a family e.g. a before and after school care service, and as they grow a homework club.
  • Facilities and resources- urban locations may take you by surprise in what they are able to offer in terms of facilities and space but also consider your child’s interests or passions you think they may pursue. Always take a look at the quality of resources and the suitability to the age group, these play a huge part in the enrichment of your child’s learning experience.
  • Academic rigour- test results and outcomes for students can of course provide some insight into this but I would encourage anybody to look in greater depth at the curriculum and which aspects the school promotes at the heart of their learning practice. 
  • Enrichment- consider what opportunities there are for your child to enhance their educational experiences, be that specialist teaching, after school clubs or lunchtime activities.
  • Visit- it sounds simple but it really is only by crossing the threshold of a school you get a true feel of what they are like. The ambience and ethos should be intertwined and you will know very quickly whether a school lives and breathes what they say they do!

Two final points which are somewhat ‘be wary’ tips:

  • Reports- official reports from organisations can offer great insights into the practice of a setting. However, these are only ever snapshots and can become quickly out of date or long expanses of time can pass between inspections- I would always say go and conduct your own ‘inspection’ and work out if it suits your child.
  • Reputation- again, reputation can become quickly outdated and based on a memory of a school which no longer exists. New heads, changing teaching bodies and a robust team of governors can play a huge part in transforming the direction and journey of school. Also, as with anything, no two persons' experience of something will be exactly the same- what suits one will not always suit another. 

Finally, this decision, while not to be made lightly, does not define your child’s entire future, as it did not when you were making some of those initial decisions in parenthood. It is a stepping stone in a great pathway of learning. Embrace it alongside your child and enjoy that journey. Always reflect upon your choices knowing that you have and always will endeavour to do the right thing for your child!

Inquiry in the Early Years

Many settings have promoted themselves as ‘inquiry based’. Here at The Abbey, we wanted to go one step further and ensure that our curriculum is at the forefront of educational practice and connected at a global level to education worldwide. Little Knellies Nursery are proud to be part of The Abbey’s continuing journey as a world-leading International Baccalaureate (IB) School and we are thrilled that we are officially recognised and accredited as a Primary Years Programme (PYP) setting.

So, what is the PYP?
The PYP is an internationally recognised framework for learning and focuses upon the ways in which children learn best. Voice, Choice and Ownership for students sits at the heart of practice within our setting. The children are the ones who direct the learning and how they engage with the themes. This enables them to make meaningful connections in their learning between contexts and subject areas. This being said, it does not mean that the staff await instruction of what we are going to learn - more that they work to offer a tailored and responsive curriculum, whilst delivering our Outcomes and Expectations (our bespoke curriculum of skills and knowledge). 

In Early Years, we felt an immediate connection with this approach to learning. Children being the directors of their learning has been a leading principle of Early Years practice for a number of years. However, its quality has been, and continues to be, varied. Rather than the fluffy type of response or ‘I want to learn about unicorns’ approach, we wanted to ensure academic rigour remains at the heart of what we do. 

Each new unit of inquiry begins with a provocation; this may be an activity, a photo, an object, a book. The practitioners in our setting then skilfully ask children to begin to shape their questioning around the theme. Learning how to ask questions is itself a very demanding skill. We like to capture these musings through a tool called our ‘Floorbook’. This is in essence our class scrapbook of learning, which notes the questions and findings of all children in our class. Every contribution is highly valued and given dedicated reflection time in our weekly curriculum. Outcomes from these sessions are then reflected upon by the team working in the classroom. This enables them to deliver lessons and activities which will not only help to address questions and thinking around a subject, but will also offer stretch and breadth to each individual’s knowledge and understanding. 

The other great trait of the PYP is that students and staff are continually promoting what it takes to be a great inquirer. This is reflected in The Abbey’s Learner Profile. Attributes such as resilience and independence as well as being reflective, caring and knowledgeable are all aspired to and nurtured through our provision. In Early Years, being independent isn’t just about a child mastering putting on a coat or even hanging it up on their pegs by themselves, no mean feat admittedly! Moreso independence is the way they access resources, thinking about their suitability for the task at hand or even proactively asking the questions that deepen their understanding.

Inquiry based learning is an exciting journey for the learner and the teacher; being accredited is not the final destination in our journey and we look forward to showing you what it looks like here at Little Knellies. Do come and visit!

By Isabel Archer

The Benefits of Outdoor Play

What is wellbeing? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is the state of being comfortable, healthy and happy. It is something that we all strive for and a child’s level of wellbeing is thought to be intrinsically linked to their levels of involvement and motivation to learn. The question is… How can we instil wellbeing in the minds of our youngest so that they can flourish in life?

It has been long documented that outdoor learning is crucial for children to make sense of the world and grasp basic concepts of science. However, it is also considered vital in providing a sense of ‘wellness’ and balance. Being physically active not only supports physical health, brain development and social skills, but also improves emotional wellbeing and self-esteem. Outdoor play provides freedom for children, it removes the need for ‘indoor voices’ and helps the body to produce vitamin D which is not only good for our bones, but is also thought to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

At Little Knellies we use our outdoor space daily, both for PE lessons and general play. Our garden is large and extensive, allowing children the space to choose where they would like to play, free from any stereotypical gender bias. The children particularly enjoy our gravel play area, where they can test ideas as they fill buckets, experiment with guttering and problem solve. Our allotment area is another favourite, where children help to plant, care for and harvest vegetables throughout the year. The wisteria arch is a beautiful sight in Spring! For those who seek to be more active, we have a large play area, including an adventure playground, where children can ride bikes, climb and push their limits as they practise jumping from different equipment onto soft astroturf.

The outdoors also allows for opportunities of quiet time and relaxation, away from screens and the business of modern day living. Making time to simply ‘be’ in time and space, without a set agenda, can help children find peace and calm. Mindful moments, such as lying down in the garden and registering what you can see, hear, smell and touch is a great way to reconnect with nature and restore a sense of calm. Why not try it for yourself? You and your child might choose to visit a park on a sunny day, noting 5 things that you hear and smell when you close your eyes. Alternatively, you might choose to step outside on a rainy day and notice the rhythmic pitter patter of rain on the umbrella. The outdoors is truly magical!

By Sally Kellow

Tell Me a Story

Once upon a time…

Oral storytelling, the art of communicating a narrative through the spoken rather than printed word is an artform that is centuries old. Before there was writing, there was storytelling. Before human beings even learnt to put their spoken word into any form of alphabet, storytelling was a form of communication. We know that storytelling is universal to all cultures and has been throughout history. From the first cave paintings depicting visual stories, to Chinese shadow puppetry and the traditional tales our children know and love, retold time after time, repetitive language at their core, so that they can be easily remembered and passed on from generation to generation.

So why is it important? Children who have been exposed to a rich, diverse and broad menu of stories from a young age, often go on to become great storytellers themselves. If you can learn how to tell a story you can convince, you can entertain, you can persuade, you can encourage, you can captivate. All important life skills that go way beyond the classroom.

By the end of their Reception year, children should be able to ‘retell stories and narratives using their own words and recently introduced vocabulary, and anticipate appropriate key events in stories.’ (EYFS 2021) We know it is never too early to expose our children to stories and storytelling. From a very young age, storytelling promotes brain development and imagination, develops language and emotions, and strengthens relationships. Language acquisition through storytelling plays a huge part in broadening vocabulary. My own two year old daughter, who had learnt by heart the familiar story ‘We’re Going a Bear Hunt’, then pointed out on a walk one day that she had stepped in ‘thick, oozy, mud’. Those words from the story had become her own; something to be owned, spoken and reused again and again in a variety of new situations. Shiny new tools in her tool box.

In Early Years at The Abbey we run ‘Helicopter Stories’ sessions for our students, a MakeBelieve Arts approach to storytelling. Through this approach, children each have the chance to create and tell their own stories, having them scribed by an adult, giving them voice and value. Each story is then acted out, with other members of the class actors on the class stage. We believe this gives our students the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild, practise using vocabulary they have heard elsewhere and engage in the act of storytelling without worrying about the mechanics of writing it down for themselves. That can come later.

The End.


By Ellen Watson

British Values in the Early Years

In recent weeks, many settings, including our very own Little Knellies, have been enjoying celebrations to mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. With street parties, flag waving and parades galore; the pomp and pageantry will undoubtedly create some exciting memories.

In amongst all of the fun, we aimed to continue to highlight the importance of Fundamental British Values (FBVs). When the FBVs were first introduced as a strand of learning back in 2014, it was often mocked or misunderstood…it is not just about fish and chips, Big Ben or even The Queen! In fact these values are very much relevant today, particularly with all the events happening globally:

  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual respect and tolerance

Even our youngest learners are capable of understanding these concepts (at times one might say better than some of the adults in charge!) but what might it look like in an Early Years classroom?

Democracy: this can be demonstrated through smaller actions, such as negotiating and turn taking in play. In Little Knellies we also have regular opportunities for the children to make collective choices, for example, voting with a counter for which book should be shared at the end of the morning’s activities.

The rule of law: developing a sense of right and wrong is complex for young children. Their sense of justice can be quite egocentric and very much based on their needs. This is absolutely age appropriate and acceptable. However, as practitioners we need to scaffold their evolving understanding of fairness. We have clear rules in our classrooms based upon respect for our property, for our environment and one another, this can be as simple as wearing aprons for painting to tidying away when we have finished playing.

Individual liberty: it is wonderful to support children’s growing sense of self. One of our key prerogatives is to instil a sense of self-confidence and for children to have a positive view of themselves. We have daily reflections in the classroom celebrating our successes and achievements as well as providing opportunities within the classroom for children to test themselves and experiment as learners. Knowing that the process is the key part of our learning rather than the finished product, although we should be free to feel proud of our creations too!

Mutual respect and tolerance: here at Little Knellies, we promote a sense of community, connection and equality. In play, inevitably there will be minor falling outs, we encourage students to see things from the other person’s point of view as well as respecting their choices. As an all girls educational setting we have a unique opportunity to challenge stereotypes attributed to gender! As practitioners we are continually reviewing resources and activities to ensure they reflect and value the diversity of children’s experiences and that challenge gender, cultural and racial stereotyping. We recently celebrated Diversity Day in our Junior School; encouraging the children and their families to celebrate their cultural identities (at least 56 different countries were represented as part of the rich tapestry of our community). The event also enabled us to understand others’ cultural connections a little better.

I am proud to be British, I am proud to live in a country which promotes and typically embodies these core values. As Early Years practitioners we have a crucial role to play in supporting children to develop these values for themselves to help empower them to continue to challenge the moments they will undoubtedly encounter, when these values may not be shared by those around them. I hope that our learners will all feel empowered to be themselves, to respectfully allow others to be themselves and continue to fight for this to be a universal right!

Risk Taking in the Early Years

Here at Little Knellies, we endeavour to share experiences promoting lifelong skills as well as challenging stereotypes of activities that might be more ‘typical’ in an all girls educational setting. As part of our Learner Profile and holistic learning program we support the children to become risk-takers but what does this mean

What is risk?

To many, the word risk immediately makes you think of something that is dangerous or harmful. However, part of living life to the fullest involves risks.

A healthy baby would not learn to sit, crawl or walk without taking risks. Similarly, a child would not learn to negotiate steps or to ride a two wheeled bike without risk taking. These most certainly will not come without accidents and perhaps injury, but as long as we allow them to continue to take these risks, with active encouragement, children will get back up and keep practising until they have achieved their goal.

What happens when we take measured risks?

When we allow children to take risks in a safe way, we allow them to build self confidence, independence, as well as teaching valuable life skills. Children will learn how to self regulate and decide if something is too high, for example when climbing a tree.

Positive encouragement goes a long way in this instance and helps them revisit the task until they have achieved what they set out to do. Putting children in charge of their own actions sends a message to them that we, as adults, trust their judgement and capabilities. Another important fact with allowing children to take measured risks will allow for you to see when or if a child needs some additional guidance or support.

Taking a measured risk

Here at Little Knellies, we believe in the importance of taking measured risks, whilst teaching the children how to be safe.

From Nursery, the children are invited to take part in wood work activities at our workbench. They use real tools, including a sharp Japanese saw, hammers, a hand drill, nails and screws- to name but a few. This really opens up their young minds and gives them the freedom to experiment and explore with real tools, which perhaps they have only seen adults use up to now.

One child (aged 4) recently made a train and whilst initially telling me she was not going to use that saw as it looked “dangerous”, with a few further words of encouragement and reiteration of safety rules, she decided to take that ‘measured risk’. She followed this with “I can’t believe I used that, I am so proud of myself!”. When she had finished her mini project she evaluated the session by saying “Do you know, at the beginning I didn’t think I could do wood work and use tools, but I can, I really can!”

Another example of measured risk taking involves the use of our large scale play equipment in the garden. The children have access to raw wooden planks and logs. They know how to move these around safely for use during their play. We have climbing cubes of differing sizes which they enjoy jumping from. A favourite game is placing a plank between cubes to walk along, whilst another is balanced up against the tallest cube. The children love to climb this and or slide down. The beauty for us practitioners is seeing them work as a team, which builds upon communication and negotiating skills as well as turn taking and enhances a great imagination!

We are so proud of how the children in Little Knellies are encouraged to partake in and embrace risks, and all the learning that will occur as a result of this.

Technology in the Early Years

In September 2021 the government’s revised Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage notably omitted an Early Learning Goal referring to the use of technology. This created many discussions in Early Years forums. Those for and against. But is technology important for children?

The past two years have highlighted many of the wonderful attributes of technology. It is through technology that we remained connected with loved ones during national lockdowns. People continued to work. People continued to learn. The Early Learning Goal citing: ‘Children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes’ was undoubtedly addressed.

As with all aspects of the Statutory Framework, the Early Learning Goals provide a framework for educators; setting standards and creating some parity for the learning experiences of children throughout England. One thing it is not is an exhaustive list of things for children to be able to ‘do’ by the time they are 5.

Children engaging in technology can be a wonderful thing, the quality of educational apps have improved significantly during my time in the classroom. The integration of digital learning journeys such as Tapestry and online learning platforms such as Seesaw have enhanced the learning environment. It is also pleasing to note the commitment of technology brands and those who create educational resources to delve into more options for offline opportunities.

I myself find it quite marvellous to engage with technology to enrich learning experiences, and sometimes as a standalone activity; a fun gimmicky monster is often a more desirable companion for letter and word play than me, as Mummy or the Teacher! I am always impressed with the dexterity and complexity with which some children can engage with technological skills such as programming and coding. A daunting prospect to many adults, children are at ease with this digital vocabulary and skill set.

However, there is much research around the negative impact upon children and their development. From language delays to ‘links’ to neurodiversity there are those who believe that technology holds no valuable place in the Early Years. For older children there are growing concerns around the self esteem and mental well being of children associated with social media. Many children have access to a wider range of technology for more hours of the day than they did a decade ago and if we are honest the pandemic likely  increased the volume of both for most families. After having to live so much of our lives through technology even adults became somewhat jaded when it came to screen time.

Ultimately, life is all about balance. Too much of anything is never great for us. We have to make choices as parents and educators in regulating this balance, for and with our children. In the classroom I would actively work to balance the interests of a child who was spending all of their time completing puzzles; the same is true of a child who constantly migrated towards technology. I would hate to see digital experiences come at the detriment of other vital skills and experiences which help to shape young minds. Demonising screen time inevitably adds to the parenting guilt stack. As with most everything else; do what works for you and your child!

School Readiness

In the coming months parents up and down the land will hear all about how to get their child ‘school ready’, but what does this really mean?

Often, usually at the end of summer, schools and nurseries will discuss with parents what they can do to get their child ready for school. Historically, there has been a common interpretation that this should revolve around a knowledge of letters and numbers; parents can become worried when they compare their child to others. There is often a belief that children’s success in later life is pinned upon their ability to read from the outset and ‘know’ numbers to 100. However, we firmly believe that accelerated learning does not equate to quality learning.

When families joining The Abbey Junior School ask us what they can do to get their 4 year old ‘ready’ for September, we suggest:

  • Fostering independence- managing own needs, changing for PE, doing up coats and shoes and packing their bags.
  • Having conversations- this skill can become easily lost in a busy life where computers and phones are all pervasive, but making the time to learn communication skills, turn taking, eye contact etc. are fundamental life skills.
  • Listening skills- sharing stories and focusing on activities for up to 10 minutes will help children take a positive step into the classroom

A quality Reception experience will build upon firm foundations of early learning and these skills are highly desirable in any classroom as it enables children to focus on other skills and learning.

Here, at The Abbey, when we meet children hoping to join our Reception we are not expecting a vast knowledge of graphemes, tricky words or an ability to count to 100. Instead we hope to meet young people who demonstrate a willingness to engage in conversation and learning, to express their own ideas, display curiosity and enthusiasm when exploring their environment. A positive attitude and aptitude for learning, enables us as teachers to work with children on the principles of ‘how’ we learn.

Reception is marked as the start of formal education in the UK. It is a formative year, and, as a teacher, hugely rewarding, as young minds have a world opened up to them acquiring skills such as reading and writing. This is also a year where children learn ‘how to be’ in school. We are not talking of creating a stylised or formal approach to learning and teaching, but that children begin to understand the role school plays in their own learning and development and how they can flourish in the school environment – which is different from home. Even the youngest children can reflect upon their learning so far and we equip them with the language and comfort of discussing their progress, their learning and ‘where next’.

In an education culture where children (or perhaps more so their parents) are often focused on a perceived, narrow ‘end goal’ (qualifications, exam results etc.) it is crucial that educators, including parents, fight back and recognise that formal skills in learning have their place and time but they are not at the core of what children need in their education as we look to the future.

A Toy Story

As an Early Years Professional, woman, and mother, I like to think I have always been somewhat aware of the need to try and break stereotypes of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ toys.

‘Boys’ toys typically centre around scientific and mathematical concepts and spatial reasoning, as well as gross motor skills. Those designed for ‘girls’ play, will often be created to foster a sense of communication, narrative, creativity and imagination with themes of ‘beautiful’ and ‘cute’ underpinning them.

As a society there have been many positive moves to erode such notions, including legal obligations as well as a desire through quality practice. Whilst all Early Years’ settings are guided by the Early Years Foundation Stage to offer a range of experiences for all students. All too often unconscious bias impacts provision including the influence of children’s worldly experiences thus far.

I often see posts on social media of parents proudly sharing their photos of their sons caring for a Baby Doll or dressed in an Elsa dress, which is wonderful if the intent is to bolster and embrace their personal choices and preferences in play. However, I see fewer such posts boasting of the girls who spent forever creating a train track to circumnavigate the living room or a morning pretending to fend off a dragon.

As a parent of both a boy and a girl I can say I have sought not to label their play (I cannot promise I have always succeeded!). Both children love a tea party with their teddies as much as they love LEGO, from bug hunts (and sometimes dissection of them)  to the chance to be a Mermaid in the bathtub. Their collaborative creative projects can often run into hours worth of play!

Ultimately, we should all endeavour to achieve a perspective that we do not need to neutralise play but we do need to equalise opportunities, if they like it let them play with it! Personality is so crucially nurtured and developed through positive play experiences. Our sense of self is developed through interactions in play and it is therefore imperative that all play, with any toy is valued!

As educators we strive to counter these preconceptions and I feel privileged to work in a setting that has the opportunity to truly challenge what it means to play ‘like a girl’. Single sex education has a fantastic perspective and influential power to liberate children in their play. The children in our setting have access to a wide range of resources and without anyone dominating the playscape in many areas, our pupils are motivated to explore and learn. They are not inhibited to strive and succeed in subjects which are currently male heavy in the wider world.

It is crucial that the journey towards equality continues to move forward. This should permeate the lives of young women as they should feel empowered in their lives; understanding that there are no limits to what they can achieve, the roles they can fulfil and the life they can lead, regardless of their gender and the games they ‘should’ play.