We are a small Nursery school in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. We have 104 full time 3-4 year olds in classes of 26 with two to three staff in each classroom base.
Over the past three years we have been developing our outdoor area so that it can be used as an educational resource in all weathers. ‘Learning Outdoors’ has formed the main thrust of our school improvement plans in recent years and in 2006-7 we also looked specifically at raising attainment in mathematics.
Children’s mathematical achievements have improved with our focus on learning maths across the curriculum, inside and outside. Staff training has centred upon collating ideas, resources and assessments that will support staff in their quest to provide quality mathematical experiences.
In order to make full use of our outdoor areas, we made vast changes to the layout and provision within our school yard. It had been a very well equipped playground and we set about adding in additional resources to create a space which was a stimulus for learning with planting and digging areas, a bog garden, a container allotment and large covered sandpit that could be accessed in all weathers.
Following a visit from a group of Norwegian teachers, we set out to use the Scandinavian model of learning outdoors, in all weathers, as a way to make the most of our school garden. Their motto ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!’ became our catchphrase too. A concerted effort with parents, in our Wellies are Wonderful campaign, helped us to ensure that children came to school equipped with Wellington boots and we purchased a set of 60 rain suits so that half the school at a time could still use the garden when it rained or snowed.
This new philosophy increased the time that could be spent outdoors and helped staff to see for themselves the joy that children feel when playing out in the rain, wind and snow, if they are clothed appropriately and allowed to explore.
Together with the rain suits, we also purchased a range of simple, open ended equipment that could be used in different weathers, creating ready prepared set of resources for rainy days, windy days and snowy days. This meant that staff could quickly and easily draw upon the relevant materials to suit the weather and could adapt provision as the weather changed through the year.
For example, our ‘Rainy Day’ equipment includes:-
Umbrellas, pots, pans, cups, bowls and buckets of different sizes and materials, outdoor water trays, sponges, paintbrushes, colanders, sieves, serving spoons etc. with holes in, wheelbarrows and sections of drain pipes cut to specific sizes.
We also have a selection of books, stories, poems, photographs and videos about rainy days to stimulate discussion and exploration before and after going out in the rain.
In particular, the work of Mercia Lee and Helen Yorke in their teachers’ book ‘Maths Outdoors’ was particularly inspirational to us. Their ideas of using open ended questions to trigger children’s investigations took our teaching to another level. With all of our open ended resources and staff who encourage investigative play, it isn’t long before children start to think of their own questions and create their own opportunities for creative mathematical problem solving.
Anne Humble, Headteacher
Monkchester Road Nursery School