Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Highway Farm -A very special place.


A few years ago I stumbled upon the Highway Farm Activity Centre page on Facebook, I'm not even sure what it first was that caused us to connect but pretty soon, Martin & I were exchanging comments on each other's pages & another 'cyber friendship' was formed. By sheer chance we both happened to be on the first #PlayIcełand conference organised by Fafu in October 2013 and so our friendship was cemented in Iceland over the 4 days. 
In March 2014 Martin came over to stay with me for 3 days & visit my school and whilst there he and a parent built an amazing mud kitchen for my nursery class. 
I was supposed to visit Highway Farm in July 2014 but unfortunately that very week, my father-in-law died and I had to cancel. We both continued to chat on a regular basis and bounce ideas of each other and I was delighted when Martin invited me over this month to take part in his staff training with Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning Company.  I jumped at this chance to spend time at Highway Farm and meet up with some inspiration practitioners, as the training was on a Saturday, my school were good enough to give me the Monday off in lieu so I could spend a morning at the preschool. 
7 years ago, I got the opportunity to work in an Norwegian kindergarten in Eikefjord job shadowing a colleague working with the outdoor class. From the outset I was bowled over by the tranquil pace of the day, there was no sense of children being hurried through one process to get to the next, as often happens in our system. 
So roll on 7 years and it was incredible to see that same gentle child-led pace at the preschool at Highway Farm. Everything is seen as a learning opportunity, tidying up, getting dressed for outdoors, washing hands, getting ready for snack or lunch but not in the sense of 'how many grapes do you have, what shape are your sandwiches' (sorry inspectorate but this is one way to ruin proper conversation at snack or lunch), this was deep learning opportunities: whose name starts with a certain sound, who had a certain colour of shoes etc. Most of all, it was obvious that all the adults are working at the pace of the young children in their classes, not at the construction of a set timetable. There is a routine to the day but it is flexible and lunch happens when it suits not at the dictate of a bell. 
The site seemed so familiar from the photos I had seen on their page and from a wonderful album Martin had given me for my class in Iceland but it is surprising much smaller than it seems. I think the use of zoning off spaces is incredibly well done at Highway Farm & each space then feels so different and the children must feel as if they are on a visit to a totally different area each time they move between the spaces. Within each area itself there are so many other little spaces where children can be out of sight, it has to seem like an enormous & magical place to those 3 -4 year olds lucky enough to spend time in this setting.
What I particularly enjoyed was the 'real ness' of it, there are nettles, brambles, gorse, wood with splinters, metal shovels etc. it is not a sanitised space, as many preschool setting are. The children at the preschool learn all about nature and how to interact with prickly foliage or stinging nettles. Some of the climbing equipment is made from pallets & could be described as 'rough and ready' but what struck me was that if a piece does get broken it can be easily replaced at no great expense.
I loved watching the children play with a dry creek bed, as I had 'watched' this being built on the page one summer. There is something so engaging about water, I don't know of any child who does not love transporting water from one place to another. 
I spent a morning at this wonderful setting and I never heard any of the 30 odd children complain of being bored, or crying about having fallen - the lack of hard standing definitely helps, when children fall it is onto grass or bark chips.
I can't wait to go back for a longer visit next month with 2 nursery colleagues and to see 
their reactions to this incredibly special place.

9 comments:

  1. Hello Kierna

    I'm pleased you enjoyed your day with the nursery when children were present. I think that's when a place comes alive and you can really see how it all works.

    I'm going to be really cheeky and suggest that to anyone visiting this blog post, that I have several posts on my blog which may be of interest if anyone wants more information: http://creativestarlearning.co.uk/?s=Highway and of course there's the Highway website http://www.highwayfarm.com/little-explorers-outdoor-pre-school/

    Enjoy your summer!

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    1. Have your posts all added now!

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  2. Wow, what a fab place to have visited, it looks like a great preschool. Child-led learning is so important at this age and as you say, sometimes the curriculum pushes them through activities and learning opportunities faster than it should. I bet you're really excited to be going back there with your colleagues soon to show them the magic of this place. Thanks for linking up with Country Kids.

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    1. Oh I am indeed Fiona & what an incredibly beautiful part of the world you live in.

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  3. Amazing place. The freedom to play and build and learn along the way is just amazing there =) #countrykids

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    1. Isn't it amazing, just a pity all children don't get to go to a preschool like this.

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  4. Your post is adorable.
    You really make a dream home for us that everyone wants in his life.
    Outdoor Spaces Construction Company

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