Monday, 13 July 2015

A nurturing space where children truly do grow!

Cornwall CPD Road Trip 2015

The Tevi classroom and outdoor space.
Last year, two nursery colleagues and myself decided to take Continued Professional Development (CPD) into our own hands and organise visits to nurseries in the Derby area during the first week of our summer break. This year we were lucky to spend the day at the incredible Highway Farm Activity Centre in Cornwall working alongside Martin, Rachel and the team of educators at this unique outdoor preschool setting.

What a way to enter preschool!
Earlier in the year, the farm expanded it's preschool setting by adding another class for the older children and Rachel joined them as an experienced teacher with many years in Reception and Foundation Stage behind her. They decided to give each of the classes a unique, Cornish name rather than keep referring to them as the lower and top classes. And so the 2 classes became known as 'Maga' and 'Tevi' from the Cornish for nurture and to grow. The newly turned 3 year olds are in Maga and the 4 year olds in Tevi.

I was so lucky to get to see both classes as their day unfolded and had also visited last month too. Even so often you get to witness a natural 'teacher' in action and you just know that all the qualifications in the world could never, ever replicate what comes organically to some people. 

The term nurture is so perfect for what Martin and his team do with the younger children. With a staff child ratio of 1:6, they have time for each child, they have chances to have 'teachable' moments throughout their day and it is so obvious that every child is valued and listened too in this amazing setting. I saw some children who in a more traditional setting would stand out a mile and have to have lots of support to access the curriculum, just be allowed to take the day at their pace and to be fully supported by all the staff in everything they tried to do. 
I watched entranced as Martin had these pre preschoolers doing maths that many a P.1 teacher would be impressed with. I was most impressed by the skills that the children are given to be as independent as possible and to have lots of strategies to get them to the right answer to most questions. Bearing in mind these were 3 year olds in the year before most would be in nursery, when asked to find 5 on a number line, they knew to go to 1 and count forward until they found it, if they couldn't identify it at first. 
I watched as staff gently reminded children to sit down during the group story time and even if the same child had to be reminded 4-5 times it was always done gently and with such patience. Not every child had a turn and yet these young children had no issue with this.

I suddenly realised that in reality the current staff child ratio in nurseries in Northern Ireland of 1:13 does not allow for as many activities or teachable moments, we are under too much pressure and a lot of the learning has to be more incidental. I spend my time teaching to the whole group during story time or interacting with smaller groups at activities but will inevitably be called away or distracted by something else going on in the busy classroom. What I saw going on with these 3 year olds might be happening in a nursery class by 3rd term but certainly not in first term. Martin was able to work closely with 1 or 2 children whilst the others were busy engaged elsewhere, he was able to give his undivided attention to children. 

I saw lots of times when the children were out of sight of the adults and guess what - none of them came to any harm - they were all fine and engaged in play. In nurseries we have become obsessed with children always being in our sight and yet they do need to learn to be in charge of themselves and to be independent and to feel OK about being out of sight of an adult. Martin has created lots of little hiding spaces in the Maga space and they are nearly all at child height to make them seem even more inaccessible to interfering adult eyes! I can only imagine how magical it must be to be a 3 year old in this space.

Every space is used to it's full potential and cosy areas are created.
Now, with having added the Tevi class where the 3 and almost 4 year olds spend the year before moving onto primary, the Farm can truly ensure the children who go to this setting are being nurtured as they grow. They will be mostly move from one class to the other and therefore from one space to the other. And throughout the day they move through the various spaces that have been created, therefore ensuring they learn to cope with transitions within a familiar space. The children are alongside each other at times and you can hear both classes as they play, or chat to each other over a low gate. Best of all the dry creek bed runs between the 2 spaces and the children in the Tevi class are the ones who add the water to create running water through the Maga space.

The children in the Tevi class add water to the dry creek bed that runs down into the Maga area.
As the water trickled down the path, I asked one child where the water came from and he replied 'From the big children' and on a previous visit when I asked the older class where the water was going to one replied 'Down to the babies'!! 
These older children who have been thoroughly nurtured by Martin and his team in the Maga class are then ready to move into the bigger space of the Tevi class and explore a wider area known as 'The Top Field' as part of their daily morning routine. These children are certainly growing as their class name suggests and they are such enthusiastic learners you just know they will thrive when they get to primary school. 

What I witnessed most when I was able to work alongside Rachel and Maria one morning, was that these 4 year olds were as independent as possible and took responsibility for most if not all of their belongings. With a staff child ratio of 1:8 in the Tevi class, it is still a intimate grouping and allows for lots of teachable moments throughout the session. 

Estimating how many peas might be inside the pod!
What it showed me was that if we could always ensure another adult was in the nursery classroom, the quality of interactions would rise immediately. 
The outdoor space that the Tevi class use is developing well and again has lots of opportunities for children to be out of sight and feel hidden from adult eyes. The newest area being developed 'The Top Field' has so much potential but as of yet lacks these hidden spaces or shelters of any kind - but this is all in the pipe line. I can't wait to see how this incredible setting will develop next year when it has its first full year of 2 classes and I bet any of the schools that get these children will thank the staff at Highway Farm for the confident independent and enthusiastic learners they are getting.

You can read more about a previous visit to Highway Farm over here:

Also read about Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning Company's visit over here:

You can read about my CPD road trips to Derby in 2014 here:


  1. Enjoyed every minute and although you have captured it brilliantly, it is really difficult to get across just how inspiring a space and experience it is for the children!

  2. Love love love this...all of it. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Anonymous17 July, 2015

    Sounds great - no doubt the visit has been a positive learning experience- it's always great to see how others do things.

  4. Anonymous19 July, 2015

    Amazing how organic the place is! Sounds like you had a lovely experience with this visit =) #countrykids

  5. Isn't it such an amazing place? If only all children got to experience a little taste of this in their preschool year.

  6. Wow what a lot of learning and wonderful to discover this nursery is in Cornwall! It sounds like there is so much to learn from how they do things but then they have the huge advantage over you of teacher to pupil ratio, I'm sure there are a few things that you will find to adapt though and I love the fact you are out visiting others and learning from their experiences, it can only make your own preschool even better. Thank you for sharing on Country Kids, I was fascinated to read myself as these are often the same age range I am working with in our Activity hour.

  7. I love the wildness of this setting. What a wonderful place to visit and I would love to have a play setting like this. So much to learn but delived in a child friendly way.


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