The most important aspect of the Canterburys Way is to make everyone feel welcome. Over many years of practice we have found that to work hard on making families and children feel relaxed and welcome from the start is the only way to build really positive relationships where everyone is seen as important in the child’s journey through their most formative years.
Families as Partners
The nursery is seen as an extension to the child’s home, somewhere where they should be as relaxed as they are at home. Younger children must have access to soft furnishings, couches and cushions which reflect home life.
We exchange information about children with family members regularly, and try to support them and praise them for their achievements in caring for their children. We are never judgemental or patronising, and hope that parents and carers will treat us the same.
Canterburys places great emphasis on the importance of giving staff time to learn and be reflective. Each member of staff has a reflective journal, in which they can note and evaluate their activities and experiences and reflect on them in order to learn from them. Meetings with experienced members of staff are regular so that thoughts ideas and concerns can be shared and professional dialogue between staff is encouraged. There is no hierarchy at Canterburys. The owners see all staff as important in making the vision of excellence real, and hope that each member of staff feels valued, wants to work alongside us and can contribute, and bring about change where necessary. We are always evaluating, moving forwards and trying new ideas and methods of delivering outstanding childcare.
An Optimistic View of the Child
We believe that children are competent and strong and have a desire to explore and investigate from birth. They are not empty vessels for us to fill with information, but inquisitive humans who simply need the lots of love and security, and the right environment and resources, and knowledgeable adults and other children to help them build their knowledge and fulfil their potential.
Opportunity Before Outcomes
The aim of Canterburys is to provide rich opportunities for learning and acquiring skills. We set up an exciting and stimulating environment which allows children to choose what they want to do. With experienced staff nearby children can direct their own learning. Staff are trained to intervene only when necessary as too much adult involvement may change the direction in which the child was taking an activity. There are times when the adult can intervene at just the right time to maintain the interest and extend the learning. We plan events based on the natural calendar of the year. In addition to this we plan on five levels for each individual child that reflects their wants, needs and level of achievement.
Offering children a range of possibilities and opportunities that they can draw on rather than organising activities which will help them to reach predetermined objectives requires a different approach to planning. The environment, along with the resources and a good amount of choice are crucial for success. Once the child becomes involved, adults need to be aware of the strategies and methods each child is employing, how they are solving problems, interacting with each other and materials they are using. This needs to be accurately documented, analysed and reflected upon.
We feel that adults who have specific knowledge and a passion for certain areas can enhance the children’s lives and broaden their experiences. We often have resident PE/dance/outdoor specialist, all of whom have relevant childcare qualifications as well as professional qualifications in their own field. The specialists compliment the role of the key person by adding their own observations to children’s journals.
Music is given high priority at Canterburys. The children are free to explore a range of instruments and experiment with sound, including the electric guitar, amplifier, and an assortment of multi-cultural and homemade instruments.
As well as music and dance, art and design are given very high priority at Canterburys.
Children use many different materials to create art work with. Staff document the processes they go through as they are mixing the media and materials.
Canterburys views choice and creativity as the most important vehicles for finding out. We provide a vast amount of natural and junk materials for the children to explore and use in different ways. We are interested in the processes they go through rather than the end results when they examine and use different media and materials. For example, an array of plastic bottle tops can be used to become accustomed to smooth, hard round surfaces. They can be used with glue and paint to create collages, pushed into clay into clay or dough to make patterns, counted, sorted into egg cartons, pushed into clay or dough to make patterns, or used as pretend money in a shop. We feel that providing too many realistic manufactured toys reduces children’s ability to use their imagination.
The creative bar provides a range of materials to use freely.
The creative bar is also useful for sorting and matching activities......
....and always has a range of textures and patterns to explore.
Different materials and objects can be grouped together for exploration and comparison.
A range of natural materials is also used for construction purposes. Here, a number of cardboard boxes become large building blocks, stepping stones or drums at music time. There is always a range of textures available for the children to explore and investigate.
Younger children are introduced to Treasure Baskets, once children are mobile they enjoy Heuristic Play sessions and older children enjoy the open ended freedom of Loose Parts play.
Reflection, Observation, Planning, Documentation and Assessment Cycle
This cycle usually lasts around a term.
Staff start by reflecting on the prior learning of the child and the group and what they already know. We look at their current stages of development then set up an enabling environment at the level the group of children are working at.
Next, we observe to find exactly what each child can do and what their next steps in learning are. We note interests and preoccupations, and consider what parents tell us and what we know from experience about each child.
These detailed observations and assessments are carried out at the start of a period and provide the basis of planning for the group.
Planning – (focused activities)
We hold a group meeting and start by pooling the children’s interests and their needs then mapping them on large sheets of paper. We try to find commonalities to draw the project together. A few activities are designed which link common interests to next steps as starting points, so, for example, if they love playing in the home corner but need more experiences involving numbers, then we would create a number activity such as pegging numbered items of clothing on a washing line, or matching small dollies to small beds and so on. Each activity has its own photocopied sheet with a description of the activity and the staff personalise it for every child with observations and photographs. Activities are differentiated to suit the varying needs of each child. Staff document what each child can do and what they have had to be shown or taught, this is the level that needs to be worked on.
Once the initial focused activities are done, the key person decides whether the child needs to practice the skills again or move on to their next steps. The team then look at a variety of other ways in which the learning intentions can be achieved. These are documented alongside the starter activity until we feel that the learning is embedded.
Seasonal and Multi-cultural Activities
We also plan for some of the seasonal or cultural activities that are happening over the period.
We try to incorporate anything that parents tell us about their child, and always take on board the comments they write in journals.
The Characteristics of Effective Learning
The child’s characteristics are also noted so that we can plan to suit their learning styles as well as encourage the development of those we are not seeing.
At the end of the first half of the term the key person writes an interim assessment and shares the learning journals with parents.
We create sheets similar to the ones we use to create activities and document learning to send home with parents to encourage home learning.
The second half of the term - Our ‘Over and Above Programme’
Although all this is an excellent start, we feel that there is so much more to be covered and so many ways of furthering the knowledge and extending the children’s experiences. So over the next half a term we use Our ‘Over and Above’ programme which qualifies our outstanding status and ensures the children are not just ‘school ready’ but ‘life ready’. Every area of learning is taken a stage further and documented using assessment wheels. Certain staff are specialists and take the lead using their expertise and training. Other specialists are brought in at this stage to enhance the curriculum such as Zoolab and Stagecoach theatre school.
Here we set up a range of activities which cover the outcomes we have been working on to see if the children can achieve them independently, if the learning is deep level and embedded.