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Creating a culture of belonging

Little Explorers' vision is to create an inclusive setting where everyone feels welcome.

Young children going for a walk

Information about the setting

Little Explorers has been open since September 2022. It is a Non-Maintained Early Years Education setting for children aged 2-4 years old and offers Flying Start provision. There are two full time members of staff. It is registered for 19 children but has no more than 11 children in on a given day, with many children attending on at least four days a week. 

All children have English as their first language. At the time of inspection, approximately 30% of children attending nursery had additional learning needs. Both leaders have worked together in early years provision for 15 years.

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

The nursery’s vision is to create an inclusive setting where everyone feels welcome and all children are able to flourish, feel fulfilled and happy. It wants all children to have the experiences they need to reach their full potential as independent citizens of Wales by providing an environment where well-being is at the heart of everything that the setting does.

The nursery’s vision is a golden thread throughout its practice. This is evident within the relationships between adults, children, families, and the whole community. It is woven through the rhythm and routines of the day and in every part of the learning environment. The children are at the centre of practice. They are young people who are loved and valued. Practitioners value their own lived experiences, their interests, and their schematic play. 

They want the setting and their relationships to further the children’s natural curiosity and support them to be autonomous, independent learners. The Curriculum for Non-Maintained Nursery Settings has children at the centre, with a positive focus on what children can do rather than what they are not yet able to achieve. This aligns with the setting’s vision and practitioners’ belief that they are facilitators in the children’s learning, who provide playful and authentic experiences in response to observations of the children.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Relationships between adults, children, families, and the whole community

Relationships matter and having nurturing, knowledgeable adults is central to the setting’s pedagogy and practice. Developing the use of observations and practitioners’ role as nurturing, knowledgeable adults is of great importance and has been a continuous priority when developing practice. Practitioners learn a lot about the children’s lives and experiences through observing them playing. Observations help in understanding their friendships, schematic play, interests, ideas and feelings.

Through observations, practitioners recognise the importance of adults’ careful interactions, allowing children space to explore, experiment and take risks in their learning. They learn to solve problems, persevere, and apply new knowledge to different contexts. Practitioners have attended a course on Froebel, an early years educational theorist, to learn about his principles. This developed their understanding of the value of children having ‘freedom with guidance’ and the important role of the adult in skilfully interacting with the child without interfering in their learning. The setting feels that it is crucial that practitioners remember this in their role as enabling adults.

The small group size and unhurried approach ensure that the children know the adults well and feel secure and content. Children have an excellent voice within nursery. They know their thoughts, ideas and opinions are listened to and valued. Children vote for the rhyme or book of the week and are learning that the book with most votes is chosen. Through this, the children are developing an understanding of fairness, choice, and listening to other people’s views. With the support of staff, children answer questionnaires about how they feel about nursery, what they like and who they play with. These requests are listened to, and the environment and experiences are developed in response.

Parents comment that the nursery is like a second home for their children and that it feels homely, cosy, and welcoming. The staff and parents have developed close, supportive, relationships where both parties are able to interact in a variety of ways. For example, staff share videos and voice clips of sign language and Welsh. Parents are happy to share their family news and celebrations on the private social media group and many parents say that they consider nursery to be an extended part of their family. Parents receive weekly updates in the form of photographic collages, which outline learning experiences, celebrations and learning through play. Individual updates are shared with parents, regarding a child’s individual successes and achievements.

Learning environment

Practitioners have attended regional sharing of practice events, which provide an opportunity to see other learning environments and provision, showcasing authentic experiences and resources. This motivated them to make the setting an extension of home, where all children would feel a sense of belonging in a familiar and comforting environment. The environment created is cosy, with real furniture, kitchen resources, soft textiles, and ambient lighting. All the children see themselves represented in the nursery with framed family photos on the mantel piece in the role play area. Dolls, textiles, utensils and books help every child see their own home and family represented. Role play is of great importance to the children, so the setting’s role play area is extensive and includes a dressing room, kitchen, living room and shop. The real plates and bowls in the role play area are duplicates of the crockery the children use at snack time to provide authentic learning experiences. The children visit the shops, library and post office in the local area to provide them with authentic learning experiences. Opportunities to revisit these experiences are recreated in the setting through role play at the shop. This includes authentic resources to support children’s maths, literacy and digital development, including calculators and digital scales.

Rhythm and routines of the day

The daily routine provides unhurried and uninterrupted time to play and is carefully considered to balance both the necessity for routine and the freedom to play. The routine ensures that children have the time and space to be deeply involved and have ownership of their play. The routine allows time for children to consolidate, revisit and be emersed in exploring their ideas and fascinations. Routines are flexible and responsive to the children’s needs. This approach gives children a sense of security, but also ensures that their choices are noticed and valued. After sustained periods of uninterrupted play, practitioners use song, sign and objects of reference to enable positive transitions. Within the setting, children have their own place for their belongings They self-register using an emotion symbol. The adults provide a warm welcome and talk to them about how they are feeling.

Leadership and self-evaluation for improvement

Practitioners have participated in a community of practice to find innovative approaches to the self-evaluation process. Their aim is to make self-evaluation more useful and user-friendly, and to include the children’s ideas. The new self-evaluation process helps to document how practitioners are developing their practice through text, photos and quotes from the children. Their approach is shared with parents and stakeholders, who have commented positively on the new format. Practitioners now find the process useful to ensure that priorities for improvement align with the setting vision.

What impact has this work had on provision and children’s standards?

Practitioners know that children feel a strong sense of belonging. They are happy and come in bursting with joy and enthusiasm. The children are familiar with the daily routine. They value consistency in the rhythm and routines of the day and the experiences on offer. The children have wonderful friendships with each other and play well together. They are very mature and show great care for one another. The children recognise each other’s strengths and support one another. Staff observe children who are keen to celebrate their own achievements and their friends’ successes. They value children as capable and independent people. 

The setting’s role is to facilitate, carefully interacting to ensure that children have high levels of engagement and autonomy in their play and learning. Consequently, the children are flourishing cognitively, intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically. Strategies are shared with parents on how best to support their children’s learning. This approach strengthens the partnership and builds consistency and trust. Parents are highly supportive of the nursery team and there is an ‘in it together’ ethos.

How have you shared your good practice?

Practitioners attend EAS and LA non-maintained setting network meetings, to share and discuss good practice and pedagogy. Recently they shared their observation, assessment and planning process, which has child centred practice at its heart.

The setting has hosted professional learning events for the local authority, providing an opportunity for other practitioners to view its learning environment both indoors and out. Following this, more settings have been to visit on an individual basis.