There are a number of established educational approaches in the early years sector and, even though there are many differences between them, they all share the same simple goal: to help every child fulfil his or her potential.
Despite the differences between these approaches, all of them are recognised by Ofsted and form part of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. The Montessori approach puts at its centre the child’s independence in learning and development, while the Reggio Emilia approach focuses on how the learning environment can act as a ‘third teacher’. Forest School sessions at our nursery develop confidence and self-esteem through learner-inspired, hands-on experiences in natural settings.
In this post we review the core features of each approach and explain, in simple terms, how we combine their best elements into a unique hybrid approach which is followed here at Alphablocks Nursery School & Pre-Prep, a boutique nursery in the heart of Hadley Wood village, serving local communities in Barnet and Enfield.
Reggio Emilia Nurseries
Nurseries that follow the Reggio Emilia approach place a strong emphasis on the role of the environment in early learning, and its potential as a ‘third teacher’. We adopt the following key elements from this approach:
- We create unique learning spaces for our children. Our classroom is enriched with natural plants, plenty of natural light, natural handmade resources, cosy corners and a creative workshop area.
- An education based on relationships: a strong network of relationships is established between the children, parents and teachers of Reggio settings in order to promote continuous communication between them.
- This, in turn, ensures a consistent approach between school and home. Apart from face-to-face meetings and e-mail, we communicate through an online app, which is tailor-made for monitoring early learning and discussing children’s development.
- Working on long term projects: Learning projects in Reggio settings provide research opportunities for young children to help them build problem-solving skills, become inquisitive learners and develop critical thinking.
- Creativity and expressive arts: Children express their thinking through their creations. We get to know our children and understand what they think so we can build upon their learning. For this reason, children are given opportunities to make up stories, draw and paint, dance, pretend they are firemen or women, kings or queens, scientists, footballers and shop keepers.
A Montessori Nursery puts children and their interpretation of the world at its centre. From this approach we adopt the following elements:
- An adult-planned and arranged environment: not only are Montessori classrooms well-planned but they also are aesthetically pleasing, warm and inviting. Children learn how to respect the environment and teachers ensure that the environment is calming and does not over-stimulate the child. Striking colours or busy patterns, clutter and mess are avoided. The overall layout, presentation and arrangements of learning materials are central to the learning process of a child.
- Fostering children’s independence: Children learn how to be independent through real-life experiences, not artificial teaching situations. We offer children opportunities to practice skills like spooning and pouring, stirring, whisking and grating, cutting and threading, gardening and numerous other skills. Children are taught self-care skills, such as opening and closing doors, carrying trays and chairs, washing and drying hands, and caring for books.
- The wide curriculum: over time, and when the situation is right for each child, we teach children by letting them experience mathematics, geometry, language, sensorial exploration, painting and sculpting, geography, botany, learning about different cultures. We have high expectations for our children and encourage them to learn about all these different things, at their own pace.
Forest School Nurseries
A nursery which follows the Forest School approach has to hold high expectations about children’s physical skills a developing sense of belonging and responsibility towards their environment. From this approach, we adopt:
- The interaction with the natural world: Woodland environments provide children with space for exploration and a real sense of discovery. Children learn about nature and physical or biological phenomena, such as the stages of a butterfly’s life. They develop physical skills and learn how to work together as a team. Here at Alphablocks Nursery School & Pre-Prep, we have the benefit of being surrounded by tall trees and greenery on-site, and we are also a stone’s throw away from Trent Park – with its amazing Animal Rescue Centre.
- The learner-centre approach: By participating in engaging, motivating and stage appropriate tasks and activities in a woodland environment, children develop strong emotional and social skills. Our mission at Alphablocks Nursery School & Pre-Prep is to develop confident and resilient children that enjoy the process of learning.
High Scope Nurseries
Nurseries that follow the High Scope approach put emphasis on ensuring that children achieve their potential with the help of reflective teachers. From this approach we adapt:
- The importance of evaluation and reflection: Our children and teachers initiate plans for projects or activities and work together to implement them. Crucially, they discuss and reflect upon the entire process, what went well and what could have been done better.
- The importance of active learning: Learning in the early years is not an abstract process wherein a teacher gives instruction to a child. Children learn by actively engaging with the environment and resources around them, ideas and thoughts that they become exposed to. By manipulating the resources, children learn about their properties, for example, that water is transparent and how it runs through their fingers and cannot be contained, how certain materials float in water while others sink, and how one can make mud when adding earth to water.
- In effect, our teachers make learning a very concrete experience. They are there to talk to children about what they are learning and to encourage them to develop their ideas, problem-solving and critical thinking. Rather than teaching them in a top-down approach, they teach them how to learn by themselves.