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Wildlife-Friendly Gardens - for Kids
Robin enjoying a makeshift watering holeWe previously wrote about the amazing benefits of nature for children and we’ll now continue the nature theme with a guide to making gardens wildlife-friendly for kids. From bumble bees, blue tits and butterflies to hedgehogs, lizards and mini-beasts, there are a myriad of fascinating little creatures that will come to visit if the conditions are right. And kids can help!

You Don’t Even Need a Garden

It’s important to note that you don’t really even need a garden. Many of the suggestions below work for those without gardens too, so long as there is access to an area outdoors that’s unlikely to be disturbed by other humans. Even just a windowsill, window box, balcony or area of common ground will potentially do. You never know who will visit when you put food out for the birdsAllotments are also perfect, so long as there are no pest-controlling chemicals or measures being used there as these might harm unintended visiting creatures. Any of these areas can be used to attract wildlife so that children and parents can enjoy the sight, sounds and fascinating behaviour of a variety of delightful little creatures visiting through much of the year.

The Benefits of a Wildlife-Friendly Area

Simply put, getting regular visits from little creatures will bring joy and wonder into children’s lives. As well as learning about the different creatures living nearby, children will get to learn about nature itself and the world around them. With encouragement perhaps from adults, they’ll also learn to respect the visiting wildlife, recognising that each is an individual being, with its own character, feelings, preferences and needs. Insect houses can go just about anywhere, even without a gardenExposure to such little beings may even help children to understand the importance of ecological matters and greener lifestyles. That in itself is becoming ever-more important as the Earth warms more with each passing year.

Children will benefit from nature in so many other ways too. They’ll get exercise, build up muscles and improve coordination skills when they work the soil etc. They’ll reduce stress being out in the fresh air too. Making the outdoors wildlife-friendly will also get them away from screens like the TV, tablets, phones or computer games and that’s virtually always a good thing.

Of course, it’ll also benefit the little visitors themselves, in the form of much-needed food and, indeed, that is the real key to attracting the most wildlife.

How to Attract Wildlife

Bees, dragonflies and many other flying insects simply love BuddleiaAfter a long, often cold lock-down, Spring is pretty much here at time of writing. What better time, then, to start attracting wildlife to gardens and nearby spaces, however small some of them might be. Birds are returning from foreign lands, other animals are coming out of hibernation and more bees and butterflies will soon be travelling from flower to flower in search of nectar.

Food and sustenance is the real key to attracting most wildlife …

Bees, Dragonflies & Damselflies

Bees love poppies & wild flowers. Don't forget that they need water to drink, particularly on hot daysBees will love it if children leave out a little dish of water among any flowers that they regularly visit. It’s important to put something like pebbles and stones in the water so the bees have somewhere safe to land, where they can then sip at the water slightly beneath them. Without the landing stones, the water will be a real danger to them, so that’s an important detail. If they’re lucky, children may even find that dragonflies and damselflies also visit the watering holes that they’ve left out.

Butterflies & Moths

Butterflies will enjoy ripe fruit drizzled with sugar solutionSimilarly, butterflies and moths and maybe bees too, will be delighted if children do something similar to the above except, this time, mix water 50:50 with sugar and the resulting sweet-tasting solution can be drizzled over pieces of ripe fruit or spread over a clean piece of sponge. Either of these can then be placed into a small dish which can be left in amongst flowers outside. If you don’t have access to a garden, a windowsill or balcony will be just as good so long as there are flowers in bloom there.

One of the most popular shrubs for butterflies is ‘Buddleia’, which is available with white, deep purple, pink, blue and even yellow flowers. Butterflies absolutely love Buddleia and most Buddleia bushes will attract some amazing-looking butterfly varieties. Buddleia is extremely popular with butterfliesThese can be fantastic photo opportunities for kids as well as a chance to learn the names of the different species and perhaps build up their own wildlife photo album. Buddleias are relatively inexpensive shrubs and are available at most nurseries. They can be planted and will thrive virtually anywhere, although sunny spots will attract the most butterflies. Parents should usually hard prune them (well, most varieties) in early Spring, in mild weather.

For those with smaller spaces for plants, poppy seeds or mixed wildflower seeds are easy and fun for children to grow too, and will also attract butterflies, bees and many other insects to their pollen once they flowerBirds will love it if children/parents put up bird boxes around the garden or on outside walls of buildings. Wildflower and poppy areas can also look absolutely beautiful too.

Birds

Birds will love it if children/parents put up bird boxes around the garden or on outside walls of buildings and so on. Watching birds pair up, move into bird boxes and raise families of babies is one of life’s joys and can be quite magical for children to witness. It’s even wonderful when the babies finally leave the nest and children can watch them learning to fly and subsequently being taught how and where to feed out in the natural world.
You can even get window feeders if you don't have a garden or want a close-up look

Care needs to be taken, though, as to exactly where to put the bird boxes. They should be out of reach of predators like cats and foxes and also never be in a south-facing position. The reason for that is that, if they face South, they will become too hot in the Summer and babies will not survive under such heat.

Nursery centres usually have a great variety of bird boxes, some for specific species such as blue tits or robins, and they come in a variety of different forms, many of which are inexpensive. Alternatively, they can be made out of scraps of wood — under close supervision of an adult, of course, or purchased online.

Birds will also love bird baths. Here, they’ll be able to bathe (which is enormous fun to watch) as well as to drink. Bird baths need to be shallow and ideally have somewhere safe for the birds to stand, e.g. rocks or stonesThe water should be shallow and children should be encouraged to change the water regularly, for the health of the visiting birds. It’s also a great idea to put a rock of upturned pot or pot base in the water so the birds have somewhere to land safely and to sit if they don’t want to be in deeper water.

Bird feeding stations are also a huge hit with visiting birds. They can be purchased or fabricated from scraps of wood and suchlike (again under supervision of an adult). Birds will prefer it if bird tables or stations are placed under the canopy of an overhanging tree branch as they’ll feel safer from possible attack from above, from birds of prey. There are also some bird feeding stations that will stick to the outside of your window using little suckers; those are a great way for kids to see birds really close up. Fat balls and seed cakes are popular with a whole host of different birds (these are long-tailed tits)Whichever style is used, parents or carers can encourage children to refresh the bird food regularly and to keep the feeding station clean, to protect the health of the birds.

Hanging ‘fat balls’ or ‘seed cakes’ are another convenient option. In our own garden, National Trust branded ‘Robin Peanut Cake‘ continues to be an enormous hit with not only Robins but also with Blue Tits, Cole Tits, Long-Tailed Tits, Starlings and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. We buy ours through our local supermarket delivery service and, considering how much the birds adore it, it’s reasonably inexpensive. For those on a tighter budget or who are more creative, fat balls and seed cakes are easy for children and parents to make from scratch. Indeed, we may follow up with a separate guide to making those in the future.

Insects, Reptiles & Mini-Beasts

Compost heaps and piles of rotting logs are great places to attract insects and mini-beastsCompost heaps and piles of rotting logs are great places to attract insects and mini-beasts like woodlice, bugs, centipedes, millipedes and even the more unusual types of slender wasp, which like to burrow holes into rotting logs and, by the way, are absolutely harmless if left in peace.
Wilderness areas with long, uncut grass or sewn wildflowers will be a great haven for shy slow worms and lizards — or frogs and toads if it’s a damp area.

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs need somewhere warm and dry to hibernate over winterHedgehogs will hibernate in undisturbed piles of autumn leaves, under sheds, compost heaps or undergrowth and even beneath unlit bonfire stacks. You can also make or buy hedgehog houses to nestle in quiet, secluded areas outdoors. You stand the most chance of having hedgehogs visit if your fences and boundaries have occasional gaps underneath, where hedgehogs can enter and exit your garden. Seeing hedgehogs, particularly baby hedgehogs, is an absolute delight for children and adults alike. They really are the cutest of garden visitors. Parents or carers need to ensure that children know not to feed hedgehogs milk or bread — it’s very bad for them.

Don’t be put off if wildlife doesn’t come straight away. Animals are rightly timid, particularly around humans, and sometimes it can take a week or two before they begin to trust any new addition to the neighbourhood.

These wildlife opportunities for your garden, windowsill or balcony are just the tip of the iceberg — there are many other ways to attract wildlife for the benefit of both children and the creatures themselves, but we hope this article gives parents and children some ideas for making a start.

We are Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham

This guide was brought to you by Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham. As well as offering weekday childcare, we are a Forest School setting, which gives children lots of experiences surrounded by nature. That’s especially important for those children who do not have gardens or nearby outdoor spaces to play in. Learn more about Forest School in our complete guide, here. If you are interested in a place for your child at a nursery, pre-school or Forest School in Edgbaston or near Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood or Smethwick, call 0121 246 4922, contact us, or book a visit here. We’ll be delighted to tell you more and to meet you and your little one(s).

Ofsted Report: Good Childcare Provision from Leaps & Bounds
It’s been a while since our last Ofsted report but we thought we’d highlight the truly excellent feedback received from Ofsted within that most recent report. After all, many parents will be interested to know what the independent UK body thinks of a nursery or childcare setting before committing their child to a place. This post should therefore be useful to parents/carers as a good, impartial view of the nursery, from totally independent professionals.

Good Early Years Provision – it’s official!

Ofsted Report for Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, BirminghamThe most recent (2017) Ofsted report was full of positive comments from the inspectors — and nothing negative whatsoever. The provision was seen as good, in every single aspect of what we do at the setting. This should be very reassuring for parents. In short, the Ofsted inspector stated …

  • The staff team have energy and are enthusiastic about children’s learning. They provide an inspiring range of resources …  to motivate children’s learning.
  • Staff work closely with parents and confidently use the observation and assessment system in place to identify any gaps in children’s learning. This strong partnership working with parents contributes to children making good progress.
  • Staff place a strong focus on promoting children’s personal, social and emotional development. Children are supported well to be confident and independent learners.
  • Staff place a clear emphasis on building children’s communication and language skills [… and …] support children who speak English as an additional language well.
  • Keeping children safe is given good regard.

The Ofsted Inspection

An Ofsted inspection is immersive and thorough — exactly as parents would hope. The inspector carefully observes the quality of teaching, assessing its impact on the children’s learning. She (in the case of the last report) speaks with staff, children and parents and takes consideration of their views. She also undertakes a joint observation of the setting, in action, with the nursery manager, additionally meeting with the deputy and area managers. Appropriate documents are checked, including those which evidence the suitability of staff employed at the nursery.

The inspector’s aim overall is to ensure the nursery’s childcare provision complies with the statutory framework for children’s learning, development and care (the ‘EYFS’). Leaps & Bounds passed with flying colours — on all counts!

Leaps & Bounds passed with flying colours — on all counts!

More detailed analysis from the Ofsted Report follows …

Good, Effective Leadership & Management

The Ofsted inspector said: “Arrangements for safeguarding are effective” and “safeguarding is given top priority. Staff carry out a daily risk assessment to ensure all areas used by children are safe. All staff are suitably trained in child protection issues and know the procedures to follow if they have any concerns about a child. Leaders and staff work effectively with other professionals working with the children to share information and secure their welfare and promote their learning. Staff recruitment and vetting systems help ensure the staff employed are suitable and are clear about their roles and responsibilities.” And, despite the nursery already scoring very well against every benchmark, “There is a clear improvement plan in place to help staff build further on the good quality of provision already achieved.

Our Safeguarding policy is available here to read or download.

Good Teaching, Learning & Assessment Quality

Our nursery staff use an observation and assessment approach to establish precise, challenging steps within each child’s learning plan. This was recognised by Ofsted, who reported:

Consequently, activities have a clear learning intention and children make good progress. Staff use the outdoor area well to engage children in learning. For example, staff encourage children to consider how the water will flow as they use the pipes and guttering and challenge them to solve problems” then later commented: “Staff are good play partners and quickly get involved in children’s imaginary play.

They went on to comment on the good approach to speaking, vocabulary and language at the nursery:

Staff use practical and enjoyable experiences to help introduce new words and ideas and to encourage children to speak … They skilfully let children lead their own play and talk about their ideas” and later commenting: “Bilingual staff often communicate with the younger children in both their home language and English. This helps to reassure and encourage them and helps them make good progress in developing their speaking skills.

Good Personal Development, Behaviour & Welfare Approach

The Ofsted Report also had glowing comments about the nursery’s approach to personal development, behaviour and welfare:

Staff place a clear focus on children talking about their emotions and feelings as they greet each other during group time. Staff teach children how to manage their feelings and how their behaviour impacts on others. For example, children consider how the characters in their favourite books feel and why.”

And, for babies, they said:

Staff caring for babies are attentive to their care and health needs and know their individual personalities well. Staff ensure babies receive close contact and they often sing and communicate with them.

In regard to healthy food and lifestyles, the Ofsted Report commented:

The nursery is kept clean and children benefit from a varied range of nutritious meals and snacks. Children enjoy physical activity and learn about the benefits of leading healthy lives.

Good Outcomes for Children

The Ofsted inspector also reported that all children “make good progress from their starting points” and children with special educational needs and/or disabilities “also make good progress considering their starting points.

More generally, the Ofsted Report found that “Children show a real interest in learning and enjoy making marks and writing during their play. They show a fondness for numbers and counting as they play with the many natural resources, which they sort and make patterns with. Children thoroughly enjoy exploring sound and rhythm as they use the metal and plastic bins and containers as instruments. Children show good levels of enjoyment in their learning and develop the key skills required in preparation for school.

The importance of having a good record for child outcomes and readiness for school cannot be over-emphasised, of course. Both are critically important and a measure of a high quality nursery like Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Birmingham.

Going Forwards to the Next Ofsted Report

Ofsted reports come around approximately every four years, so Leaps & Bounds may be due another inspection soon. We have not been resting on our laurels, though, and our aim is to make Leaps and Bounds even better. Indeed, our aim of continual improvement was recognised by the last inspector who stated that we intend to “build further on the good quality of provision already achieved.” So, watch this space!

A Nursery Place in Birmingham for your Baby or Child

If you would like to explore the idea of a place for your baby or child at an independently proven nursery like Leaps & Bounds, please do get in touch. We’ll be very happy to discuss it further with you. Our nursery is located in Gillott Road in Edgbaston, Birmingham, close to Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick. Call 0121 246 4922 for more details or contact us/book a visit here.

Top 10 Nature Activities for Children
Following our November article, “Nature & it’s Amazing Benefits for Children”, we thought we’d follow up with some wonderful nature-based activity ideas for children to enjoy. As we saw in the aforementioned article, nature has enormous and incredibly varied benefits for children; even more so in their early years. Without going over previous ground in too much detail again here, nature benefits children’s minds, spirits and bodies and improves mental and physical health. The range of benefits is huge.
Slow worm found in the garden undergrowth on a sunny dayWith this in mind, we have put together our top ten list of activities that parents and carers can organise for their children in the natural environment.

1. A mini-beast hunt!

Whether undertaken in the garden, park or countryside, a mini-beast hunt is always a popular hit with young children. Fun and educational, a hunt for little creatures in a natural environment will always give children a real sense of discovery, adventure and accomplishment. See if they can find a bee, a spider, frog, ladybird, worm, ant, slug, snail, a slow worm. Or they could look for larger animals like birds, foxes and rabbits. Teach them to respect the creatures (even the scary ones) and to handle them with great care if touching them or picking them up. They’ll hopefully learn that each of these is a little being that’s going about its life and has its own needs and wants, just like humans, only a little different.

2. Feeding birds

Feeding birds is a great activity for childrenLeaving out suitable food for birds in the garden, balcony or windowsill can be a wonderful opportunity to see the different varieties of birds that live in the neighbourhood. A fun, creative way to do this is to save your used kitchen roll tubes and spread peanut butter onto them (so long as it’s the type with no added salt or sugar) and then that can be rolled in bird seed, which should stick. The finished rolls can be threaded with string and hung out for birds in suitable places. The best locations are off the ground (to protect from any cats) and ideally under the shade of a larger tree or overhang of some kind (so that they’re safe from birds of prey above). Note, too, that birds often take several days to begin to ‘trust’ any new addition to their neighbourhood, so don’t worry if they don’t come straight down for their new food — it may take a while. Feeding birds in this way can help children to learn the different types of birds as well as being a ‘natural’ activity that’s suitable in all weathers. After all, only the birds actually need to be outside in this case!

3. Gardening & Growing

If you have access to a garden, balcony, allotment or even windowsill, gardening can be immense fun for little ones. Tending to seedlings, planting seeds and even weeding can be an entertaining and worthwhile pastime for them. Children will also love watering them, picking flowers to make a nice bouquet or even harvesting fruit, vegetables and herbs to add to meals later on. Gardening is educational on so many levels and also gives children a useful sense of responsibility.

4. Building activities

Pebble stacks and other building activities are great fun for kidsThe outdoor world gives children wonderful opportunities for building things. For example, children can use sticks and small branches to build dens or camps. Another fun activity is to build wood block, rock or pebble ‘stacks’. These can look almost mystical when several are built. Take a look at the photo of our example. Remember, though, that health and safety is paramount, so young children will need supervision.

5. Creative activities

Gardens, hedgerows and the countryside can also give children excellent opportunities to be creative. For example, they can collect petals from different types of flowers. There are a few different, fun, things they can then do with them:

  • Mix them all together into a kind of natural confetti.
  • Make them into scented water by immersing them into a bowl of water and leaving them to soak.
  • Put them into a thin, plastic beaker, fill with water and then leave to set as ice in the freezer. These look fantastic when popped out after freezing — almost like a ‘frosty’ paperweight with the lovely petals showing through. Leave in the garden to gradually melt – they look wonderful.

Other fun, creative pastimes in nature include making daisy chains, threading leaves with rustic string (this is called ‘leaf threading’) and the resultant leaf chains can then be displayed indoors or hung up outdoors somewhere. Another fun activity involving leaves is face-making. Grab some paper plates, then harvest some leaves, small twigs and petals and then make them into faces on the plates (the plates forming the head).

6. A country walk of discovery

Baby rabbit spotted on a country walkIntroducing children to country walks or walks in the park during their early years will be enough to give many a lifelong interest in nature and the natural world. Walking can be a real adventure as you discover new places, sometimes amazing views and a variety of interesting flora and fauna. Walking in nature can be a real feast for the senses and it’ll help keep children more fit, both physically and mentally. It’ll also educate them gradually as they learn to recognise different types of trees, flowers, birds, animals and insects. Here’s a photo of a baby rabbit that we discovered on one of our walks.

7. Cycling

Similarly, cycling can get children out into the natural world and make it great fun. Whether it’s a toddler using a tricycle or a preschooler using a scooter or two-wheeled bike, this is an opportunity for all ages so long as the terrain is carefully chosen — ideally fairly flat, smooth and not muddy, especially for the young. Parks can be great as they tend to have decent trails and routes to follow, but respect walkers and give them the right of way, particularly on paths.

8. Picnics

In the spring, summer or autumn, there will be ample opportunities to have a picnic outside instead of eating at home. This can be in the garden, local park or countryside. Picnics can be immense fun and are an easy way to get children interested in the outdoor environment. Setting down a picnic on a grassy area also gives you all a ‘base’ around which children can play and explore after eating. A game of hide and seek will be an obvious extension of this. When they’re older and more self-sufficient, this can be developed further by expanding to more adventurous locations like riverbanks (so long as they can swim confidently) and more rugged countryside.

9. Camping

Fun with shelters at Forest SchoolUnder supervision, camping out in the garden or in the countryside can take picnics and country walks to the next level. You can combine them with an overnight stay under canvas. This can be as formal or ‘wild’ as parents see fit. Overnight camping, and all that goes with it, opens up a whole new world to children who will be able to enjoy new adventures under the stars, immersed in the elements, perhaps even learning how food or even toasted marshmallows can be cooked away from home on a natural, foraged log fire. Don’t forget, though; safety first!

10. Join a Forest School

Our top tip is for children to join a Forest School. At Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, we run a Forest School for children aged up to five years of age in the Birmingham area. For people elsewhere, there are many others dotted around the country for children of all ages. Forest School gives children access to the natural environment, giving children the chance to enjoy nature, discover new skills, enjoy all the benefits of ‘The Great Outdoors’ and have enormous fun whilst doing so. It can positively change children’s outlooks on the world and this can benefit them mentally and physically for the rest of their lives. Learn everything you need to know about Forest School in our “Complete Guide to Forest School” here.

For those who don’t have a Forest School nearby, our activity ideas above may be useful for parents and carers. With these, they can help children have fun, learn and benefit from everything nature has to offer in gardens, parks and natural outdoor spaces nearby.

Contact our Birmingham Nursery

Leaps & Bounds would love to hear from you if you have a baby or child under five and are looking for suitable nurseries in the Edgbaston, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood, Smethwick and Birmingham areas. Contact us or book a visit here, or call 0121 246 4922 to speak to our staff. We’ll be happy to discuss a suitable childcare place for your child, to arrange a tour or to answer any questions that you might have.

Nature & it's Amazing Benefits for Children
Young girl enjoys playing with autumn leavesBack in June we published our Complete Guide to Forest School and this explained how children can enjoy, learn and benefit from the natural world as part of their nursery experience. Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery has its own Forest School in Birmingham, so it’s something that all our under-fives enjoy as a matter of course.

In this new post we’ll explore the overall benefits of nature for young children. What does it do for them? How does it affect them? What are its long-term benefits? Let’s take a look …

Nature and playing in the natural world is good for children. Study after study concludes that children who spend time outside are happier, smarter, fitter, more attentive and less anxious than those who spend their time indoors.

Nature Benefits the Mind

Nature is enormously beneficial for children’s emotional and mental wellbeing.

  • Nature stimulates children's imaginations and sense of wonder Nature stimulates children’s imaginations. Watch children in the countryside for just a few moments and you can soon see their creativity kicking in, utilising the natural environment and materials around them in all manner of creative ways. Nature is an exceptional source of inspiration.
  • The natural world makes children think deeply. Children of all ages will look at natural objects, plants and animals and then look closer. They’ll ask questions about them, learning by discovery too, and build a huge knowledge about the natural world and all the things in it. It can often make them really think profound thoughts about where we came from, what it might be like to be a wild animal, why the flowers and trees change with the seasons, and so on.
  • The natural world is a wonderful stress-buster. Outside, in nature, children enter a completely different world and can leave the stresses of the modern world behind, almost instantly.
  • Being out in the natural world can boost children’s self-confidence by giving them more freedom to go in one direction or another, to create a myriad of activities within their surroundings and to simply be themselves.
  • The natural world gives children freedomOutdoors, children can be more free than in any other situation. With this new-found freedom, they can really ‘live’ and see a new side of life that will appeal to their inner instincts and natural sense of adventure.
  • Nature also teaches children about responsibility and self-control. Giving a child the responsibility to care for plants, or to put out seeds for the wildlife, teaches them valuable lessons about caring for other living things — and the responsibility that requires. Empathy will follow naturally.
  • It’s similar with the element of risk. They will quickly learn to risk-assess in the endless bounds and variety of the natural environment. That’s incredibly important.
  • Outdoor play is shown to improve children’s focus, especially for those with ADHD. It’s also shown to increase mental energy and short-term memory skills.

A study by the American Institute for Research found that children learning in outdoor classroom environments achieved a 27% improvement in science scores.

Nature Benefits the Body

Regular access to nature has enormous benefits for the physical health and bodies of people of all ages — especially growing children. These include:

  • Nature benefits the bodyRegular exercise is great for kids. Running around and playing in the natural world gives children space to really run free and to improve their physical fitness. Doing so will also help them to maintain healthy body mass indices and respiratory function.
  • This exercise, and the hugely varied activities that are possible out in the natural world, are sure to improve children’s motor skills, strength and physical resilience.
  • Nature stimulates far more senses than most indoor activities. The outdoors is a rich, sensory environment; children can see, hear, touch, feel and smell. In stark contrast, TV, other screen-based activities and most toys stimulate just a narrow range of children’s senses.
  • A child who appreciates nature is more likely to appreciate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, for example in relation to physical exercise and healthy eating choices.
  • Studies also show that babies sleep better at night if they’ve been out in the fresh air during the daytime.

Another study in 2019 found that adults who had low exposure to outdoor environments as children had far worse mental health than those who had good access.

Nature Benefits the Spirit

  • Nature has many spiritual benefits for children Children who connect deeply with nature are more likely to become environmentally conscious individuals. That’s good for the spirit — and the planet itself.
  • The natural world is full of beauty and wonder. When children learn to appreciate this, the benefits are truly profound.
  • Playing close to nature, away from the boundaries of homes and schools, opens up a whole new world to children. In this bigger world, new friends can be made and new interests can evolve together into the future. It’s also something that can become a shared interest within families themselves.
  • An appreciation for nature and the Great Outdoors can have life-long positive effects that can be carried forwards well into adulthood.
  • Appreciating nature can also give children a sense of priority. For example, to highlight things that really matter in the bigger scheme of things. This bigger perspective can really help when insignificant things are bringing a child down.
  • The natural world creates a feeling of pleasure at a deep level. When life in the modern environment is causing stress and discomfort, a walk out in the fresh air is sure to blow out the cobwebs and raise one’s mood. Mindfulness also goes hand-in-hand with the peace available in the natural world.

Children don’t remember their best ever day in front of the TV, but a day’s adventure with nature is hard to forget.

Conclusions

Nature is a wonderful teacherNature is an amazing teacher. Importantly, it teaches children just as much about themselves as it does about the natural world itself. Children who spend time with nature at an early age awaken previously undiscovered skills like leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, independence, using tools and many more. These are also skills they can take with them into the world as they grow towards adulthood.

Nature is a wonderful equaliser too. It doesn’t judge or rank children. It doesn’t exclude anyone and indeed is a wonderful connector. It also gives children the opportunity of adventure, of discovery, of an escape from today’s technological and often man-made world. Everything in nature is real and, when you take a moment to take a close look, it’s exciting and amazing in equal measure. The Great Outdoors really is great! It’s often a whole new world for those who’ve previously spent most time indoors or in a city. As such, it represents almost endless possibilities. Nature allows play and discovery to be unstructured and, a such, open-ended, offering unrivalled opportunities. What’s more, it can be incredible fun for under-fives and, indeed, children of any age.

Enjoying Nature in our Birmingham Forest School

Forest School gives children opportunities for adventure outdoorsLeaps & Bounds is incredibly proud to offer its Birmingham Forest School to children attending the nursery. It promises to positively change their outlook and profoundly improve their lives — quite possibly forever. Learn more about how children can benefit from nature and the natural world in our Complete Guide to Forest School here.

If you would like to explore the possibility of enrolling your child into Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery and its Forest School, call 0121 246 4922 or contact us to arrange a visit here. We are an outstanding nursery and pre-school based in Edgbaston, near Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood & Smethwick.

(Check out our other post about activities that any child can enjoy outside with nature, where fun and discovery are free).

The 7 Key Learning & Development Programmes of the EYFS
Early years education at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, BirminghamIn last month’s Rough Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), we touched upon the 7 EYFS learning and development programmes and their goals, promising to come back to them in much greater detail. We’ll now take a closer look, so that parents can learn more about the programme that their under-fives are experiencing at nurseries like ours, as part of their preparation to become ‘school-ready’ by the time they are five.

The 7 Key Learning & Development Programmes of the EYFS

The 7 key learning and development programmes, covered by the EYFS, include three primary areas of focus plus 4 additional areas. In many ways, the seven represent the learning and development curriculum at early years settings like Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston. They form an educational structure that also includes a set of goals for each child to attain. Together, they allow children to learn and develop through play, exploration, active learning, creativity and critical thinking.

The 3 primary areas of learning and development

Childcare professionals in England focus most strongly on the three prime areas of learning and development, particularly for the youngest children. These are essential skills that every child needs in order to learn and develop optimally. They form essential building blocks needed as foundations for the other four areas of focus (we’ll come to those later in this article). The three prime areas also allow childcare practitioners to recognise if a child has special educational needs, challenges or disabilities. If so, these can be discussed with the parent or carer and appropriate support options can then be sought if needed.

Learning and development at the nurseryThe three primary areas of learning and development are:

  • Communication & language;
  • Physical development;
  • Personal, social & emotional development.

We’ll take a look at each in turn …

Communication & language

The communication module is all about the children developing their listening, attention, comprehension and speaking skills. Childcare practitioners will look out for them actually listening attentively in a variety of situations. For example, these would include story-telling and spoken engagement from both adults and other children around them. Staff will watch to ensure that they comprehend what’s being communicated, understand verbal instructions, ask relevant questions and generally respond to what’s been communicated in appropriate ways. They will be encouraged to speak and communicate their understanding of what’s being said in appropriate spoken form including, for example, the correct use of past, present and future tenses. All in all, the aim is for them to become confident in their communication skills and be able to express themselves, whatever the situation.

Physical development

The physical development part of the EYFS programme is all about the children developing physical skills, like movement control and coordination, including both small and large types of movement. It’s important for these skills to develop in a wide range of situations. These might include things like successfully holding and using a writing instrument, negotiating larger spaces and handling a variety of tools and equipment in safe and appropriate ways. Personal, social & emotional developmentThis is taken a step further by instilling in the children the importance of physical exercise and a healthy diet. The children’s personal needs also come into this module and, as part of this, they are encouraged to dress themselves and use toilet facilities independently and to be mindful of their own, personal hygiene.

Personal, social & emotional development

EYFS’s personal, social and emotional development module aims to help children to become more self-aware, self-confident in themselves, aware of their own feelings and sensitive to those of others. It also helps them to foster good relationships with those around them and to behave appropriately while, at the same time, understanding what is not acceptable in terms of behaviour. The programme helps children to become more confident in their own abilities and be a cooperative individual within their group. They should recognise their own needs, and be able to politely verbalise them, while remaining sensitive to the needs of others. With a sense of mutual respect, they should develop a positive sense of themselves, enhance their social skills and deepen their emotional intelligence. Positive relationships should thereby grow naturally.

The 4 additional areas of learning and development

The three prime areas above form a strong learning and development foundation for the remaining four areas of focus.

Reading with a young childThe four additional areas of learning and development are:

  • Literacy;
  • Mathematics;
  • Understanding the world;
  • Expressive arts & design.

We’ll take a look at each in turn …

Literacy

The literacy component of the EYFS curriculum is about reading and writing.

In regard to reading, children will become familiar with letters and phonics and should be able to link these to spoken words. As they progress, they should soon be able to read and comprehend reasonably simple sentences and even some of the more common irregular words. They should be able to demonstrate an understanding of what they’ve read in a wide variety of reading materials.

Writing is a natural progression of this as they use the skills and understanding of reading and apply it to their own written words and sentences.

Mathematics

Mathematics is a key module within the EYFS framework

The mathematics element of the EYFS curriculum covers everything you’d expect in terms of early years mathematics, but it also relates the topic to the physical world around children. So, as well as learning to count, recognise when numbers are greater or smaller than others, do simple addition and subtraction and suchlike, children are encouraged to recognise how mathematics relates to their environment and to everyday objects. For example, they are will start to see regular patterns and become aware of simple mathematics relating to size, distance, weight, volume, time and money. They will be able to solve simple problems and understand concepts like doubling, halving, sharing and so on.

Understanding the world

Technology is one part of this topic. Here, children will be able to discover technology that will suit specific purposes that they want to undertake around the home, at nursery or later in school.

Children will get to understand the physical world around them, becoming more aware of nature, plants and the animal world. They will learn about the similarities and differences between living things, materials, objects, places and whole environments. Another aim is to enable them to discuss all these things and to understand why some things happen as they do.

People and communities is another key focus area within this module. In a similar way to the section above, children will observe and explore the similarities and differences between people, families, cultures, communities and traditions. They should become sensitive to the fact that different people have different preferences, beliefs and values. They should also soon be able to articulate their understanding of these and be able to compare them verbally.

Expressive arts & design

Early years creativity

The exploration and use of different media and materials is a key component of this EYFS curriculum module. So, children will get involved in singing, dancing and making music in a variety of different ways. They’ll use different techniques to explore design, colour, form, function and texture using a range of different materials and tools.

Children are also encouraged to be imaginative as part of this module. They should be able to implement what they’ve learned about media, materials and creative techniques to create original and imaginative works of their own. These pieces may be created through art, design, technology, music, dance, role-play or creative writing.

Continuous assessment, the ‘Progress Check’ & the ‘EYFSP’

Throughout all seven areas of the EYFS learning and development programme, the childcare professionals at nurseries, pre-schools and other early years settings will continuously monitor how the children are progressing. The learning and development plan will regularly be tailored, as appropriate, to the emerging needs and preferred learning styles of each individual child. Parents/carers will be kept informed throughout and a personal learning journal will be maintained, as part of this, for each child. This is available to view at any time. There is also a formal, written ‘Progress Check’ once children reach the age of two and this can be used to ascertain whether the child in question has any special needs and, if so, what support may be required. Similarly, an Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (“EYFSP”) is produced in the final term in which the child reaches the age of 5. This is used by the school that the child attends following nursery, in order to appraise the child’s readiness for Year 1.

Childcare services at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery fully embraces all areas of the excellent EYFS framework, for early years learning and development. Babies and children thrive in this environment and each child achieves personal bests through doing so. If you are looking for high quality childcare and early education for your baby or child under five, please consider Leaps & Bounds. We are a nursery in Edgbaston, near Birmingham (B16), so are also convenient for parents looking for nurseries or pre-schools near Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick. Call 0121 246 4922 or request a visit or more information here. We’d love to meet you, show you around and to tell you more about this excellent nursery, its learning and development programme, and how it could benefit your child.

A Rough Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
The EYFS is a complete framework for early years education and careIn our ‘Why Choose Us’ section, we give a brief outline of our Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum and roughly what it includes. However, the EYFS is not just a  curriculum. It is actually a fully-fledged ‘framework’ — an entire approach to early years education and care. It is used at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery and other registered childcare settings throughout England. In this article, we explain how it’s used, what it consists of and what its key aims are.

Why use the Early Years Foundation Stage framework?

All UK Registered Childcare settings are mandated by the UK’s Department of Education (‘DoE’) to implement what’s known as the Early Years Foundation Stage (‘EYFS’) framework. This is a legal requirement for early years settings under the Childcare Act 2006. The framework includes a comprehensive set of rules, a series of excellent guidelines and additional legally-binding guidance for early years settings in England. These have been shaped by best practice approaches to education and care, which have been tried and tested over the course of many years.

What are the key aims of the EYFS?

The key educational aim of the EYFS framework is for children’s learning and development to progress in the most successful way — and a way that best suits each individual child. After all, every child is unique. This aim is critically important in order to nurture and help maximise their skills and abilities while also recognising that children learn and develop in different ways and at different rates. Achieving this will help give each child the best possible start in life, whatever their abilities or disabilities. This will, in turn, give them the best chance to fulfil their own personal potential later in life. Study after study has shown that children’s early years of learning and development have a huge impact on lifelong outcomes, so achieving personal bests is incredibly important.

“The Early Years Foundation Stage … ensure(s) children’s ‘school readiness’ and gives children the broad range of knowledge and skills that provide the right foundation for good future progress through school and life.” ( DoE, March 2017)

The EYFS aims to forge a partnership between early years settings and parentsThe EYFS framework aims to ensure:

  • the safeguarding, happiness and welfare of children in early years settings;
  • high quality and consistent early years education and care;
  • equal opportunities for every child;
  • that children build a wide range of skills and knowledge as a foundation for the future;
  • that children are ready and fully prepared for school by the time they leave early years care;
  • the nurturing of a partnership between early years childcare settings and parents/carers in order to achieve the aims.

What does the EYFS framework include?

The EYFS framework has several key components:

  1. Learning and development programmes that are implemented by the early years setting. These form the basis of the curriculum.
  2. A set of learning goals for the children to work towards. Their primary aim is to ensure each child’s readiness for school.
  3. Continual assessment of each child’s progress and tailoring of their learning and development programmes as appropriate.
  4. Safeguarding and welfare requirements. These prescribe the steps needed to keep children safe and well at early years settings like nurseries and pre-schools.

We’ll go into a little more detail about each one.

What are the EYFS programmes?

Communication, language and literacy are key programmes within the EYFSThe EYFS learning and development programmes cover a total of 7 areas. In real terms, these programmes form the basis of the core curriculum in place at early years settings like Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery. They are implemented, in a structured way, through playing, exploring, active learning, creating and critical thinking. Of the seven, there are three prime areas or learning and development. These are:

  • Communication and language
    (listening, understanding, speaking etc.)
  • Physical development
    (movement, co-ordination, health, self-care, exercise, diet, hygiene etc.)
  • Personal, social and emotional development
    (self-confidence, self-awareness, speaking in groups, behaviour, management of feelings, making relationships, etc.)

In tandem with those are the four remaining areas of focus for the children, being:

  • Literacy
    (reading, writing, vocabulary, comprehension etc.)
  • Mathematics
    (counting, numeracy, problem-solving, simple arithmetic, comprehension, of shapes/space/volumes etc).
  • Understanding the world
    (Awareness of different people, communities, cultures, nature and the world around them etc.)
  • Expressive arts and design
    (being creative and using imagination including in art, music, dance, technology etc.)

Learn more about the 7 key learning and development programmes in our separate post, here.

What are the EYFS goals?

For each of the seven areas of learning and development is a set of goals for the children. These are present to ensure each child’s successful progress towards the ultimate aim of being ‘school-ready’ by the time they leave early years education and begin school. Programmes are adapted, as appropriate, to accommodate the individual needs, abilities and progress of each child as they work towards each goal. The EYFS learning and development goals are very detailed and are covered in a separate post here.

What about EYFS assessments?

The EYFS has a set of goals for each childThe EYFS includes continuous assessment of each child and their progress towards each goal. It is this assessment that allows key workers and other childcare professionals to tailor programmes to suit individual rates of progress. Parents are also engaged and kept informed so that the child’s learning and development programme is supported and continued, where possible, whilst at home. Part of the assessments process is an important ‘Progress Check‘ report when children reach the age of two.

A final ‘Early Years Foundation Stage Profile‘ (EYFSP) will eventually be completed in the year in which the child reaches the age of five. The EYFSP is used to inform school teachers about each child’s progress once they start Year 1 following Reception. An EYFSP must be provided for every child, including those with special educational needs and/or disabilities. These inform the school teachers about each child and are useful as a way to gauge the possible need for additional support, for example.

What are the EYFS safeguarding & welfare measures?

The EYFS also includes an important framework for the safeguarding and welfare of children. Clearly, early years education and care settings need to keep children safe and well, so the EYFS contains several provisions to ensure that this is the case. These measures include:

  • The EYFS includes detailed guidance on child welfare, health & safetySafeguards to ensure the suitability of those in contact with children;
  • Minimum training and qualifications for staff;
  • Provision of a ‘key person’ who is assigned to each child;
  • Minimum staff-to-children ratios;
  • Various measures and safeguards to promote good health, including in relation to use of medicines;
  • A healthy eating/drinking approach;
  • Adequate provisions in place in the event of accident or injury;
  • Adequate steps to ensure that premises are safe, that Healthy & Safety protocols are suitable and that risk assessments are made as and when appropriate;
  • Minimum indoor space and outdoor activity provisions;
  • Suitable protocols are in place to prevent unauthorised people from entering premises or contacting children;
  • Provision for the support of children with special educational needs or disabilities;
  • And much more.

Our Safeguarding policy is available here to read or download.

You can see from the above that the EYFS is incredibly far-reaching. It is an excellent framework and one that really works to maximise the personal potential of each and every child. Along with that, it ensures the best possible attention to the happiness, health, safety and wellbeing of the children.

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16

If you would like your baby or child to benefit from everything the EYFS has to offer, Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery would love to hear from you. We’re a nursery and pre-school in Edgbaston, B16, so are very convenient for those parents and carers looking for outstanding weekday childcare services near Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick. We even have our own Forest School! Call 0121 246 4922 for to discuss a nursery place with our team or click any of the bold links in this paragraph for further information.

The many merits of messy play

Face painting funMost kids, especially the young, absolutely love messy play. Whether face-painting, hand printing, playing creatively with food or making masterpieces with clay, preschoolers are usually in their element when they’re making a mess with media of one form or another. Look at a photo of any such activity involving a child and you’re likely to see the pure joy and sense of wonder right there on their faces. They’re likely to be grinning from ear to ear and perhaps even raising their messy hands proudly towards the camera!

Not only is messy play extraordinarily good fun for very young children, but it also has a surprisingly number of long-term benefits for them. We’ll explore some of those in this article. Hopefully, it may help some of the more sceptical parents to understand why it is such an essential element of early years education, despite the occasional splatter of paint going astray.

The benefits of messy play

Messy play is great fun for under-fivesIt’s fun!

The fun aspect of messy play should firstly be considered as important in itself. After all, if children cannot have fun with messy play when they’re youngsters, when can they? Messy play is a great opportunity to get really ‘hands-on’ and totally creative. Learning through this type of play, when having real fun, is the most natural of ways to learn. Messy play is a perfect way for children to discover and to express themselves.

Developing the senses

Messy play is a feast for the senses and it gives children the opportunity to really explore these. They can explore textures, touch, smell, liquids, solids, hardness, softness, colour and even taste when appropriate. Children up to the age of two are particularly responsive to messy and sensory play. It will teach them about the world around them, and about their own senses, in so many different ways.

Stimulating the imagination, boosting creativity & quietly educating

Messy play stimulates children's imaginationsAs they get older, they can build on these new sensory ‘building blocks’ and develop them further, in ever-more creative ways. They will have picked up new skills and knowledge around things like combining colour pigments, mark-making, use of textures, the properties of materials and building/affixing know-how through messy play. Allowing them to explore what’s possible with objects, colour, texture, size, shape and form will stimulate their imagination and make them naturally more creative.

What’s interesting is that children may start off simply enjoying being messy but they’ll very soon progress to making some sort of creative plan in their minds, perhaps building a fantasy world, game or situation of some kind with their peers.

Independent working & team-working skills

Messy play allows children to let their imagination be totally free, whether working and playing independently or with a group of friends. Indeed, teamwork and independent working will be very important skills to possess as they grow through the years into adulthood and ultimately begin their careers.

Messy play also helps children with communication, independent working and team-workingEnhancing communication skills

Taking this a step further, you can see how messy play can help to begin the process of improving communication skills, both with educators and other children. Messy play can be a sociable activity, promoting conversations, social interactions and even negotiation, all in a very natural way. Children like to share their discoveries and will get great pleasure from showing their playmates their creative achievements and discoveries. That’s a great way to bond.

Messy play also promotes questions and answers for parents, children and nursery staff to explore together. This, in turn, can improve skills like articulation, vocabulary, problem-solving and the analysis of cause and effect.

Improving motor skills & building muscle strength

Messy play also helps children, particularly the very young, to develop their fine motor skills. Activities like squeezing, scooping, swiping and sieving all require muscle control in fingers, wrists, arms and shoulders. It also develops their movement skills by combining the use of different groups of muscles used for things like balancing, picking up, applying media, fashioning things like clay and so on. Such activity can also build muscle and muscle control in children’s fingers and hands. This can prepare them for holding pencils, for example, once they start learning to write.

Similarly, gross motor skills can be improved via messy play. These skills involve large movements along with greater balance and strength. This can all be developed in the larger muscles, for example in arms, legs and feet through messy play activities like jumping in puddles, playing in sand outdoors, constructing larger-scale creations and suchlike.
Messy play helps children develop motor skills, body strength & coordination

Body control and balance skills are also needed – and gradually improved – when children undertake messy play activities like pouring paint, using a paint brush at an easel or carefully building some kind of creation.

Enhancing hand-eye coordination

It naturally follows that many of these activities will improve children’s hand-eye coordination as they get ever-better at activities like cutting out materials, being precise with glue or paint and on the levels of concentration that’s needed for some messy play activities.

Honing Spatial Awareness

Improving spatial awareness is very important for under-fives as it’s a skill that can keep them safer and literally out of harm’s way when they get it right. Messy play can help with this as the children learn about the space around them and begin to recall where items and other people are within that area. Good spatial awareness will also, of course, keep other children out of their way and begin to foster a feeling of respect for others and their personal spaces.

Messy play at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery

Messy play at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, BirminghamAt Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, we really embrace the learning opportunities available to children through messy play. Of course, that’s all done with a curriculum-led structure, under close supervision. It’s also scheduled for appropriate times and with the appropriate protections in place (for example using protective aprons or changes of clothing arranged previously with parents).

Well-equipped areas in the nursery allow children of all ages access to messy play, whether on a small or larger scale. Children can play with sand, water, coloured paints, paper and card, natural resources and areas set up for small and large scale marking, construction and other types of messy play.

Messy play is, of course, also closely related to expressive art and design, which is a core part of our EYFS curriculum. Here, children explore a wide variety of materials and creative media and learn to express their ideas, improve artistic abilities and enhance their communication and motor skills. In turn, all of this helps to improve self-confidence, self-esteem, the importance of which cannot be over-emphasised.

There is no wrong or right way for messy play and we appreciate that not all children enjoy getting their hands dirty or perhaps wet. However, at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery they can explore messy play at their own pace and do whatever makes them feel comfortable.

Looking for childcare nurseries in the Birmingham area?

If you are looking for a nursery place in or around Birmingham for your baby or child under five, we currently have places available at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, although they’re being filled up fast. We’re based in Edgbaston, so are conveniently located for those looking for childcare in the Birmingham area including Edgbaston, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick. Call us on 0121 246 4922, email us here or arrange a visit to the nursery here. We’ll be delighted to speak with you.

Tablets for Tots: Pros, Cons & Potential Health Risks

A preschooler using a tabletThe debate over children’s use of handheld electronic screens, i.e. mobiles and tablets, is an important one. How much screen time is too much for children? Is it even safe for young, developing brains? In this article we go through the pros and cons of allowing children to use handheld screens and discover some major causes for concern.

The pros of letting children use mobiles and tablets

On the one hand, handing a mobile or tablet to a demanding child is a very convenient way to keep them entertained. This is especially true for parents who find themselves stretched in multiple directions with ever-decreasing free time. Handheld electronic devices will keep children — even the very young — extremely engaged. Parents can then largely get on with other tasks.

“‘Today’s preschoolers are confidently navigating digital platforms with purpose and determination. By the age of three, almost all watch programmes on-demand and have access to a connected device … more than half have their own tablet or computer.” (Childwise).

As well as being entertained, some children are also being educated by the device, depending upon the content, of course. That does make sense — children will get to grips with technology, discover new interests and learn if they’re exposed to the right content. ‘How to’ videos are of particular interest to older children while programmes about nature and science teach something to children of all ages.

The cons — including potential health risks

Toddlers as young as 3 are able to control many aspects of handheld devicesOn the other hand, there are real concerns over the possible negative impacts of too much screen time on children. How can parents be sure that their child will not stumble across unsuitable content? (Read on for a possible solution). Are mobiles and tablets even safe for young, developing brains? Indeed, this is a concern of many scientists and medical professionals around the world. Some go so far as saying that any close proximity to the RF wireless radiation associated with mobiles, tablets and Wi-Fi devices is potentially damaging — on a cellular level, even for foetuses in the womb.  We’ll go into more detail about that later in the article.

Even if that were not the case, there remain other concerns over how much time young children should spend staring at mobiles and tablets while disengaging from the ‘real’ world. Not only are children missing out on more natural interactions when on handheld devices, but they’re also likely to be more sedentary, which we all know is not a good lifestyle habit to encourage.

Is it lazy parenting?

Is handing a tablet or mobile device to a child lazy parenting? Some would argue that it is, but in the real world, sometimes a parent simply needs the child to entertain themselves for a while, so the parent can get on with some other task that just has to be done. Handheld screens are a great solution to that.

What’s presented to the child on the electronic screen doesn’t necessarily need to be some banal game or pointless cartoon. Educational content can be just as entertaining to a toddler if it’s carefully selected. Even some games, for example, can teach children things like numeracy, problem-solving and more, whilst also being great fun. It’s therefore a balance that every parent needs to consider. Spending a little time carefully selecting the right digital content for a toddler can be time very well spent.

Are mobiles & tablets potentially harmful to the child?

RF wireless technology is cause for concern amongst some expertsAccording to many scientists and medical professionals, devices emitting ‘RF wireless radiation’ (like mobiles and tablets connected wirelessly to the Internet) have been shown to be potentially harmful. We, the writers of this article, are not scientists or medical professionals, so cannot advise one way or the other. However, some who are more qualified are keen to warn pregnant women, in particular, and parents of young children that great care needs to be taken around devices connected wirelessly. Their research suggests that being in close proximity to the wireless radiation emitting from connected mobile phones and handheld tablets can potentially affect the actual cell structure of the human body. The Baby Safe Project is one such body of scientists and medical professionals that is pushing for further research to clarify the matter. Their findings to date, though, are extremely concerning if correct. If you can spare just over an hour to really look at the science (skip the ad’s), this video is of huge interest (… and concern — Editor’s note: after watching this video I will never sleep next to my mobile again, if connected to Wi-Fi). If you are short on time, this 3 minute video is significantly faster to digest, although misses out the deeper scientific detail.

How to mitigate possible harm

Devices can run many applications without being connected to Wi-Fi or other wireless networks. Switching mobile phones and tablets onto ‘Flight Mode’, for example, will disconnect them from Wi-Fi and render them much more safe, according to the scientists above. Alternatively, connecting them to the Internet using wired connections (e.g. Ethernet cables) will mitigate the risk of RF wireless radiation being generated.

The Baby Safe Project is a non-profit initiative that raises concerns over the impact of wireless radiation on human health. With its goals endorsed by many of the world’s leading experts in the fields of microwave radiation, brain development, obstetrics, paediatrics and public health, it has some useful guidelines for keeping safe from exposure to wireless radiation, around handheld devices, for example. They recommend that pregnant women should take particular care. Take a look at their guidelines here.

We’re not scientists ourselves, but ‘better safe than sorry’ would seem a sensible approach given the experts’ concerns.

Parental controls

Parents can grapple back control of mobiles and tablets remotelyEven if the above is taken out of the equation, there are other considerations when it comes to the amount that under-fives are exposed to the use of mobiles and tablets. Children learn fast and will often take full control of their handheld electronic devices in a very short space of time. The devices often become their most closely guarded possession, in fact. Controlling their activity on mobiles and tablets can be very challenging for a parent, but it’s very important. Children will often keep activity on such devices very ‘close to their chest’, literally- as well as figuratively-speaking, so it’s not easy.

There are some relatively easy and convenient ways to wrestle back some control from your child, though. Accompanied parental supervision is the most obvious solution, although it’s not always possible to watch the child for every second. There are technological solutions too, however. For example, the popular cyber security firm Norton offers ‘Parental Controls’ in a variety of their software packages. As well as adding protection layers on desktop computers, parental controls can also now cover mobiles (both Android and iPhone) as well as tablets.

How does it work?

In our example, Norton’s Parental Control applications allow parents to keep an eye on websites that children have visited, including a full history of browsing and searching criteria, and can block individual sites if necessary. Parental control applications can also put a limit on how much time is spent on the Internet. They can limit the number of hours spent on the Internet each day, or limit use to be within specific hours of the day, or days of the week. Such applications can even email the parent updates on the activity taking place on the child’s device, or allow the parent to lock the child’s device at will. We don’t usually link to 3rd party commercial offerings (and don’t endorse them) but this page shows a little more about what’s possible with Parental Controls.

Contact Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery would be happy to answer any questions that you might have. Our nursery is based in Edgbaston, close to Central Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick. Call 0121 246 4922 for details of all our childcare services for babies and preschoolers, or email us here. We’ll be happy to help.

Forest School - A Complete Guide

An under-five enjoying a Forest SchoolLeaps & Bounds Day Nursery offers children regular Forest School sessions as part of its curriculum. But, what exactly does ‘Forest School’ mean? In this article, we set out to explain what ‘Forest School’ is, what it stands for and what you and your children can expect from it. Our aim, in fact, is to tell you pretty much everything you need to know, and more.

Forest School

The “Forest School” ethos is described by the Forest School Association (‘FSA’) as:

“An inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve, develop confidence and self esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a local woodland environment.”

Obviously, as a nursery and pre-school, we’ll slant this guide towards what it means to our early years age groups, however the same ethos and principles apply to all ages catered for within what we call Forest School.

History & roots

Fun with shelters at Forest SchoolThe Forest School approach has its roots in outdoor learning philosophies going back as far as the 19th Century. If you take a look, these influences alone will tell you a huge amount about what the Forest School approach stands for. They include:

  • Robert Baden Powell, founder of the Worldwide Scout Movement;
  • Leslie Paul, founder of The Woodcraft Folk;
  • Kurt Hahn, founder of Gordonstoun (where Prince Charles was partly educated), with its massive emphasis on outdoor education;
  • Susan Sutherland Isaacs, the renowned educational psychologist who, along with promoting the nursery school movement, emphasised the importance of learning through play and exploration in tandem with guidance from parents and adults;
  • The McMillan sisters, who were nursery school pioneers and set up The Open-Air Nursery School & Training Centre in 1914. They also believed that children learned best through exploration.

“Friluftsliv”

Educational fun in the outdoorsHowever, the biggest influence on the formation of Forest School came in 1993, when Bridgewater College nursery staff studied Denmark’s ‘friluftsliv’ (outdoors) approach to early years education. This outdoor, child-centred, play-based education system lay at the core of Scandinavia’s early years educational success and was enormously influential on those visiting for the study. After returning to Somerset, the nursery staff founded ‘Forest School’.

Just two years later, Bridgewater College began to offer a ‘B Tech in Forest School’. This course and qualification was offered to other early years practitioners, many of whom were already enthusiastic proponents of outdoor teaching and learning. In this way, Forest School soon spread to other UK early years and education settings. Leaps and Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston (Birmingham) is one of them, presently having at least three of its own, fully-trained, Forest School leaders at any given time.

Learn more about the history of Forest School here.

Forest School today

Today, Forest School has its own association, the FSA, which oversees the work of practitioners and applies its philosophy and guiding principles to all Forest School settings around the UK. Those guiding principles include a framework of 6 key areas:Back to nature at Forest School

1. Regular sessions are attended outdoors, in the natural world, over the long term (not just occasional visits). The sessions are well structured and allow learning to progress and build upon itself as time goes by. There are usually sessions at least once every other week. Where practicable, they also occur within all four seasons.

2. The Forest School curriculum is best suited to woodlands or, in the absence of suitable local woodland, natural outdoor areas with, ideally, at least some trees. The aim is for a relationship to develop between the individuals and the natural world. Those learning are encouraged to explore and discover within the outdoor space. While access to woodland is preferred, it’s not essential. Indeed, it’s possible for urban early years settings to offer Forest School sessions from places like school grounds. However, in that scenario, practitioners may need to ‘import’ some natural learning materials into the setting (e.g. sticks, logs etc.) and make certain other provisions, as appropriate.

It’s also important that, wherever the Forest School sessions are held, any potential ecological impact will be closely monitored and mitigated.

3. It is a holistic approach, aiming at the development of the ‘whole’ person. This includes the fostering of traits like resilience, confidence, independence and creativity while also developing physical, emotional, social, linguistic and spiritual aspects.

4. Together with the Forest School practitioner, the learners will assess potential risks and benefits of activities pursued, as appropriate. The level of involvement of children in the risk/benefit assessment will depend upon their age and developmental stage.

Forest School5. Forest Schools require the practitioners leading sessions to be qualified to at least Level 3 accreditation. They also need to maintain and further develop their professional learning (as reflective practitioners, they are actually learners too). Each will have undergone the relevant checks for working alongside children, of course. They will also hold an up-to-date first aid qualification that includes paediatric and outdoor elements as appropriate.

6. The Forest School approach to teaching methodology is one that primarily focuses on the needs and interests of the individual who is learning. It is also, however, undertaken with a view to the experience being part of wider group undertaking, where a community is built around learning and development within the natural environment. Play is a big part of the learning, as is the building in of choice, personal preference and natural disposition. An element of reflection is also built into Forest School sessions so as to continuously appraise the progress of learning and development. Achievements are celebrated and observations are fed into the ‘scaffolding’ that makes up the longer-term plan for each individual.

Life-Long positive benefits

It’s important to understand that Forest School is an ‘ethos’ rather than a ‘destination’. Nursery schools and pre-schools therefore do not ‘become a Forest School’ as such. However, they provide Forest School programmes as part of their overall curriculum.

‘Forest School is a feeling you can’t put into words.’ (Tonicha, early years Forest School student)

Those attending can benefit from life-long positive effects that Forest School can bring them. On a personal note, as someone who was introduced to something very similar when I was a child, I can absolutely vouch for that statement. Having been introduced to The Great Outdoors from a young age, I can honestly say that it’s where I am happiest, decades on. It’s healthy — on so many physical and spiritual levels.

Being closer to the natural world teaches us so much about nature and existence — and also a huge amount about ourselves. It gives us a profound perspective on the world, which permeates into knowledge and wisdom relating to so many different aspects of life as a whole. That even sometimes includes areas that are, at least on the face of it, not even directly related to nature.

‘I don’t have ADHD when I`m out in the woods.’ (David, Forest School student)

The magic of the outdoorsFor young children, Forest School can also be something that helps them to experience regular successes, also often helping them to feel more valued and equal. It’s a fantastic ‘leveller’ and a great conduit for developing positive relationships with others, irrespective of things like background, ability and physical or mental challenges etc. In fact, Forest School can often give supposedly ‘challenging’ or ‘challenged’ children somewhere to absolutely flourish. It can bring formerly reserved individuals out of their shells and give them self-confidence and somewhere to have a voice. It can give others somewhere to feel more free … and free to be themselves. Some will realise they have skills they didn’t even know they had; leadership or critical thinking skills, for example.

More than anything though, Forest School is fantastic fun and somewhere that social bonds, social skills and life skills are developed absolutely naturally. It’s where learning, exploration, creativity and imagination combine with often remarkable results. As such, Forest School is priceless, when you think about it.

A Forest School place for your child in Birmingham

If you are interested in a Forest School place for your child in the Birmingham area, Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery can help. Our nursery/pre-school in Edgbaston offers Forest Schooling in the B16 postcode, so is ideal for those looking for Forest Schools near Birmingham, Egbaston, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick. Call 0121 246 4922 or contact us here for more details and we’ll be delighted to help.

Healthy Eating & Getting Active – for Kids in Birmingham

Here at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, we believe a healthy eating and a good exercise regimen is vitally important for young children. With that in mind, we have adopted the ‘Startwell’ programme, which has been rolled out across the Birmingham area. The programme is aimed at Early Years settings like ours, health professionals and parents. After all, we should all try to play our part in creating a healthy environment for children to grow up in, whether at home or at nursery or pre-school. We have already achieved levels 1 and 2 in the programme.

The Startwell programme’s 7 key aims:

  1. To demonstrate good behaviour and be a good role model for children;
  2. For children to snack just twice a day as part of a healthy eating lifestyle;
  3. For children to accomplish 3 hours of physical activity every day;
  4. To give children food portion sizes that are right for them;
  5. For children to try to avoid sitting still for prolonged periods of time;
  6. For children to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day;
  7. To encourage improvement in children’s movement and motor skills.

We’ll explain each of the 7 aims in more detail …

Demonstrating good behaviour to be a good role model

Children learn by copying what they see around them. As a parent or adult involved in the child’s life, it is therefore vitally important that the behaviours they see and copy are positive. At Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, for example, we eat fruit and vegetables together at snack time and involve the children in having fun while preparing food. We’d also like to encourage parents to share meal times together when at home with the family. Another example is sharing physical activity together to encourage motor skills and coordination. This can be great fun when it’s made part of a game and it only takes a few small changes to make a difference.

Snacking only twice a day for healthy eating

Our little ones have smaller stomachs than adults, so naturally need less food. However, it’s also important for them to keep up their energy levels during the day. In view of this, the children at the nursery follow the Startwell guidelines on healthy eating. As part of this, they have two snacks a day in addition to their three meals. Importantly, they’re healthy snacks, like fruit, vegetables, rice cakes or toast. There are plenty more healthy snack ideas on the Startwell site — click this link if you need some inspiration at home.

3 hours of physical activity a day

The government recommends roughly 3 hours a day of physical activity for pre-school children. This can be spread throughout the day, though. Physical activity positively impacts not only on physical health but also in the development of a child’s brain. Right from birth, floor based play and water activities are beneficial so long, of course, as they’re done under close supervision in a safe environment. Physical activity can have a positive effect on weight, blood pressure and general well-being. Of course, it is also is beneficial as a way of improving motor and social skills.

Giving children the right sized food portions

It’s important to remember our children’s stomachs are smaller than our own, which is especially important when it comes to portion size. Offering over-large quantities of food can sometimes overwhelm young children, so it’s important to get the portion size correct. You can always offer more if they clean their plates and are still hungry. We often employ this approach at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery. If it’s not clear when a young child or toddler is full, we’ll look out for certain signs. These include ignoring their plate, shutting their mouth when food is given, or even wanting to spit food out. The Startwell programme offers lots of handy tips on this and meal times in general.

Avoiding sitting still for prolonged periods

Under fives shouldn’t be inactive for more than one hour at a time, with the exception of when they are asleep. Increased inactivity has been linked to weight gain and lower cognitive development. Studies have also shown that increased physical activity during early years encourages greater physical activity once we’re adults. It also encourages physical, social, emotional and intellectual skills to develop. So the Startwell message is clear — sitting positions should be primarily used for the purpose they were designed for. That means only at meal times, during car journeys and at formal lesson time.

5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day

Did you know that getting a variety of 5 portions of fruit and veg’ a day is essential for getting vitamins, minerals and fibre? They may also reduce the risk of illness in later life. By eating 5 portions a day, it helps to maintain a healthy weight, keeps us regular and reduces the risks of some diseases, including type 2 diabetes.

Even young kids can follow the 5-a-day guidelines. 5-a-day can come from a variety of sources — fresh, frozen and even tinned fruit and vegetables all contain essential nutrients. However, if you are buying tinned, stick to fruit in juice or vegetables in water.

But how big is a portion for children under five? When it comes to fruit, a portion is generally a whole piece of fruit e.g. a medium sized apple, banana or orange. If you’re talking about something small like peas or tinned corn, a portion would be roughly what would fit into your hand, or the size of 3 heaped tablespoons. For adults it’s about 80g.

One last clarification is needed: 5 portions a day, doesn’t mean eating 5 portions of fruit and 5 portions of vegetables per day. It usually comprises a combination of the two.

Improving children’s movement and motor skills

Movement and motor skills allow kids to enjoy sports and other physical activities whilst becoming fitter physically. Fundamental movement skills are important for children’s physical development. After perfecting these skills, children can go on to develop sport-specific and more complex movement skills later on.

These activities need not cost any money. Children can engage in physical games, make active stories, dig in the garden and so on. The key is to make such activities fun.
Babies’ brains are incomplete at birth but movement and physical activity play a significant role in creating nerve connections within the brain. These provide the foundations for all future learning, which includes learning at school. Therefore, even before a child can walk or talk, the child needs to begin setting the right foundations. Recent data shows that an increasing number of 3 year olds are behind in developing these skills. In contrast, Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery is keen to get kids on the right track, right from the start. Following the Startwell programme guidelines helps us — and children — towards that aim.

Our extra-curricular classes

We also offer 3 extra-curricular classes:

  • Kitsacademy – A fun session, with qualified coaches, that teaches a range of skills including football, teamwork and coordination skills.
  • Rhythm Time – Weekly sessions, tailored to each age group, where children learn to develop skills including singing, socialising, speech and coordination.
  • Active Adventurers – Achieved through adventure stories, children develop motor skills, including balance and coordination, during multi-sport sessions.

More information

More details of Startwell itself can be found on their website at startwellbirmingham.co.uk. Here at Leaps and bounds, we are pleased to play our part and you can find details of this on our “About us” page. Contact Leaps and Bounds Day Nursery & Pre-school in Edgbaston, near Birmingham, if you’d like more information. That can be about anything including healthy eating, keeping children active and our approach to these. You may also want to discuss a possible place for your child at the nursery and pre-school. Call 0121 246 4922, send us a message here or book a visit here and we’ll be happy to help.

The above information is for guidance are only and does not constitute health advice.

Photo: Patrick Fore