Early Years at the Dixie

As a first time parent, one of the most important decisions you make is deciding where your children will start their school career.  We all have our own experience of education and school that undoubtedly influences our decisions but deciding for your 3 year old can be both exciting and daunting. I have worked in 4 primary settings during  my career and each one has had a pre-school or nursery attached and each one has been very, very different. Despite my experiences in my career, when I became a Mum, I experienced all the same worries, anxieties and confusion as any other first time parent.

There are hundreds of theories and approaches in Early Years Education.  Play; let them explore; observe; make notes; observe more and make more notes versus teach them to sit at a table, learn from the board, be guided at every step by a teacher. The first is the most dominant approach and is all about practitioners facilitating children’s learning and allowing them to develop themselves through structured play opportunities.  There is definitely a place for this – for observations and for facilitating and providing learning opportunities.  My own children love nothing more than a box of dressing up clothes, or a box filled with lego bricks but that isn’t how they learn number recognition, letter recognition or how to write their names – they need guidance, demonstration and support in their play but also at their individual pace.  They need a very careful blend of the two. 

In the Early Years, practitioners assess the children against ‘Early Learning Goals’.  But they don’t meet one and then move on to the next.  Learning isn’t like that at any stage and certainly not in the Early years.  It isn’t linear or a perfect diagonal development line: it’s more like a scatter plot! Children learn and develop at different rates and the key to the best Nursery is practitioners knowing each child individually and personally and being able to structure each child’s day, play, activities and learning to help them develop individually. 

When my own son, Max was 12 months he started preschool and stayed there until he was 3 and a half.  He loved it – he loved ‘Sophie’.  He was happy to go and happy when he was there and as a parent that was my priority. He learned about playing alongside and with others but as he turned 3 he needed more.  He needed to be more stimulated in his play but also needed to learn to sit with an adult and be guided more.  He learnt mark-making through painting and drawing, but couldn’t automatically sit, hold a pencil, recognise letters – he needed more guidance. 

In Pippins I am confident that we get it right.  As a small setting we know the children so well and we focus on them and what they need.  We are informal in our play approach but formal in our development of their key learning – when they are ready.  Weekly Maths, Phonics, French, Music and PE enable our youngest pupils to begin to understand the academic disciplines as well as develop enjoyment, skills and knowledge. As classes, groups and individuals they are carefully guided at a pace personal to them.  They have time to consolidate, practise and grow skills through play in a range of contexts, but I believe it is the guidance which is crucial and fundamental.

I know too that we are lucky to be in a school surrounded by fields and beauty, and Pippins makes the most of all of this:   rambles to the woods, chats with the farmer when he is on his combine harvester working the corn, or perhaps a real-life bare-footed bear hunt through the woods!  What better real experience to then draw, paint and write about?  Their interests are already ignited and they can then be guided to learn through them. 

Now my second son has started in Pippins, earlier than Max, I can already see his advances, understanding and enjoyment accelerating.  He loves Pippins, loves his friends, his teachers and his play. After 2 months he is already now speaking in French to me at home and recalling his phonic sounds.  I am clear about what he is doing well, in his social and emotional skills, his organisation, his friendships, as well as his counting and understanding of letters and sounds.  I even know the little bit of French he has learned, albeit that his favourite phrase is ‘Je m’appelle Hulk’. Having these links with the practitioners to the school is so important but it isn’t just the staff in Pippins.  Pippins children get to know other staff and children in the school.  The specialist lessons are with specialist teachers that know how to teach their subject to the youngest children in the very best way.

Pippins at Dixie are not just a pre-school, a nursery tagged on to a school, they are part of The Dixie.  They use all the facilities, get to know all of the staff and get to know all of the children-the transition to Reception Class is seamless as a result.  The rich experiences, guidance, fun and relationships formed make Pippins the perfect start to any child’s educational journey.  I for one have never worked with such a strong Nursery where we get it so right and in which our children thrive and love school.

Emma Billington

Headteacher, Dixie Grammar Junior and Nursery

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