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Imagine learning out in the fresh air, in an environment bursting with resources and opportunities, in a place where every sense is stimulated and imaginations can run wild.
With an abundance of beautiful coastline just a stone’s throw away, children at Reflections Nursery & Forest School in Worthing are given the freedom and space to experience just this.
The nursery introduced Beach School sessions 16 months ago, and is one of only a few hundred settings across the UK providing this innovative outdoor learning experience for its children.
Beach School leader, Becki Di Paola, said: “We encourage children to see the environment in all its form and think it is important that children have the opportunity to really connect with open spaces and the elements our local beach has to offer. It gives them a chance to be imaginative and creative, to explore natural resources and to take intelligent risks.”
She added: “Most of our children have never been to the beach with their nursery friends, so the Beach School experience is even more exciting for them.”
’It is incredibly special to witness the children playing in such a beautiful environment’
Ms Di Paola is a qualified early years teacher and works alongside pedagogical lead Deb Wilenski. Her role is both exciting and rewarding but can, at times, be quite demanding.
She said: “You don’t know what you’re going to find at the beach or what is going to happen and that makes the job very exciting and unpredictable. Whilst it is incredibly special to witness the children playing in such a beautiful environment, it can be quite demanding at times, as there are elements of the beach we need to be constantly aware of, particularly as it is such a vast space and the weather can change very quickly.”
According to Forest Schools Education Ltd, there are around 300 Beach School leaders working in early years setting and schools across the UK.
Beach School sessions are designed to provide children with the opportunity to learn and develop in a natural environment, sparking their intrinsic motivations to explore, create and be curious about the world around them. The sessions should also encourage independence by allowing those taking part to venture on their own, overcome challenges and gain confidence from trying new things.
’Nursery can often be quite demanding’
“Whilst it is exciting and rich, the beach can also be a place for the children to be silent,” said Ms Wilenski, who leads pedagogical development at Reflections and has ongoing work with Cambridge Curiosity & Imagination in Cambridgeshire. “Children want to be together on the beach exploring with each other, but they can also take themselves off, sit down and reflect.”
She added: “Nursery can often be quite demanding – ‘Where is there a space for children to be on their own and to be quiet for a while, to switch off or to just daydream?’ – These things are all valuable educationally.”
Reflections Nursery & Forest School offers a range of educational experiences that can be deemed ‘risky’. However, Ms Di Paola says the setting is open about the reasons why they allow children to take risks.
“It comes down to communication and parents understanding the benefits of risk,” she said.
“The last time I was at the beach, the children were up to waist height in the sea. The children were free to explore, breathe in the fresh air and be at a point where they were at their highest potential to learn and develop. Of course, the general public were on the beach as well, and they commented on how lovely it was to see the children being children. But there are elements of risk, and that goes back to the same as it does within the nursery, in which we know the children very well and we know their abilities.”
Every day at the beach is 'incredible'
For Reflections Nursery, the Beach School experience is about children making connections with the world around them.
“We don’t have planned activities or a schedule that we take,” reveals Ms Di Paola. “We know our children and we know their particular interests and we have those in mind. We are more interested in children’s questions about the environment, about the World, and about life. The beach is a big space and big questions come out of that.”
She added: “The children have recently created a story about a sea monster, so at the moment their play is taking them on adventures to find clues about where the sea monster will be. They are also exploring music, which has led to us taking a cello on the beach so they can make different sounds to lure the monster in. This connects with our Reggio Emilia-inspired approach and brings rich connections which are used in project-based learning both on the beach and back at nursery."
With over 11,000 miles of British coastline, it is not surprising that Beach Schools are becoming an inspirational learning environment for young children.
Every day, Reflections Nursery & Forest School take eight children aged three years and over to their local beach, which is only a two-mile minibus ride away. There is no additional charge for the sessions and to support the experiences, the nursery has acquired a beach hut to give children shelter on wilder days.
Through their outdoor pursuits, the nursery is helping to develop responsible individuals who have a lifelong appreciation of the natural world.
“Every day is incredible,” says Ms Di Paola. “We believe that every child should have access to these landscapes and it should be a normal part of childhood.”
• daynurseries.co.uk has a huge range of nursery related jobs in its jobs section ranging from manager and room leader jobs to roles for early years teachers as well as early years practitioners. For more information, click here