School’s out-doors

PUBLISHED: 11:40 15 December 2006 | UPDATED: 19:53 01 June 2010

Jill Wharton, head of Emneth Nursery School, who is off to China next month - Pics: Brian Purdy

Jill Wharton, head of Emneth Nursery School, who is off to China next month - Pics: Brian Purdy

WISBECH Standard editor Brian Asplin s challenge, for nursery schools in the Fens to set their children free and allow them to get dirty and enjoy taking a few risks, was met with a heated response by Emneth Nursery School. The nursery said it had always

Two of Emneth Nursery School’s youngsters enjoying paddling through a puddle in the grounds

WISBECH Standard editor Brian Asplin's challenge, for nursery schools in the Fens to set their children free and allow them to get dirty and enjoy taking a few risks, was met with a heated response by Emneth Nursery School.

The nursery said it had always let its children loose into the outdoor world, along the lines of Farley Nursery, in Wiltshire, featured in the editor's column last month.

The Emneth school's view is that this freedom leads to child-initiated learning.

So I went to the nursery, in Hollycroft Road, to see how children up to the age of five can play in the dirt, splash in the puddles and enjoy every second of their venture into the outside environment.

And it was a method already noticed by Ofsted. In their inspection in May inspectors marked the school 'outstanding'.

Headteacher Jill Wharton said: "You do not have to go to Wiltshire to see this, it is right here on your doorstep for the children of the Fens. We offer outdoor learning, and the doors to the fenced-off playing areas are open for two hours of every two-and-a-half hour session. They go out even in the rain and snow. We have wellington boots, raincoats and umbrellas all supplied for them to go out."

And their outdoor learning is boosted further, with rain canopies and sun shades offering protection from what nature has to throw at them. Natural shade from trees is also offered in the nursery's garden.

Susan Clarke, assistant headteacher, said: "We will never say it is too wet, too windy, or too hot to go outdoors, but we adapt what children can and cannot do."

Mrs Clarke also said there was an understanding children needed 'hands-on' learning, and there was no better place to do that than outdoors.

An example of this is in the nursery's garden. Children join site manager Rob Dawson in growing a range of vegetables, before digging them up to be cooked.

"Also young children are not prone to being quiet and sitting still," said Mrs Clarke. "They need space to explore what their bodies can do. We give them a choice but some prefer to be outside and we enable them to do all the learning they need to there. They can achieve all their foundation stage learning goals in an inside and outside setting."

The 36 staff also make sure there is extra provision for clothing, with parents asked to supply a change.

"We always ask parents to bring the children in clothes they can have fun in," said Mrs Wharton. "It does not matter if they then get dirty."

- Tuesday sees the final day in office for Mrs Wharton at Emneth Nursery, as she prepares to set off to China on a two-year project with global education services company, Cambridge Education.

"It's time for a change," said Mrs Wharton, who will leave for Beijing on January 2 to combine foundation learning methods used in this country with learning methods used in China. She has been at Emneth Nursery School since September 2002 and has overlooked much refurbishment work over the past four years.

This has included the opening of the day care facility in 2004, the community building in 2005, and being designated a children's centre in September last year.

Editor Brian Asplin said: "Well done Emneth Nursery School. It is heartening that a school on our patch has adopted such a stance, and made such a success of it. If this approach were replicated throughout the entire education system, we would see the benefit in the quality of the young adults produced.


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