Nursery Posts

Understanding children’s play : What are schemas?
Nov 22, 2020

Watching children at play is truly fascinating. Children may be continuously busy, always on the move and totally engrossed in play of their own choosing. Some will persevere for long and concentrated periods of time appearing to play with a purpose and having a definite vision of what they want to achieve. Whilst other children will appear to be doing the same thing over and over again seemingly aimlessly. Whilst children are playing they may display certain patterns of behaviour. Repetitive patterns of particular behaviours are known as schemas. Children follow their own preferred schemas and may be observed following more than one schema.

What are the most common types of schemas:

  • Trajectory –  an interest in how they and objects move. It is very common and explains why babies will often drop objects from their highchairs or buggies or why some children continuously throw objects
  • Rotation –  an interest in turning or rotating themselves or objects. Children may run and turn in circles or may ride continuously around in circles
  • Enveloping and containing – is an interest in making dens, dressing up in layers of clothing or filling empty containers with lots of objects, dressing dolls, playing vets and using lots of bandages or wrapping parcels
  • Transporting –  an interest in taking objects from one place to another
  • Connection – is an interest in joining objects together, train tracks or building towers and sticking items together with tape. This also includes an interest in disconnecting such as in knocking down towers  
  • Enclosing – an interest in creating boundaries, creating fences for farm animals and drawing circles or faces
  • Transforming –  an interest in the changing nature of materials from wet to dry, from solid to liquid and from small to big
  • Positioning – arranging objects in a particular way, lining cars up in a row or creating scenes and displays and a marked interest in patterns

Why are schemas important

All Ofsted-regulated early years providers must follow the Early Years Foundation Stage, EYFS, which set the standards for the learning, development and care of a child from birth to age 5 years. The value of learning through play and following children’s interests, their schemas, underpins the ethos of the EYFS.

Children experience schemas as strong urges which is why they find it very difficult to stop doing something which may at some times appear to be  inexplicable or in some instances irritating behaviour and which they are unable to control. It is important that children are allowed to satisfy or be able to channel and enhance these urges as they are a strong learning tool which parents and Nursery practitioners can use to develop children’s thinking and understanding.

Professor Cathy Nutbrown states that schemas can be seen as part of children’s motivation for learning and that they represent an insatiable drive to find out, communicate, represent and to make sense of the world around them.

The academic and theorist, Professor Tina Bruce, has written of schemas that, ‘They are part of human development from birth to death but they are not in a constant state, they are always adjusting and changing in the light of experiences. This is why they are such a powerful learning mechanism.’

Involvement in a schema appears to bring deep pleasure to children and (Laevers 2003) stresses the importance of high levels of wellbeing and involvement which are important for learning.

Parents and carers may not have been aware of the significance of schemas but practitioners working within childcare have the opportunity to observe many and repeated patterns of behaviour. Whilst it appears that some children need to create the most chaos by getting every toy out and transporting them from one corner of a room to another a practitioner will recognise this as a schema of transporting. Another child may enjoy putting what appears to be a random collection of objects within bags or containers and, whilst this may be frustrating at the end of the day when repatriating everything, it is clearly a demonstration of enveloping or encapsulating. Adults can observe, support and extend children appropriately using schemas. Through identifying children’s schemas children can access a more broad and relevant range of experiences and materials which will extend their playing and learning. Children may demonstrate different schemas at home and at school or nursery and it can be very useful to share observations between practitioners and between the Nursery setting and home as stages in their play will be reflected in their schematic activity.

As Bill Gates so succinctly puts it, “The first five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out.”


Professor Cathy Nutbrown, School of Education, the University of Sheffield

Understanding Schemas and Young Children: From Birth to Three, 2017

Professor Tina Bruce, (2011) Early Childhood Education, Oxon:Hodder

Bill Gates Sr., Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, quote

Leavers, F. & Heylen, L. (2003) Involvement of Children and Teacher Style: Insights from an International Study on Experimental Education. Leuven University Press Belgium

Categories: nursery

Tags: Play, Schemas

The Value of Play, In Praise of Nurseries and Their Staff
Sep 8, 2020

The earlier lockdown this year has been both a gift and joy for many families as they experienced more time together. For the majority of children this time was a pleasurable experience where they discovered the enhanced pleasures of family life when work and school were no longer constraints and those factors which had previously dominated their lives were completely altered.

Many parents were able to enjoy time and discover shared interests with their children. They enjoyed cooking, baking, and gardening along with a daily walk and exercise. As time went on parents appreciated the value of sharing these experiences at the same time as expressing new respect for the work of nursery staff and teachers, their profession and vocation, as parents took on roles they may not normally have had time for. They had an insight into the long and intense days with young children, particularly as most families lost childcare almost immediately and many had to keep working whilst keeping children entertained. As the length of time continued through lockdown parents began to feel a little frustrated by trying to home school children who were well aware of the limited powers and success of their parents in these roles. Research conducted by Montessori has revealed that of those surveyed 77% of parents have increased respect for nursery staff and teachers. Many parents had no idea of what staff experience on a daily basis.

Why are nurseries so important for the development of the young child?

Play and learning naturally takes place within nursery settings all day every day and staff skilfully manage activities, experiences and play to ensure that all children are experiencing the best they can.

Nurseries offer a breadth of different experiences which parents may not choose or be able to facilitate themselves. They range from Forest Schools activities to messy play – sand and water, arts and crafts, French, Spanish and German lessons to yoga, music and movement and singing. These activities help children to enjoy a range of activities, expressing themselves through play, discovering what they enjoy, totally relaxing, feeling proud and having ownership over their play.

Nurseries facilitate activities without the normal time constraints of a busy household. Time is so important in order that children can be allowed to develop their play.

Their play is their work and apart from routines, such as, mealtimes, their play can be allowed to develop and be uninterrupted. Construction models or paintings can be a work in progress and can be allowed to be completed at the child’s own pace and displayed over several days rather than needing to be tidied away. Play can be skilfully enhanced by practitioners through extension activities.    

Children learn about negotiation, turn taking and sharing whilst also learning resilience which will equip them for life readiness. Nurseries enable young children to make friends and to become socially more confident. They thrive in good and excellent nurseries in terms of social and language and communication development.

The focus on play at nurseries is important for healthy development. Campaigners stress the importance of reform of the EYFS in order that play can be extended throughout the early years with less academic pressure on young children just starting school.

Nurseries provide opportunities to unlock passions in children. They may encounter activities which inspire them and ignite their curiosity of the world around them. “Inside every child there are a million passions waiting to be unlocked.” 

So what can we conclude from all of this?

An important outcome from lockdown has taught us all that children need less stress in their lives. With parents who were furloughed or working from home, schools closed and lockdown in place there were unforeseen benefits in which parents experienced the positive effects of being at home with their children. Parents stated that their children were generally happier and less stressed. 

One child stated that, when discussing birthday plans during lockdown, “I just really want the family to be together and to go into the forest for a picnic.” Even young children were able to be reflective and appreciate the simple pleasures previously taken more for granted.

The sometimes lack of structure at home as contrasted with the highly structured timetables of school can result in children becoming bored which is important as it actually helps them to focus on the  things that they really do like to play with and become more resourceful. These are skills for life.

One parent commented, “The last paragraph is so true. Nate has been good at this since he was very little. It made me sad he was happy to play alone but he absolutely loves being with Amelia and I think it is now very important that he goes to Nursery and gets the social interaction.”

Another parent commented, “I especially agree with the thing about kids being bored being a good thing. It’s definitely helped Jude learn to play more independently.”


#StandUpForEarlyYears:Lockdown has boosted parents’ respect for Early Years Staff

Nursery World A. Rawstrone 12/5/20


Isabella Griffiths aged 11 years

Holly Taylor  Forest School Leader First Friends Day Nursery, Salisbury

C. Ralph parent of a 2 year old  and a 4 year old child during lockdown and working from home

H. Freegard  parent of a 1 year old

Categories: nursery

Tags: Lockdown, Nurture, Play

10 Things to consider when selecting a day nursery.
Jul 26, 2020

July 2020 by Jane Andrews, Area Manager

During the period of lockdown many day nurseries were forced to close as they could no longer remain viable. Many are now currently struggling to remain operational because of significant financial losses due to both government underfunding and the reduced demand for places amongst keyworker families during the lockdown period. A survey by The Early Years Alliance found that based on its results 25% of those settings surveyed will be forced to close. Moreover, a report from Ceeda suggests that occupancy rates in those day nurseries that are open are running at 48% compared to 77% for the same period last year.

How do the staff engage with each other and your child?

More parents will feel driven to use the services of a nanny or childcare agency under the assumption that these are regulated organisations.

The resultant impact of nursery closures with less childcare availability will put more pressure on parents to find nursery places. Campaigning group Regulation Matters (RM) has stated that parents will face ‘childcare chaos’ and have problems accessing childcare if urgent action is not taken by the government. They fear that more parents will feel driven to use the services of a nanny or childcare agency under the assumption that these are regulated organisations, which is not always the case. Without regulation they stress the potential safeguarding risks to children.  Now more than ever with the additional stress over the availability of places at nurseries it is important to choose the right setting for your child.

10 things to consider when choosing the right nursery:

  1. How was the initial enquiry and subsequent follow-up handled? How were you greeted by the staff and how did they engage with each other and your child?
  2. How did you find the nursery environment, was it clean, welcoming, and free of clutter? Does it appear to have reasonable resources on display, are they clean and age appropriate? Is there an outside area which is utilised daily?
  3. Are the nursery fees competitively priced and are they inclusive of all costs? Is there a charge for late pick-ups? Are all consumables, such as snacks, paints, paper and party food for special occasions included within the price?
  4. Is the nursery flexible, can hours be extended, or additional days/sessions added and how much notice is required?
  5. Will your child be well cared for and stimulated? Are the childcare staff qualified and does the nursery follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)? Are the staff all able to explain the curriculum and experiences the children enjoy at nursery?
  6. What is the policy regarding absence through sickness and family holidays? What is the policy regarding nursery closures for snow, power failures, pandemics, and incidents outside of nursery control? Does the nursery close for Christmas and bank holidays?
  7. Are the menus freely available to parents, do they cater for food allergies and dietary preferences? Are the meals home cooked and do the staff working in the kitchens have a Food Hygiene and Safety award?
  8. How much notice is required to terminate a nursery place?
  9. Have you read the nursery terms and conditions?
  10. Have you read the nursery Ofsted report?
Are the menus freely available and do they cater for food allergies and dietary preferences?

Ultimately, you must feel comfortable with what is being offered. At First Friends, we always recommend that parents, particularly new parents, view several nurseries within the area to get a feel for what they do and don’t like.

Are the staff all able to explain the curriculum?

We are a small nursery group where every child and family are known to all the staff. At First Friends we like to feel that we offer a family-feel to our nursery settings, a home from home for our children. Most of our families have been with us since their children were babies with siblings regularly joining us. 

Working within this sector is highly rewarding and it is a privilege and joy to work with so many delightful children and families. There are still excellent nursery settings around despite the current financial situation and it is important to choose the right nursery for your child. The important points are to trust your own  judgement and instincts and do not accept less for your child.The right nursery.


Nursery World, Fears Parents Will Be Driven To Use Unregulated Childcare

A. Rawstrone   June 29 2020

Early Years Alliance, The Forgotten Sector: The Financial Impact of Coronavirus on Early Years Provision in England

Ceeda, Evidence In Action – Covid-19 Tracker 6 July to 12 July

Categories: Choices, nursery


Nurturing Nurseries
Jul 1, 2020

June 2020 by Jane Andrews, Area Manager

Why is this important?

There have been many articles within the media during the last 10 weeks concerning mental health and well-being. There have also been numerous radio and tv programmes dedicated to promoting diversion, interest and mindfulness, from cooking initiatives led by Jamie Oliver to crafting demonstrations by Kirstie Allsopp along with other celebrities and presenters. Joe Wicks has tried to focus us on keeping fit as daily exercise has also been strongly promoted in order to help manage the long periods of being inside without access to all our family and friends. In the absence of normal filming conditions these programmes have provided an alternative entertainment outlet as our mental health has been recognised as being at risk during such altered times. 

Who should we be concerned about?

Like adults, children’s mental health has been of concern as the government and mental health organisations have identified problems for some vulnerable families and particularly children. During the lockdown national statistics have revealed that there has been a rise in domestic abuse and the knock-on effect for some led the government to issue its revised guidance allowing for cooling off periods in another household in the event of potential risk within families. Most vulnerable within our society are our youngest children. Some parents, already stressed by the current situation, may not have been able to focus on supporting their children through this period. Stressed parents may have found it difficult enough to look after themselves and each other let alone have anything left over for their young children.

Some parents, already stressed by the current situation, may not have been able to focus on supporting their children through this period.

So what is to be done?

A return to normal Nursery life will be beneficial for all our young children as it will give them opportunities to play again with their friends and to enjoy different experiences from those available at home whilst instilling a sense of normality and Nursery structure to their daily lives. What benefits the children, will benefit their families.  

Our role as early years practitioners can be pivotal in helping to promote mental well-being in our children. Healthy habits at Nursery age can help to provide children with the right tools to cope with challenges, building greater resilience for life. Activities and experiences which we provide and facilitate can be a springboard for the future. 

Why worry about this with children so young?

It has been well researched and evidenced that every experience whether negative or positive has an effect on the neurological pathways in the brain. The brain controls all our behaviours both pro and anti-socially.  The stimulation or lack of it which a young child experiences both prenatally and in the first few years of life determine the type of brain a child will develop. It has long been established that, ‘from birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life. And early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life. (

Scientific advice recommends that being outside as much as possible helps to lessen the spread of transmission of the virus. 

Early years practitioners can be inspirational to children even when they are so young.  Nurseries are re-opening with new, government-set guidelines to help ensure that we are continuing to protect our young children, their families and our own staff and families as best we can. Whilst meeting this advice and being outside we can also, as practitioners, ensure that being in nature can further help to nurture our children. 

Does this apply to all children, or just some?

Many children across the country have benefitted significantly from lockdown through being able to enjoy extended quality family time through daily exercise, nature walks, games and home schooling. Sadly, this has not been the case for all families. Settings which are predominantly set outdoors (such as Forest Schools) or who offer several regular opportunities to play outside in their designated ‘bubbles’ are able to meet the guidelines adequately. 

Engaging with children through teaching them how to set goals and persevere – mastering peddling a bike, learning to use scissors or whittling twigs and later peeling carrots for teatime – allows them to achieve. Equally important are teaching strategies to help children cope when they haven’t been able to achieve their set goals. Everyone makes mistakes and this is the way we all learn in life and it is OK.

If you are interested in this topic, please leave a comment below.

For additional information see:

Categories: nursery

Tags: nursery