Heywood Nursery: Strong foundations

Alex Jones, Head of Heywood Nursery, explains how she and her team ensure the children hit the ground running when they move from Pre-School to Reception.

Watching your little girl or boy trot eagerly into school for the first time can be emotional for even the most seasoned parent. It’s the start of an exciting new chapter in their lives, after all. 

But for Mrs Alex Jones, Heywood Prep’s Head of Nursery, this milestone is a proud moment too. For it marks the final step in a journey she’s shared with them, diligently preparing them for a seamless transition from Pre-School to Reception.

“When I see the children arriving in September, dressed in their new and slightly oversized uniforms, it isn’t just the parents who feel a bit emotional,” she laughs. “They look so tiny, but it’s lovely to see how confident and excited they are too. They already feel safe and secure here at Heywood, and that makes a huge difference when they start Reception.”

And a large dose of that confidence comes down to months of careful planning and preparation by the nursery staff. At Heywood Prep, the Pre-School year is all about building the right foundations, so the children are ready to hit the ground running come September.  

“It’s so important to get it right at this early stage – it can make or break their entire school journey,” says Mrs Jones. “Children learn so much in their first five years of life, from walking, to talking and developing listening skills.

“Some parents feel guilty for sending their children to nursery, but they actually benefit hugely. They need the stimulation that comes with being around other children. They learn to share, to be kind to one another and to take turns too. It’s all part of the transition to school.

“With the right input and influence, you can achieve so much, and our small class size means we’re able to really promote their knowledge and understanding, as well as caring for them too. If they learn to listen and communicate, they’ll get so much more out of school.” 

Building the foundations

For Heywood’s Pre-School children, Reception familiarisation sessions run right through their final nursery year. Things kick off in the Autumn term, with a parent and child activity morning run by Mrs Lawrence and Miss Vernon, the two Reception teachers.

“We begin with a gentle introduction,” explains Mrs Jones. “The morning opens with a story, then we do an activity, like making sparkly playdough. Every Friday, we also start taking the children to school assembly in the hall too. They get used to sitting still and listening in a large group, without feeling daunted or overwhelmed. By the end of the term, they’re ready to join Reception to sing on stage in the nativity – it shows them what they’ll be progressing onto when they start school, which is so important.”

During the summer term, the transition steps up a gear, with each child enjoying four afternoon visits to his or her future Reception class. These culminate in a ‘meet the teacher’ tea party, as well as an information evening, to talk parents through the transition too.

“The Reception visits are so important,” says Mrs Jones. “The Pre-School teachers go with the children for the first one, to give them a bit of security, but they are so confident they don’t need us! They might draw self-portraits or listen to stories, and they love it. It helps enormously that we can see the Reception building from our classrooms too, and that Mrs Lawrence and Miss Vernon are often popping in and out to see us.” 

Friendly faces

Of course, this is far from the first time the children have met Miss Vernon and Mrs Lawrence. Throughout their Pre-School year they enjoy twice-weekly phonics sessions with the Reception teachers, as well as specialist teaching from several other members of school staff.

“It gives the children the chance to get to know their future teachers, and vice versa,” explains Mrs Jones. “In addition to our regular phonics activities, they’ll do 15-minute phonics sessions with Mrs Lawrence and Miss Vernon, which are very much based on encouraging them to listen to different sounds. They’ll sing songs, play drums and tambourines, and learn how to focus on what they can hear. It’s all about developing the ability to follow instructions, listen and communicate.

“In the afternoons, they also have weekly PE lessons with Mr O’Connell, Heywood’s Deputy Headmaster, forest school sessions with Year One teacher Miss Creighton and music classes with Mrs Williamson, our Head of Music, too. Not only are they becoming familiar with their future teachers, but they are also building foundations for school, when they’ll have to follow more complex instructions and get ready for activities like PE.”

A familiar routine

The smooth transition is also helped by the Pre-School routine, which follows a similar structure to the main school.

“Children like routine, and we ensure the basic structure of their day doesn’t change hugely in Reception,” says Mrs Jones. “We also introduce them to Heywood’s house system too – they discover whether they’ll be in Saxons, Romans or Danes, and they earn house points for kind or considerate behaviour.

The children are also already accustomed to wearing a uniform, something which stands them in good stead for life in Reception. And as the summer term draws to a close, each child is given their own illustrated booklet about school, to read with their parents. 

“It shows them what their uniform will look like, what bag they’ll carry and what they’ll do at school,” says Mrs Jones. “The fact they’re already used to wearing a uniform gives them a great head start too. Not only does it give them a sense of belonging and unity, but it also puts them in the right headspace to learn. When we have a mufti day, they are definitely more flighty – it’s harder to rein them in and focus them!”

Independent learning

Of course, as well as developing listening skills, the children are also drip-fed letters, numbers, shapes and colours throughout the day at Pre-School. And by the end of the spring term, Mrs Jones says her charges are ready for more independent learning.

“Physically and mentally, they are ready,” she says. “Their thirst for knowledge really takes a step up and they can work as a group, sitting round a table together and following my instructions. Recently, my class traced A4-sized hearts, then painted them and scattered them with glitter, all working independently.

“They will put on their coats and put away their folders without intervention too. Forest school is also quite an achievement – they have to take their shoes off and get their wellies, waterproofs and coats on, but they are getting very good at it!”

Continuous care

Mrs Jones is also quick to point out that the children benefit hugely from the strong links between Heywood Nursery and Reception. Not only do the staff know each child intimately, but they also meet with Mrs Lawrence every week to discuss how the children are doing.

“We review their progress and if anyone needs extra support, our small size means we’re able to identify it early on,” she says. “Equally, if a child is exceeding expectations, we work out how to stretch him or her too.

“We pass on all our knowledge, not just about their learning but about them as people too. And when they start school, that support doesn’t stop – Mrs Lawrence and I still sit down together weekly to talk about how they are progressing. This continuous communication is hugely important, and a big advantage of transitioning from Heywood Nursery to the school.”

A very special celebration

To the delight of both children and parents, the last term in Pre-School finishes with something of a fanfare. Each child takes part in a graduation ceremony, which involves them climbing proudly onto the stage in the speech day marquee, where they receive a certificate and a big round of applause.

“We make every child a little mortar board,” smiles Mrs Jones, adding that it’s a team effort between her and the other Pre-School teachers. “We measure their heads, then I cut out pieces of black card and my partner glues the parts together. Miss Katie makes tassels to go on top, Mrs Fleur sticks them on and we make each child a scroll too, certifying that they’ve graduated from Heywood Nursery.

“At the ceremony, our Headmistress Mrs Mitchell hands out the scrolls on stage, then the children sing songs they’ve prepared with Mrs Williamson. It’s a very special occasion, which ends with a lovely picnic.

It’s the culmination of an important time and it’s quite emotional for everyone, but they are more than ready for the next step.”

Visit us to find out more

Visit us to find out how Heywood Nursery will give your child the best possible start! Come to one of our Open Days or arrange an individual tour of the school with our Headmistress, Rebecca Mitchell, on a normal school day. Please call 01249 713379 or contact Lauren Harmon at admissions@heywoodprep.com.