From den-building to making sparkling snowdrops, Mrs Jones gives us an insight into life in Nursery in Heywood Prep
If you find yourself in Heywood Prep on a Monday afternoon, take a second to pause and listen. The chances are you’ll hear squeals of delight, emanating from the forest school area. Come rain or shine, the nursery children and pre-schoolers troop out to this tree-lined spot every week, where they delight in building dens and hunting for creepy crawlies.
“It’s so important that the children get to experience nature first hand,” says Mrs Jones, Heywood’s Head of Nursery. “They love turning over logs, to reveal the worms wriggling underneath, then sliding down the muddy slopes.
“Being outside stimulates their imaginations too. We have a huge, hollowed-out tree trunk, and the children like to clamber inside it, then snuggle down and pretend they’re hibernating. We’ll also read a story, like The Gruffalo, and they’ll practise mark-making on the rocks, using cold charcoal from the firepit.”
A passion for nature
It’s fair to say that the outdoors is something of a passion for Mrs Jones. When she’s not busy at Heywood Prep, you’ll most likely find her tending her garden, or stomping across the fields with her spaniel, Angus. You might even spot her flying past on a motorbike, too.
“My partner’s a keen biker, so I used to ride on the back,” she chuckles. “We recently had a classic MG too. I’m a country girl, and never happier than when I’m outside. We’re incredibly lucky to live in this beautiful corner of Wiltshire – after all, not everybody trips over peacocks when they walk through their school gates.”
This enthusiasm for nature certainly translates into the teaching at Heywood Prep Nursery. Each term the children’s work is focused around a season, which ties into their walks and time at forest school.
“In order to understand something, children really need to see it and explore it first hand,” explains Mrs Jones. “Being outdoors gives them the chance to crunch through fallen leaves in the autumn, or to see how the buds appear in spring. They’ll count flowers and pebbles, and running around builds up their muscles too. It benefits them both physically and mentally.”
Step inside Heywood’s Nursery, and it’s immediately apparent that their outdoor adventures ignite their creativity too. In Mrs Jones’ Pre-School classroom, sparkling winter paintings adorn the wall, complete with red-breasted robins, glittering snowdrops and snowmen, made from cotton wool.
“The children take real pride in their work and when they see it on the wall, they get so excited,” says Mrs Jones. “I often notice them looking up at their pictures, and asking their friends to point out which they did. Our creative sessions really bring out their personalities too.”
Here at Heywood, the four Nursery and Pre-School classrooms are intimate and homely, with a maximum of eight children per session. The morning starts with fun, age-specific teaching, which often focuses around numbers, shapes or pencil control.
“Compared to the release of being outdoors, class time is very calm,” says Mrs Jones. “I think children work and learn far better in a peaceful environment – a noisy, chaotic space can be intimidating and hard to cope with.
“Each morning the children do more structured learning, alongside free activities, such as Lego or drawing. Every child is peeled away for a one-to-one session, during which we’ll spend five or ten minutes focusing on letter work, or looking at numbers. As a nursery school, rather than a day nursery, we’re very much about laying those foundations for later on.”
A gentle introduction
In the younger Nursery class, letters are gently introduced by making marks in foam, glitter or sand. The children also enthusiastically sing nursery rhymes about sounds, and play with letter bricks too.
“It’s all about exposure, and helping them to feel comfortable with letters and sounds,” says Mrs Jones. “At this young age, their minds are like little sponges, which soak up information and prepare them for future learning.
“During the Pre-School year this is gradually built up with fun activities, often based on the seasons or celebrations, like Chinese New Year. For example, I have a series of snowflakes with letters written on them. Last week I scattered them one by one onto a snowman template. As each one fluttered down, the children told the snowman what the letter was.
“They make letters with Play-Doh too, and twice a week the Reception teachers, Mrs Lawrence and Miss Vernon, will join us for a phonics session. We’re gently preparing them for school, when they’ll be doing more independent work. Getting to know the teachers makes it a seamless transition, as does the fact they can see the Reception building across the playground!”
After a home-cooked lunch, the Nursery and Pre-School children all come together in the playground. The youngest enjoy a nap, then those who are staying for the afternoon benefit from specialist teaching.
“On Tuesdays we’ll have a walk, either into the fields at nearby Corsham Court or to the local library,” says Mrs Jones. “Wednesday features Spanish and ballet, while Thursday includes a PE lesson. These sessions are all held by qualified dance, language and games teachers, who also teach at the school.
“During PE, the children love learning to throw underarm, using beanbags and tennis balls. Then on Friday they have a magical session of song, movement and music. Mrs Williamson, Heywood’s music teacher, gets them playing everything from violins to African drums, and they learn about rhythm too.”
A focus on kindness
Throughout every activity at Heywood, there’s a huge emphasis on caring and kindness. This starts first thing in the morning, when each child is encouraged to stick his or her name onto a picture of a rainbow, flanked by a sun and cloud.
“They decide how they’re feeling, then position their name accordingly,” says Mrs Jones. “If a child chooses the sunshine, we’ll chat about what’s making them happy, and if they’re on the cloud, we’ll chat about what’s making them sad, and what we can do to help.
“Often, their friends will put their arm round them and give them a hug. Ultimately, it’s teaching them all to think about their own feelings, and about how their friends might be feeling too.”
This emphasis on caring continues throughout the day, particularly during break and afternoon activities.
“We often bring both age groups together, which is so important,” says Mrs Jones. “The younger children learn valuable life skills from the Pre-School girls and boys, and the older children learn to look out for the younger ones.
“Just yesterday, I watched one little boy take another boy’s hand, and help him down a step. He didn’t even have to be asked. To me, learning to be kind and care for others like that is every bit as important as letters and numbers.”
You can meet Mrs Jones and the rest of the teaching team at our Open Morning, on 28 February or Pre-School Taster Morning, on 20 March.
Find out more about life at Heywood Prep Nursery here.