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Coffee Break

A more natural, sustainable, play-based environment

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This week's Coffee Break comes from Stephen Kilgour, our SEND Advisor, who takes a closer look at the benefits of creating a more natural and sustainable environment in any play-based setting. 

It was quite a few years ago, on a visit to the brilliant Kintore Way Nursery in Bermondsey, that I realised we needed to think a lot more about the type of resources that we were providing for our children.  The environment looked so inviting.  I imagined being a 3 or 4 year old spotting the various shiny metallic jugs on offer and imagining that I’d found some real life treasure. image.png

I put my Deputy Head hat back on and thought about how much longer these natural and recycled items would last than the plastic buckets, jugs and containers that frequented our sand and water areas. I considered that the resources I so admired had probably all come from charity shops for a fraction of the cost of items from educational catalogues.  It really seemed like a no brainer to start ditching the plastic, especially considering the number of times I’d recovered broken, sharp bits from outdoor play areas over the years working in an SEND school.

My initial research took me to find The Curiosity Approach website. 

The concept is that settings sign up for a one-year accreditation with the aim of increasing ‘awe and wonder’ in their setting.  One of the clear aims is to become plastic and ‘toy’ free, with one outcome being that children take more care and show more respect for their environment:

How can children ever RESPECT the planet they live upon if they cannot respect the resources and equipment they use? Plastic toys stifle so many opportunities for learning, to understand that items should be treated with careful consideration and to learn that their actions have consequences.

In order to successfully implement a resourcing strategy like this, I think it’s really important to engage everyone who works in a setting.  It might be encouraging the caretaker to bring a bag of shells back from their holiday on the coast.  It could be asking that staff have a nosy in their local charity shop if they’re passing to see if there’s anything that would be interesting for the children.  It might even be keeping an eye out for workers who are discarding old cable reels that would make excellent little tables.  Once the staff who have supported the initiative see how engaged the children are with their contributions (I would expect staff to claim for expenditure!), I believe that they are likely to contribute again, and think of their own opportunities to make a difference.  This in itself can bring a team together and nurture a sense of everyone adding additional value to the children’s experiences.

The list of benefits seems to go on and on, but I’ll end with a slight cautionary tale.  Last year at one of our Stay and Play sessions for 2-year olds with additional needs who weren’t yet in provision, one of our therapists was hit in the head with a metal ladle that was in the large sandpit.  She was hurt and needed to take some time off work due to the ensuing headache.  This was the first time that we had met this young man and so we weren’t aware that he might do something like this.  It obviously taught us that as with any resources, we should always be assessing risk.  You wouldn’t give small beads to a 1 year old for a threading activity, so it’s best not to give a relatively heavy ladle to a child who can demonstrate aggressive behaviours, unless he is being fully supervised.  The Curiosity Approach encourages the use of real ceramics and china in role play areas, with the intention that children will learn to handle these objects appropriately by being exposed to them.  There is currently also a very positive trend for introducing real tools and woodwork to EYFS settings. With both of these examples, a level of risk assessment is obviously crucial, but that is not to say that they shouldn’t be tried. 

In the current climate, where environmental issues are so prevalent, it would be great if more nurseries and schools considered making the switch and aimed to go plastic free.  The benefits seem so obvious.



Edited by Jules

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