Our Atelier Project

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To us adults, the above assortment of objects simply looks like a mess. But to a child, it can be a treasure trove of possibilities.

This week alone, the blue roll mat has been turned into a hammock (balanced precariously between benches and weighted down with crates). The tyre has been a trough for cows to drink from. The pipes have been musical instruments.

Welcome to the creative world of the atelier.

Ateliers (art studios) are a feature of the Reggio Emilia philosphy of learning, which places emphasis on nature and outdoor learning, as well as providing experiences for children to learn from. A large part of the philosophy is giving the children ownership of learning and providing opportunities for children to unleash their natural creativity, something that can be achieved through art and creative play areas.

At Westgate we have been inspired by this and have been experimenting with different materials that can be used to harness creativity. From larger scale ‘found objects’ as featured above, to standard junk modelling materials (think cardboard tubes, cereal boxes and yogurt pots!), to clay and nature play. Marie created an atelier based on sticks, where the Caterpillars collaboratively decided to build stick houses for Stick Man and proceeded to select the necessary tools and materials – it was a fantastic source of independence, creativity and expression!

Ateliers provide opportunities for children to solve problems and create their own artistic visions. It has been a pleasure to witness the creativity; we can’t wait to see more!

 

How our ateliers support learning:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional: Children work together to support individual and group creations; taking turns and sharing resources.
  • Communication and Language: Children use talk to pretend objects are something they are not (for example, the tyre water trough!); share and communicate their ideas.
  • Physical Development: Depending on the type of atelier, children use fine and gross motor skills to interact with the resources (snipping, sticking, balancing, stacking).
  • Literacy: We encourage our oldest children to write instructions on how they made their creations; younger children are asked to write their names on their artwork.
  • Mathematics: Children need spatial awareness to create their creations; mathematical vocabulary (e.g. height) can also be introduced if appropriate.
  • Understanding the World: Children have the opportunity to recreate and make sense of their own experiences.
  • Expressive Arts and Design: Children can develop their self-expression; experience different media and materials and unleash their imaginations!

 

For more information on ateliers, please read this article!

 

 

Relaxation Time

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We have recently made a small change to our daily schedule that will (hopefully) generate big results: relaxation time.

We’ve noticed that our children are ALWAYS learning, and that means that they are always on the go. Many of our children experience up to 10 new activities every day – with so many new learning opportunities on offer, there’s little wonder we don’t all become overwhelmed!

Relaxation time is our solution to this. Inspired by the mindfulness movements we have devised an opportunity for our children to experience 20-30 minutes of quiet time. Each room takes this time differently – for many of the babies, relaxation time is synonymous with nap time; whereas our Caterpillars and Butterflies are learning to appreciate some quiet time during the day. Calming music is played (for anyone who would like to replicate relaxation time at home, we usually use Weightless by Marconi Union, which was created to ease anxiety and promote restfulness) and children are invited to sit or lie down and focus on their breathing.

For many children extended relaxation time can be difficult; as such, we offer focuses for the children to concentrate on. We encourage the children to rest their hands on their tummies and watch as they rise and fall with each deep breath; alternately the children are invited to watch the light patterns of a (slow-moving) disco light as it reflects on the ceiling. Sand timers and glitter jars can also be used to provide a focal point for smaller groups of children.

The benefits of mindful relaxation with children are numerous and can benefit all areas of the EYFS curriculum:
Personal, Social and Emotional: creates feelings of calm and encourages patience which supports children to interact thoughtfully; mindfulness practices can be used to support older children to control extreme emotions (temper tantrums!).
Communication and Language: Children use relaxation time to listen to the world around them, familiarizing themselves with sounds for auditory discrimination (a skill essential in early reading).
Physical Development: At its core relaxation time provides an opportunity for children to digest, unwind and, if necessary, fall asleep.
Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World: Relaxation time promotes focus and concentration, which are critical in learning the concepts of early literacy, mathematics and science.
Expressive Arts and Design: Relaxation can help to refresh and reinvigorate children, so they are ready to play, explore and create!

The Garden Bird Watch

We are pleased to announce that Westgate will be taking part in the RSPB’s Wild Challenge!  Our children already love spending time outside, so we have decided to harness this interest with a challenge designed to encourage our children to explore, interact with and protect the environments around them.

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To start, the Butterflies decided to take part in the RSPB Garden Bird Watch. The children spoke about the birds that they recognised – including magpies, seagulls, robins and blackbirds – before deciding to tempt more birds into our garden by scattering bird food (or granola left over from our breakfast morning!). We then spent nearly an hour looking out for birds in the garden and forest, with children using clipboards to make marks representing each bird that they saw: 14 blackbirds, 8 pigeons, a seagull and even a brave little robin!

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When we finally came in to warm up, one child realised that magpies might be tempted to steal her shiny shoes! This prompted the children to make posters to display in the garden to warn the magpies away – they decided to cover the posters in foil to make sure the magpies read them!

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The Garden Bird Watch engaged our children for a whole afternoon, and helped to develop so many skills:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional – taking turns with the clipboards;
  • Communication and Language – listening to the birds singing, subject-specific vocabulary (bird names and facts), recalling and sharing past experiences of birds;
  • Physical Development – climbing hills and roaming the forest in search of birds, holding pens and recording the birds we spotted, writing warning posters, cutting and sticking foil;
  • Literacy – ‘reading’ the bird fact files, writing warning posters;
  • Mathematics – counting birds, recording ideas of number;
  • Understanding the World – learning to care for British wildlife;
  • Expressive Arts and Design – creating our posters!

A Day in the Life at Westgate

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08:23 – Breakfast time! The children usually have toast and cereal, but occasionally homemade granola and croissants also grace our table. As always, the children are encouraged to be as independent as possible – the oldest children even serve themselves!

09:23 Breakfast has finished and it’s time to play! Some of our children begin their day at 9:30, so we will have exciting activities ready to play with. These activities will change throughout the morning, depending on the children’s interest – dragon chase in the garden could turn in to taming dragons in the forest, or cooking for them in the roleplay corners.

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The Three Bears’ House Roleplay

10:23 Snack Time! We host a ‘rolling snack’ where children approach the snack table when they are ready, so as not to interrupt play. Each day we provide a bowl of fruits which the children choose, help to cut (if necessary), and share with their friends.

11:23 The play continues! In this cold weather usually most children have migrated indoors by now, so activities and space for free play will be set up across the nursery.

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12:23 Lunch time (sort of)! The oldest children will be finishing their puddings now, which is served slightly earlier for toddlers and babies due to their napping schedules. The little ones are patted to sleep with gentle music to soothe them.

13:23 Some of our little ones will still be sleeping, so the other children will use this time for quieter activities, like painting, playdough or cutting and collageing.

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14:23 It’s time for a biscuit! Some of our children leave for the day at 2:30, so before they go we serve a biscuit snack and milk and usually bring the children together for a story.

15:23 The children spend the afternoons building upon the most enjoyed activities of the morning – the Butterflies children loved the car mat at lunch time, so we made a ‘road’ for the cars and bikes in the garden! Some of the children may also help to prepare tea…

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Pineapple upside down cake for pudding… made by our very own Caterpillars!

16:23 Tea time! Every day we serve our children high tea at 3:45. This light snack and pudding varies from homemade soup to fish finger butties or crumpets and spreads – where possible the children will have contributed to their meal too, from choosing and chopping the vegetables for soup to making quiche!

17:23 It’s nearly the end of the day, so activities will be starting to wind down. The toddlers and babies will be getting ready to play with the older children downstairs and to have a few bedtime stories, nursery rhymes with instruments, or puzzles and turn taking games.

 

The Christmas Concert!

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At Westgate we love celebrating Christmas with our families, so December is packed full of fun! There’s so much to look forward to: the Christmas party, Christmas dinner, and of course, the Butterflies’ Christmas Concert!

This year the Butterflies performed Whoops-a-Daisy Angel to a crowded room of parents. All our children were magnificent – we remembered the words and actions to our songs, and were even treated to a few spontaneous bonus dance moves and songs from very excited children!

The build up to the Christmas Concert starts way back in September, when the songs are introduced to the children in weekly ‘special singing’ sessions. Over the next few months these sessions are repeated frequently, and often with the motivating addition of costumes.

One thing that makes a Westgate Christmas Concert special is that the children are free to select their own roles. During rehearsals, they all choose to experience different elements of the Christmas concert, so if they’re feeling dance-y, they might like to be a snowflake – and if they’re feeling fancy, they may choose to be a King! Surprisingly Donkey is the most popular costume by far – maybe the children enjoy playing the title character of our signalong finale, Little Donkey?!

As with every children’s concert, this year’s Whoops-a-Daisy Angel performances had a few surprises in store for us: it was our children’s time to shine, and shine they did!

World Kindness Day

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On 13th November we celebrated World Kindness Day! At Westgate we are blessed with children for whom being kind is second nature. We started the day with a kindness circle time, where our older children suggested kind actions: ‘smiling and cuddling’; ‘sharing toys’; ‘being kind to Mummy’; ‘making biscuits for Daddy!’

Throughout the day the children demonstrated being kind friends by taking turns and sharing – all of the children loved playing with our kindness kites! We reflected on our kindness before lunch and recorded ‘what kindness means to us’ on leaves, ready to be displayed on our kindness tree! Later in the day the children also decided to bake biscuits for their parents… unfortunately (as so often happens when children are involved!) the biscuits didn’t make it to the parents… but the children enjoyed them!

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A ‘smiley’ kindness kite to chase away the clouds!

Not only was this a fun celebration for the children, it also reflects our Core Values. These values – such as kindness, integrity, and respect – underpin our curriculum at all times. We believe that the adults young children spend time with become their role models; and we aim to provide an environment and ethos where our children are motivated and inspired to grow into tolerant, helpful individuals. This poem demonstrates our Core Values in the most eloquent way!

Children Learn What They Live….
If a child lives with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, they learn to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If a child lives with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, they learn justice.
If a child lives with security, they learn to have faith.
If a child lives with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find love in the world.

 

We’ve Been Learning About…

At Westgate we believe that our children should be at the heart of the curriculum. For this reason, our topics are always derived from our children’s interests. Sometimes a shared stimulus or experience excites all of our children; at other times it is the children’s natural interests that are detected and planned for by Key Carers. Combining the children’s interests into a theme provides a wealth of interconnected experiences that are designed to deepen our children’s understanding of a topic, while also providing opportunities for children to develop their skills in a fun, engaging and ever-changing way.

So, at Westgate, we have been learning about:

Colour
Our Ladybirds have been exploring colours. The babies have loved making towers of colourful blocks, marbling paints together to make beautiful clingfilm pictures and creating playdough shapes!

Transport
In the Caterpillars room the children have been learning about transport! The toddlers all love riding on cars and bikes in the garden, but this week they have also been learning about road safety by creating traffic lights; constructing a ROAD in their room(!) and even eating (fruit) aeroplanes!

Space
Our oldest children, the Butterflies, have been inspired by all the recent Bonfire celebrations to focus on the skies. That’s right, Preschool has gone to space! The children have been practicing counting by launching rockets; developing their thinking and ideas by decorating stars and planets – and, of course, discussing all of the ‘nice aliens’ who inhabit them! – and acting out their own space role plays in our space station and rocket. We’ve been having a blast!