SUE USES OUTDOOR LEARNING TO BOOST CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENT

SUE USES OUTDOOR LEARNING TO BOOST CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENT

Essex County Council is running a campaign to recruit more early years and childcare professionals. The campaign, ‘Make a change. Build a future.’, aims to inspire people to enter and return to the sector and support people to set up a childminding business.

As part of the campaign, the council is highlighting the benefits of a career in early years and childcare. Sue Triscott, owner of Abacus Kindergarten in Colchester, is keen to showcase how rewarding a career in early years can be, especially when practitioners make the most of outdoor learning.

Here’s Sue’s story:

“At 16, I went to college to complete a two-year, full-time childcare course. Once qualified, I worked in a variety of settings, before becoming a private nanny, which I really enjoyed because I got to travel. Then I decided to study to become a midwife.

“I practiced as a midwife for many years, but once my children became school-aged, it was really challenging to find childcare. My husband worked full-time, and sometimes I had to do early, late or night shifts. I knew something had to change.

“So, my friend and I went back to our roots and decided to set up a pre-school. For me, family is most important, so I’ve always prioritised a work-life balance. I returned to early years because I needed a job that was Monday to Friday, in school hours, and ideally on a term-time basis. I had the qualifications, so working in a pre-school fitted perfectly.

“We approached the school that my children attended. With the head teacher’s support, and various funding routes, we renovated an old bungalow and opened the pre-school.

“Now, we have an ultra-modern, well-designed building with a multi-purpose outdoor space. At our setting, we encourage children to get outside every day, for most of the day, especially when the weather’s good. We tend to have free flow indoors and outdoors, with staff supporting their learning and development.

“I think it’s so important to enable child-led play and give children the space to be creative. Half of our garden is covered in a safety surface and the other half is a muddy area. There is also a massive shingle pit that the children use all the time. The texture and sound of shingles gives children a great sensory experience.

“We also have water, planks of wood, tyres and a good-sized sandpit. My husband recently built a potion-making station! We offer a range of outdoor activities that some children may not get at home. We want them to understand that there’s no right or wrong way to play with something. Our practitioners could give children some shingle, a tablespoon, some spades, an old jug and a bucket, and their imagination will do the rest.

“For example, we teach children about nature cycles, so we help them to grow their own vegetables to have for a snack. Then, we guide them to use the peelings as compost and put them back in the soil in the autumn. We teach them that this will help feed the new plants for the following spring. We encourage children to take part in activities that will naturally lead to learning and support them to find out things for themselves.

“Outdoor learning is all about exploration. We think about how children play and learn, and we use our outdoor space to complement what we teach. We want to add to their experiences and broaden their opportunities, giving children different outdoor learning opportunities, that they may not get anywhere else.

“For a career in early years, you need to be practical, but you also need to genuinely like being with the children and having a laugh. We have great fun at work, which is really important. It also grounds you and helps you realise what’s important in life. Being with children changes your perception, makes you reflect and you become a better human being.

“It’s about having meaning, and feeling satisfied that you’ve had a positive impact on a family. I feel it’s a really worthwhile career.”

Find out more:

To find out more about returning to a career in early years and childcare, visit www.essex.gov.uk/early-years. For current vacancies, see www.essex.gov.uk/early-years-jobs.