How nurseries are supporting children in remote Exmoor to have opportunities for life

Chris Caws is a Development Manager for the Youth Sport Trust. He blogs about how a physical activity programme is taking a fresh approach to reaching early years and plugging the social mobility gap in one of the UK’s Opportunity Areas

Children play in a beautiful garden surrounded by rolling Exmoor hills. They weave in and out of a wicker maze, work in a mud kitchen and enjoy being outdoors.

It might not sound like these children are some of the most disadvantaged in the UK but in terms of opportunities for now and later life, the possibility of them never going to university or higher education, and never being able to follow a dream career because they live in a remote area is high.

Opportunity Area

Millions of pounds are being spent across the district of West Somerset through Department for Education funding to improve opportunities available for children, children just like the ones who are currently attending Dunkery Pre-school in Wheddon Cross, West Somerset.  

The district has been named by the Government as one of 12 Opportunity Areas across the UK and as a result, a new West Somerset Physical Literacy programme will see a fresh approach taken to closing the district’s social mobility gap over the next two years. 

Physical activity and play will be key to increasing the language and literacy skills of children before they start school with training and delivery driven by us (children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust) in partnership with Futures for Somerset and Somerset County Council.

Already, the programme has helped children who attend Dunkery Pre School with cognitive development skills and is unlike any other initiative it has tried.

We have heard from staff how the approach to physical activity and play is enabling children to sit still for longer, be more focused and learn from the activities they take part in and how to relate them to everyday life.

Healthy Movers

One of the key resources we are using to roll out this programme is our Healthy Movers early years teacher toolkit and parent home pack to ensure professionals and parents can develop the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to ensure every child has the physical, social and emotional maturity to be ‘school ready’. 

Through this programme preschools and nurseries including Dunkery are visited by YST Learning Academy tutors each month who offer advice about how they can best use the Healthy Movers resources, how to deliver physical activity for children’s development and support them to teach families the importance of being active through new ‘Stay and Play’ clubs.

Numerous nurseries and preschools we have worked with feel that the real gem of this project is the monthly visits as our Learning Academy tutors really understand their individual strengths and challenges. Because of this on-going support teachers and professionals working in the early years across the district are becoming even more competent and confident at delivering physical activity.

Settings are now linking Healthy Movers to books and topics of the week and threading it into the curriculum. This is further enhanced with settings putting Healthy Movers information on noticeboards that includes sharing a Healthy Movers ‘card of the week’ so that the parents can see what physical activity their children have been participating in.  

A physical literacy assessment tool has also been developed and is being completed by each setting (with support from YST tutors) at the start, middle and end of the project to assess the physical literacy of the children participating and analyse the progress against the Early Years and Foundation Stage goals.

Involving parents

In November 2018, Timberscombe Pre School was the first in the project to launch a Stay and Play club. This includes each child receiving a Healthy Movers Home Pack, which is in a ruck sack, with activity cards and equipment to take home to encourage further play with parents and siblings.

Every child from Timberscombe attended the Stay and Play club with at least one parent and together they enjoyed a story – “The Runaway Train.” The story led into a lovely locomotion activity session. The children and parents, explored moving at different speeds, turning, weaving in and out of each other and obstacles. This kind of activity enhances children’s learning of basic physical literacy skills like dynamic balance and coordination as well as an opportunity to hear a range of descriptive words because they are learning in a physical way.

In other settings the weekly Healthy Mover’s card is photographed and put onto Tapestry (an online journal recording children’s learning) so parents can access it and use the ideas at home. There is very positive feedback from parents who love joining in and are excited about using the ruck sacks with their children.

How we are unlocking potential for children

We want to effect change through this programme and unlock potential for all children in early life.

One of the challenges is that most of us cannot remember why we learn certain skills, so using this programme as a conduit is a good opportunity to help adults relearn and understand.

For Dunkery Pre School, the programme has proved invaluable. After just a few weeks of receiving training through the West Somerset Physical Literacy Programme, the preschool was inspected by Ofsted for the first time in more than eight years.

With the children reacting well and showing signs of improving key cognitive skills, the nursery decided to show Ofsted the sessions in action.

Some of the activities with the Healthy Movers is about controlling objects across the body and one day that will transfer to controlling a pencil, Dunkery was keen to show Ofsted the work it had been doing to develop school readiness. Dunkery reported that Ofsted absolutely loved it and came away with a ‘Good’ rating.

I feel optimistic and reassured by the progress we are seeing through this programme and think some real lessons can be learnt for the future.

Dunkery and Timberscombe Pre Schools along with the other early years settings will continue to work with the Youth Sport Trust through the West Somerset Physical Literacy Programme until March 2020. Read more and contact us about the West Somerset Physical Literacy Programme.