Learning with Outlast

Sheringham Nursery School

Sheringham Nursery School in Newham, London, is committed to making opportunities for children to learn through play, particularly outdoors. Dr. Julian Grenier, headteacher at the school, explains how Outlast blocks are a flexible resource which foster creativity, inclusion, and powerful learning experiences.

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We're a school that is very committed to children learning through play in the early years. So we put a strong emphasis on outdoor play for the children. And we think that materials like the Community Playthings Outlast blocks are an important part of our provision because we're looking at having increasingly flexible provision where children can use the resources flexibly. So they aren't just stuck with one climbing frame. That's always a climbing frame, but one day they might make a pirate ship out of the blocks, and another day it might be a lorry.

Another day it might be something they're balancing on and practising their skills on. So we found that the Outlast blocks have been really powerful apparatus for the children to play with, because it is so flexible. Things can be fitted together in lots of different ways. And we're looking at children at this age, they're beginning to think more symbolically. They're beginning to plan and think about how they want to combine structures together. And so this sort of apparatus that really gives children a lot of opportunities to stretch, to extend their cognition, to negotiate and talk with each other, to plan to try things out. Whereas if you have a more fixed structure, then you're also fixing the children's level of interaction.

They can only go so far with it. And we're very focused on inclusion here. We think it's really important that children with additional needs, disabilities, play alongside their peers. And again, this sort of material allows children to take part in lots and lots of different ways. So no one approaches this equipment and thinks I can't get up there. I can't do anything with it. There's always something children can do with the equipment, and that's really important to us.

We've had the Outlast block for a few weeks now in the nursery and think they have really engaged the children more so than the other blocks because of the loose components that come with it. I think it has also engaged a lot more girls previously blocks in general, in the nursery, we found that engages a lot of boys and some we've had these blocks a lot more girls have been more engaged in the block play, and they are also interacting with the boys and building on their imaginative skills as well.

One girl in particular today really, really sustained her imaginative play, and it really extended her skills. I've never seen her play and sustained that for a long time. Where today she did and the boy that was leading that was really interested in Peter Pan, and it really extended his imaginative play and he was looking for Sharks in the water, and the girl was the looking through a telescope to see what she could see. So they were bouncing off each other's ideas quite a lot, which was really good.

We don't think of the blocks as being just something for children to build with and construct with we see that children are learning across all the different areas of EYFS. When they're playing with blocks, they're making up ideas. They're planning. They're thinking they're negotiating and communicating with each other. They're learning about how structured fit together and about the materials. And really what is so important as well is that these support children sustained play. Some children might play for 40 - 45 minutes with the blocks. They can persevere and solve problems.

So as well as all those areas of learning, you're seeing the characteristics of effective learning. You're seeing children becoming more powerful learners, better at concentrating, better at solving problems. When we're making choices about what of equipment to get clearly. Like any other school, we have to think really carefully about what's best value for us and what we've increasingly learned is it's better to invest in higher quality equipment that can be used more flexibly by the children. That that's a much better investment than either fixed structures, which costs a lot up front, and then limit the children's play.

The other consideration for us is that where we do have some equipment, it's important to have enough equipment for the children to really play together and extend their learning again. Whereas before we might have had to say three or four different types of construction equipment outside, we now would tend to just have one. But what we have, we have a lot of it. So if you have a lot of blocks, they can build something huge.
Outdoor, Block play
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