University and internships help prepare us for the world of work, setting us up for career success. School and work experience help prepare us for higher education, equipping us with the tools we need to achieve. But what prepares us for school?
Kate Gingles is an expert in the education of young children. She has worked in Early Years education for over 19 years, and after working as an Early Years Advisor in County Durham, joined the NHSG Junior School leadership team in September 2021 as EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) Phase Leader. She explains why and how to lay the foundations for success during a child’s very first days in School.
To get the most out of any situation, we need to be prepared, curious and excited. But we also need to learn how to channel our natural instincts, skills and attributes; this is where early years education plays a pivotal role.
Educational journeys at Newcastle High School for Girls (NHSG), a member of the Girls’ Day School Trust, begin with our School’s Nursery and Reception classes, giving girls the best possible start. In these crucial years, our School’s youngest pupils are encouraged to explore and flex the many exceptional skills they are born with – and to do it in a way that is fun, social and multi-disciplinary.
The earlier girls start that journey the sooner they will start to benefit from these educational experiences. What many people may not realise is that girls can join NHSG from their third birthday spending up to five transformative and productive terms in Nursery before starting Reception. What’s more, if they join in the term they turn three, fees don’t become payable until the beginning of the following term.
In our EYFS classes, we focus on learning characteristics such as collaboration, creativity and risk taking. Every learning experience at NHSG provides the opportunity to develop the girls’ confidence and to build strong academic foundations that pave the way for more formal learning further down the line.
For us, EYFS learning isn’t about pushing children harder; it’s about nurturing who they already are and what they already know, and protecting those exceptional skills before they are encouraged to ‘un-learn’ them by adopting more ‘adult’ ways of learning in later years.
For example, our expert teaching teams work with the girls to develop skills such as subitising – seeing numbers without counting them. Subitising is something children can do naturally from a young age but, all too often, this skill is stifled if we don’t recognise its benefits. Our playful maths curriculum allows girls to be more confident with numbers, to see them as exciting and fun and, importantly, not to fear them. Making arrangements and patterns as well as playing with natural materials and interesting objects are all activities in our Early Years Maths lessons: it’s not about dry times tables!
Women are still under-represented in STEM and, at NHSG, we’re making a conscious effort in the EYFS to change this in the long term through an ambitious curriculum with a strong focus on exploratory problem-solving. Engagement with technology in a purposeful way is very much part of each day as we help the girls tell stories, record sounds or share what they have learned at home and school through our online learning journal. The key to our approach is striking a good balance between physical play and classroom-based learning.
Early reading also has a high priority at NHSG, and we’ve invested heavily in a brand new, research based, synthetic phonics programme as well as training for staff on phonological awareness, the building blocks of learning to read. This is supported with progressive reading books and a well-stocked library providing a diverse range of picture books to support learning across the curriculum.
Our provision is very much shaped by our Early Years environment which combines safe and well-resourced classrooms with stunning outdoor facilities. Exploring the natural world is a key element of our curriculum, and girls in Nursery and Reception have their own outdoor classroom area and mud kitchen as well as making regular use of the School’s extensive grounds, including our forest school.
Underpinning our Early Years provision is the happiness and wellbeing of our pupils. We want every girl to enjoy her first years of school and we also know that happy girls learn best. By establishing strong relationships between the girls and staff, we quite literally see the girls grow before our eyes. NHSG’s vision is to empower girls to be leaders, trailblazers and world shapers; the foundations for this are laid in our Nursery and Reception.