Creating the right environment for young children to thrive is a fine art – Head of Pre Prep and Early Years at Hilden Grange, Sheena Sowerby – shares how it’s done

Young children need a safe, nurturing environment where they feel happy and safe in order to reach their full potential and gain a true love of learning to carry forward through education and beyond.
Here at Hilden Grange we combine high expectations with excellent pastoral care to create the best possible start to school life. We don’t underestimate what young children are capable of and how much they can absorb. Our children benefit greatly from our policy of using specialist teachers. This starts with drama, music and PE and it’s all part of providing them with the right conditions to achieve their full potential.
Scandinavian hygge has had a great influence on us – our classrooms are a home away from home. The children wear their slippers indoors to make them feel really comfortable and our learning environment is really beautiful – the wooden furniture is at child height and we have lovely soft lighting and a muted colour palette.
We’re also inspired by the Curiosity Approach, which encourages children to take risks and nurtures an enthusiasm for knowledge and experience, using real-world materials As a result, in our home corner, for example, we have china teapots, rather than plastic ones. You’ll often find us hunting round charity shops for fun things for the children to play with. We have a record player, binoculars, old cameras and all sorts of interesting things for them to experiment with around the classroom. Outdoors we have a gorgeous space for creative play and the development of gross motor skills – including a lovely hobbit house, a mud kitchen and a huge sandpit where the children dig for Australia!
It’s vital to find the hook to engage youngsters’ curiosity and desire to learn. We use a wide range of high quality reading books to fire their imaginations. Alongside the classics we have a brilliant range of diverse authors from different countries collated to add diversity and broaden horizons. I highly recommend Kathryn Otoshi. Her books are beautiful and convey so much, using very little wording. You can also always rely on the good old favourites like dinosaurs and pirates too, it’s important to cater to all tastes.
We’re fortunate to have a fantastic school community here, which is a vital part of creating that happy atmosphere. The size of the school really helps – it’s not too big and not too small. Our ever-active parents’ group, Hilden Grange Association, host events and help to ensure new families feel welcome. Plus our frequent open mornings provide a fantastic opportunity to see the school in action and meet key members of staff.
Most of all it’s important to have fun with the children, a sense of humour is an integral part of working in Early Years. I was delighted when a child recently referred to my office days as the days that I ‘go to work’ – they see my teaching days as time that we all have fun together.

Find out more about Hilden Grange and their open days at hildengrange.co.uk

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