Activities, Outings and Forest School

We would like to offer you an insight into what to expect your child to engage with when they move through the units at Childsplay and how we endeavour to support this.

Heuristic Play

"The word Heuristic is derived from the Greek ‘eurisko’ and has the same routes as ‘eureka’ or ‘I found it’.  It means enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves”. (Goldschmied, E. 1986)

Eleanor Goldschmied’s research informs us of children’s innate and active desire to learn from birth.  Eleanor describes the reasoning behind why children need the opportunity to explore ideas in different situations and why it is so important to allow babies to enquire and investigate a range of different resources without an imposing outcome.  The enquiry encourages the child to develop theories and motivates cognitive development, making connections within the brain that stimulate the growth and yearning to learn.

Each enquiry a baby is allowed to make pursues connections to the next step and they begin to understand the world around them.  At Childsplay, Staff specialise in understanding the focus a baby may show interest in, this could be  movement, sound or spatial awareness and supporting equipment and resources are provided to enable the child in the key stages of piecing it altogether - we call this ‘play’, however the importance is placed upon the staff member   being aware of the child’s investigations and offers careful planning to ensure the correct play experiences are provided.  The Baby Unit offers a whole range of materials and resources with a focus on sensory play which allow a baby to investigate, many are not ‘toys’, but carefully sourced investigative items, staff play with children and know exactly whether to intervene or not to allow the child to modify and change whatever they already know!

For a complete Heuristic play session a clear space should be created, ensuring all other toys and distractions have been removed.   At least one member of staff should be fully dedicated to looking after this group of children.   

It is important to understand that the resources used in this play are relatively priceless, you may even have most of the items already in you home. The resources should be kept in draw string bags with wide mouths so children can easily help to put the resources away. They should be kept in a special place and only brought out a few times each week. Just as with treasure baskets, the resources are limitless, but below are some examples:

  • Woollen pompoms

  • Small bags

  • Bags of fresh herbs

  • Range of boxes that will slot inside each other

  • Tubes which will slide inside each other (inside of foil tubes, kitchen rolls, cling films etc)

  • Strips of materials with different textures

  • Items with slots or holes (spatulas, rings)

  • Jar tops

  • Shells

  • Corks

  • Hair rollers of different sizes

  • Chains of various sizes and shapes

  • Variety of tins (with safe tops) such as golden syrup tins, biscuit tins

The items should be selected for their sensory properties, so natural materials are preferable, avoid plastic resources.

Items should be cleaned regularly and thrown away if broken or considered dangerous.  Staff will intervene if they feel any child may harm themselves whilst using any of the resources, the aim is to allow children to engage with the resources using their senses, but are aware that constant supervision is essential.

Further Reading

Goldschmeid, E and Jackson S, (1994) People Under Three young children in day care. Routledge Oxon pages 128 to 141. .

Hughes, A (2006) Developing Play for the Under 3s, treasure baskets and heuristic play. David Fulton Ltd Oxon.

Nutbrown, C and Page, J (2008) Working with babies and children from birth to three. SAGE London Page 155. 


The word ‘Schema’ is generally used to describe patterns of repeated behaviour which children use to explore and express their developing ideas and thoughts through play and exploration.  The repeated action helps children to establish internal cognitive structures (schemas) in the brain, which is why early year’s practitioners at Childsplay are deeply involved in observations of each individual child so that we can identify their interests and process of thinking.  Consequently from this, planning to engage in each child’s learning in order to offer the exact provocations which will extend and strengthen their learning and provoke thought.  In turn this supports children towards being active and independent learners; outcomes which must be   embedded in the early years prior to their next steps at school in order to prepare them for life-long learning skills and techniques.

There are many schemas which have been identified through research and analysis of children age birth to five years.  This work is embedded in the knowledge of early year’s practitioners, which is why you will find practitioners identifying each child’s uniqueness in order to prepare, plan, facilitate and collaborate with them, nurturing enjoyable learning experiences pertinent to each individual.

For example:  ‘Enveloping’ - a child may cover themselves in a flannel when washing, wrap dolls and toys up in blankets and fabric, or cover their painting with one colour.  Child’s preferences - Dens / Things in boxes / Envelopes / Dressing up / Wrapping ‘presents’.

‘Connecting’ - a child may distribute and collect objects to and from a person, spend time joining the train tracks together, stick tape from the table to a chair, tie items together or wrap in string.  Child’s preferences - Train track,  construction, string, sellotape.


It is essential that children are offered the opportunity to have frequent access to the outdoors to allow them to explore and learn in the outdoor environment and this should not be viewed as an optional extra. The statutory EYFS was reviewed in September 2014 and with this review a strong emphasis was placed on the learning environment offered to children, in particular the inclusion of the outdoor environments as they have an important and valuable impact on a child's learning and development.

"Learning that flows seamlessly between indoors and outdoors makes the most efficient use of resources and builds on interests and enthusiasms"

Children’s outings and visits are an integral part of their development and play an important part in enriching their experiences,    As part of our daily routine the children are offered the opportunity to have time outdoors and additional to this taken for local walks and outings to support visits to places of interest.

Staff working with the youngest age range (6 – 18 months / 18 - 27 months) support the children’s interest outdoors in our own large garden facility which was re-developed in 2011 by local company Infinite Edge, as we recognise that children need an outdoor environment that can provide them with space, places to explore, experiment, discover, be active and healthy and to develop their physical capabilities.  The children spend part of everyday outdoors.  Staff provide direct experience of the outdoor world to all children in order to support the development of healthy and active lifestyles, offering opportunities for freedom and movement and to promote a sense of well-being.

Imaginative opportunities for babies to use movement and sensory exploration to connect with their immediate environment is offered.  As children try out their new skills staff acknowledge, support and praise their exploration using words, gestures and resources.

As with all aspects of our outdoor provision, outings are planned and recorded with children’s safety in mind with risk assessments completed prior to any outings with the children.  At no time would an individual member of staff be allowed to leave the premises with a child / children alone or in a group without prior consent from the parents.

Most outings are planned in advance, some, however may be spontaneous or linked to a particular interest or group project the children are involved in.  Parents are to be informed and consent sought prior to their children being taken out of the nursery in advance and on each occasion.

Forest School

"There is something elemental and magical about a piece of woodland". 

Rules of the Forest are unique and different to rules of the setting, to continue to allow children challenges which promote their own theories and investigations, develop their curiosity and greater ability.  Childsplay promotes experiences in a ‘natural woodland space’ as we believe in the philosophy of Forest School Learning and the holistic values it offers to young children’s learning and well-being.

A woodland space will aesthetically change on a weekly basis highlighting the senses to experiences the everyday setting cannot offer.  The child-led approach highly embedded at Childsplay is also the philosophy of Forest school.  At Forest School the children get involved in a range of activities which are actively available following on from their own interests and investigations of the natural woodland space.  For example they might use tools to create art works, or listen and respond to a range of stories in order to improve language and communication skills.  Learning about habitats, plants and animals develops knowledge of environments and the world around them, helping children to value and respect living things, flora and fauna. Carrying out team work, in which they learn to take turns and share, are important aspects of Forest School sessions - for example, negotiation skills and team work are well tested when you need a group of friends to help you move a log to where you want it!!! And… patience is a virtue when you want to cross a stream without falling in.

In turn this promotes progress in all learning areas as well as interpersonal and intrapersonal attributes.  Forest School learning positively reaches many learning styles and Multiple Intelligences, maximising learning potential in a way that gives the learning back to the child and allows them to become independent active learners enjoying and excelling in the process.

Forest School at Childsplay

We have researched the approach to learning in a Woodland area as well as found the most suitable space to work in (not too far from nursery) in order to lead this approach and offer your children learning experiences in a woodland space.  The woodland offers much scope for learning in nature and all appropriate arrangements have been made. The area of woodland is in Heaton Park, part of Ouseburn Parks in Newcastle upon Tyne, property of Newcastle City Council.

This is a natural progression for our outdoor curriculum at Childsplay following the development of our own outdoor space; created to offer the children the right to explore, make decisions and be inspired by enquiry. The nursery garden offers these wonderful opportunities, however it is static in its layout and formal boundary and the progression to a woodland space is the big wide world! 

Research informs how the woodland environment is a unique educational opportunity, offering children first hand experiences which enable them to continue their individual growth by enquiry, team work and decision making. Forest school research acknowledges that young children need ‘to do’ to learn and the more ways we are able to offer new experiences and encourage children’s investigation, the greater the learning in skills for life.

To promote these early learning skills and techniques which nurture potential and independent learning, we have extended the children's opportunities by engaging in woodland experiences on a weekly basis. This is feasible by taking groups of 12 children over a period of six weeks in order to support continuity of their learning and progression. The children are between 3 and 5 years when they begin in this adventure and during this age bracket, will have the opportunity to revisit the woodland for two or three six week blocks.

We introduced Forest School sessions to Childsplay in June 2013 following a succession of staff developing their specialism in outdoor learning by training as Forest School Leaders at Level 3. The training has now been accessed by a team of five staff and there are plans for other staff to access this very valuable training. The team work together to document and evaluate children's learning, and the activities are inspired by the children's investigations from one week to the next. However within the programme there are 'rules of the forest'; taking care of each other, respecting the area and a focus on living outdoors, i.e. shelter, food and warmth. The six week planned programme takes account of these important aspects and this is reflected upon and reviewed termly. Working with the children as partners allows for the implementation of these aspects on particular weeks, for example, cooking on a fire occurs on week 6, however there is always scope for flexibility depending on the children's interests and this may be rearranged to suit the children's patterns of learning. We will review the progress developed over each six week programme and inform all parents if these initial plans or the structure of our programme is to change.

Read about our Forest School adventures on the Blog page.


Further Reading:

Nursery World All about....Forest Schools.

Forest Schools

Danks, F. and Schofield, J. (2012) The Stick Book: Loads of things you can make or do with a stick. Frances Lincoln Ltd.

Knight, S (2011) Forest School for All. Sage: London.

French and Spanish Lessons

When children start in the 3-4's unit they are offered the opportunity to join one (or both) of the languages classes taught by a teacher from external agency LCF .  The classes are taught at Childsplay once a week during term times.  

"My name is Louise Holden and since 2006, I have been teaching French and Spanish at Childsplay. I use a fun and engaging pre-school curriculum where the children learn another language through games, songs and other activities. Many of the children are already bi-lingual which makes it easier to learn another language.  The children of pre-school age benefit enormously from learning a second language (see benefits of learning for more information) and has proven very popular with children who look forward to their lessons! The children never cease to amaze me with how quickly they learn and how much they remember. Many schools now teach French or Spanish at primary level which benefits any children who have already learnt from an early age."

Further Reading:

The benefits of learning an additional language through Fun and Play.