Our Enhancement Week, aimed at quality provision in the early year’s sector, was held on the week of the 13th February 2016.  Early years Providers, Practitioners and Educators came together for a seminar to share and learn about quality enhancement practices.  The theme was “Developing a vision of quality in Early Years”.  The seminar provided a unique opportunity for Delegates, to share their experiences and perspectives on the theme; with the intension of providing our current students with knowledge of the practicalities involved with quality provision, extending and supporting the theoretical underpinnings the BA Hons Degree already provides.   We at Portobello pride ourselves on producing a well-rounded Early Years Practitioner, one who is capable of making a difference to Early Education.  Our Enhancement week aimed to provide these students with the necessary skills to provide our younger generations with an early education experience they can treasure as well as thrive on.  

Headfort Montessori School played a vital role in fulfilling this aim and was a highlight for both students and academic staff alike.  Manager Tracey Maree, a former student at Portobello where she completed her BA Hons Degree in Early Childhood studies, supported by three of our current students, provided us with a wealth of information, knowledge and understanding of the daily experiences one can expect when working in Early Education.  

Headfort School:  The outdoor experience

The Montessori school, housed in converted stables on an extensive estate, educates children from 3 to 8 years; while the picturesque surroundings provide ample opportunity for children and practitioners to experience nature in its most natural form.  Exploration and managing risk safely is something these children take in their stride, as we discovered after we were greeted by a group of excited children, before heading out on a child lead “muddy adventure”, the route having been designed totally by the children, to provide us with a sense of their daily lives.  These natural resources were used to their full potential, with opportunities for children to develop not only motor skills, such as coordination and balance; but social and emotional awareness and risk management evident throughout this adventure.  Supporting the creativity and imagination of the children was clear at every turn.  Green open space stretching as far as the eye can see where children can run freely and safely with their peers. Trees dominate the landscape with an opportunity to climb, build huts and make life long memories of daily adventures through the woods; a fabulous example, of the outdoor environment being used to its full potential.   

 

       

 

 

 

 Montessori Room:

The Montessori teaching approach was apparent throughout the school, with the freedom to play, create and organise. Tracey proudly demonstrated initiatives she had introduced into the everyday curriculum of the school; a theme which she reflected well in her Dissertation as part of her Degree in Portobello.   There was a clear sense of order in the preparation of the environment, a vital component in Montessori education.  

A child lead, play based pedagogy enveloped the room, with children’s interests, experiences and opinions valued in every sentiment, picture and resource; presenting clearly the concept of the listening environment, which our Degree values and promotes.  Multiple play areas demonstrate the value and importance placed on this concept of children’s learning; with the contents changing daily, lego, sand through to real life spaghetti!   A colourful cosy reading spot allowing children to take some time out to enjoy an extensive assortment of children’s books.  A make believe bedroom is displayed together with a cosy bed, bright floor mat and shelves which are skilfully made out of drainpipes.  Some great examples our students could visualise and take home with them.  

 

        

 

 

 

A clever strategy to note on “how am I feeling” is displayed with a mirror where the children can visualise how they are actually feeling. The mirror is supported with images showing various emotions.  Character building thoughts are also clearly displayed, read and discussed in the classroom, interpreting the values of respect, honesty, integrity, responsibility, equality, sincerity and compassion.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were particularly lucky to experience kindness week as part of our visit; with this trait visible everywhere in the room,  but particularly with the introduction of “a friendly bull called Bo“; bringing the use of theory in practice to the fore, with positive reinforcement used to promote this  concept among these young children. 

Quality Provision and Partnerships:

Quality provision, policies and practices, provided evidence of Tracey’s awareness of how to  transfer the knowledge and skills taken from her study of children’s wellbeing; with health and safety evident throughout; but without stifling the children’s enjoyment and ability to grow and develop in an independent manner.   Building parent partnerships is a core theme of the degree programme, and this sentiment was particularly evident throughout the visit, something our current students were delighted to experience first-hand.  Details of the week’s themes, clearly displayed for parents as they sign in their children each morning. A monthly newsletter is available for parents detailing weekly curriculum, lesson plans, tips, fundraising and important dates for the diary. 

Evidence of the knowledge and skills gained from our Early Years Degree emanated from within the everyday practice which Tracey and her colleagues portrayed within this beautiful environment. This visit was an enlightening experience and one to be treasured not only for the entirety of their study, but undoubtedly into the professional careers of the students of Portobello Institute. 

Upon leaving, students were busy discussing great examples they had witnessed.  Evidently, an unforgettable educational day, which sadly had to come to an end. We would like to thank Tracey Maree and all the team at Headfort School for their time and for allowing us to experience such a magical place and to see first-hand the skills and qualities learned by Tracey at Portobello Institute being transported into Headfort Montessori School.