Landscapes (or how to make yourself as small as a duck)

Landscapes (or how to make yourself as small as a duck) is the title of a recent project undertaken by staff and children at Little Barn Owls Nursery and Forest School, Horsham, which was presented during a professional day at the nursery.

I had worked as a consultant with Hayley Peacock and her team approximately 2 years ago when they moved into new premises and started their journey with the philosophy found in the infant toddler centres of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy.

I was amazed and in awe of the transformations the team had made over the last 2 years, not only in creating a beautiful and creative environment which clearly acted as a third teacher but with how they were truly listening to the children in their care which was evident by the materials and projects displayed within the space.

Walking around the setting the indoor and outdoor space clearly worked as one learning environment, providing beauty and creativity through a wide range of open ended resources such as spirals, wooden off-cuts, tubing and interesting household artifacts displayed attractively. Everywhere you looked and at all levels there was something of interest for all the senses. The digital atelier with digital microscopes, projectors, laptops and cameras provided a space where anything was possible and we saw how children interacted with these technological materials making the 3-dimensional world merge into the 2-dimensional world.

As I listened to the staff discussing their environments, explaining why materials where provided in this way I remembered a comment voiced when I started working with the team, How do we listen to the younger children? Today, it was clear that staff were truly listening to the children, noting how they interacted with materials, exploring their reactions and responses and facial expressions resulting in investigations into texture, paper and movement.

Hayley Peacock, owner and director of Little Barn Owls Nursery and Farm School, presented a recent project, Landscapes (or how to make yourself as small as a duck) which documented how staff listened to, analysed and questioned the theories, strategies and knowledge-building process of a group of preschool children over an 8/9 month period.

Hayley talked about observing the children over a lengthy period of time as their interests became fascinations and after a few months a line of enquiry emerged. I was intrigued by the patience shown by the staff at this point, not to jump in labelling an interest as a starting point to a project, but watching and analysing observations and only creating a project once a defining moment occurred after some 3 months. What was that defining moment? The children themselves announced that they were part of a team creating a project when they all wore white t-shirts as they worked in the digital atelier. Their investigations explored perspective and concepts such as the effects of changing perceptions but this was only made possible by the constant reflection of verbal transcripts, written accounts of actions and gestures, children’s drawings, videos and photographs and analysing the deeper meaning of these actions.

Reflection of the educator’s role was vital too as they judged when to step aside to observe and when to step in and prompt or provoke the children’s thinking or line of enquiring. Judging that moment came through careful annalsing of their observations and transcripts which was evident when the children drew a camera and tripod. It was due to the children’s observation that the camera wasn’t popping from the page that led to the atelierista to intervene perspective further. At every point of their investigations the atelierista was careful not to dominate or direct their investigations but provided opportunities and guidance to explore the tripod through first hand investigations and later to turn these discoveries into the a 2-dimensional form.

This project truly illustrated the value of understanding pedagogical observations rather than observing to mark off statements of development.

Hayley Peacock and her team offer open days for early years educators, management and advisors who are interested in discovering more about their approach and how they interpret the philosophy practised in Reggio Emilia with the E.Y.F.S.

Go on, give her team a ring. It will be an inspirational day!

The environment as the third teacher

I love the way educators in Reggio Emilia regard the environment as the third teacher. For me, this phrase illustrates the relationship between space, experiences, reflective dialogue and children’s discoveries and theories.

The first thing I am aware of when visiting a setting inspired by the infant toddler centres in Reggio Emilia is beauty, calm and creativity and it is often the starting point for any setting commencing their journey with this philosophy. Colours are subtle, creating a calm emotional tone. Materials and finishes are carefully selected for their aesthetic, sensorial and functional qualities in order to create an environment that is culturally appropriate for babies and young children.

Large open spaces, small spaces and the outdoor space are seen as one connected learning environment all with a well thought out and clearly identified purpose. Space is created where children can:

  • meet, discuss and reflect upon their theories
  • express themselves through a variety of languages
  • explore and investigate independently, scaffolding their current line of enquiry
  • be involved in purposeful projects
  • reinforce their identity.

The synergy between the design features and the pedagogy highlight the architectural aspects of circularity, relationships and communication within the infant toddler centres and pre school buildings. (Rinaldi 1998)

The piazza is the central space shared by children, parents and teachers, a place for encounters and journeys, to discuss and debate, to share and reflect. Another central feature is the atelier, a place where anything is possible, a place for exploration and discovery. It epitomises Malaguzzi’s concept of the whole school as an environment for participation, research, and creative expression where children and adults learn from and alongside one another. I recently visited an amazing digital atelier at Little Barn Owls Nursery and Farm School, Horsham, with laptops, projectors, scanner, digital cameras, video recorders and digital microscope. It was amazing seeing young children interact with these materials connecting the 3D world with 2D images.

creativeexplorers. LightboxFinally, the resources, so simple and creative. There is a noticeable absence of toys and equipment with predetermined purposes and outcomes. Instead, open-ended resources such as natural and recycled materials or household artifacts allow opportunities for exploration, creativity and imagination. Provocations are introduced to the environment to provoke an interest, with enhancements providing opportunities for children to scaffold their own learning and developing their current line of thinking.

creativeexplorers materialsThe children are provided with a range of opaque, translucent and transparent materials such as beads, glass nuggets, buttons, and metal discs to explore and investigate using light boxes and overhead projectors which create interesting shadow displays which children can engage and interact with. These are complimented with fircones, feathers, shells, stones and seed pods for sorting and classifying, constructing or exploring on the light box.

creativeexplorers projectionThe overhead-projector provides a stimulating enhancement to their constructions providing another viewpoint as they build with wood off-cuts, cylinders, tubing and springs.


The educator has an important role in this environment and is seen as a valuable resource. By observing how children engage with these materials, listening to their discoveries, noting their dialogue and facial expressions, how they interact with spaces, can the adult enhance the environment, supporting children to develop theories and finding solutions to their queries.

The importance that is placed on the physical environment and the resources available to the children is summed up in the words of Loris Malaguzzi:

“Education must come to be recognised as the product of complex interactions, many of which can be realised only when the environment is a fully participating element.” (Malaguzzi 1997.)

If you are interested in understanding more about the environment as the third teacher and how is supports enquiry-based learning please contact me for details of the training packages I offer.

The role of the educator

Whilst working with a small setting recently, we explored the role of the educator. We established that the educator should be a …

  • Listener
  • Enabler
  • Teacher
  • Interpreter
  • and most importantly a partner in learning

We should see ourselves as travelling together with the child side by side as they explore and discover their world. Never in front, leading the child, or behind following the child.

Can we truly say we are travelling with the child at all times? Reflection of the educator and our role is vital when reflecting and analysing documentation. When do we step aside and observe and when we step in to prompt or provoke thinking? We need to always be mindful of not over directing learning, whilst aware that our offerings or guiding questions could enable dynamic thinking from children.

Inspiring quotes


Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors and inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode. (Loris Malaguzzi)

Children as researchers

Our intention is clearly to help children search for and discover parts of their world that may risk remaining hidden. Moreover, we want to be sure that the desires, interests and intelligences and capacity for enjoying and seeking – which are a child’s inborn resource – do not remain buried and unused. (Malaguzzi 1997)

This sums it up for me!

Hundertwasser’s race track

creativeexplorer racetrackFollowing on from our initial work exploring the work of the artist Hundertwasser, one child suggested that his work looked like race tracks. The more circles there are, the faster the track! he announced at reflection time.

creativeexplorers spiral racetrack



This theory led onto some amazing designs for race tracks, testing their designs and  using their designs in play. Over time their drawings developed from concentric circles to a spiral design.



Now it was time for the adult to suggest testing their theories outside with the large construction bricks. When making a spiral race track outside, another child said It has a dead end … it’s like my holiday house … if we put a house there it’ll be a good end!

creativeexplorers - testing theoriesAlongside these outdoor experiences, we noticed the drawings taking place inside began to alter in style. Now they began to have a start and finish, more than one race track and lined with houses and people watching the events. Was there a connection to the experiences outside?

We reflected back to the work of Hundertwasser and studied his work using shapes and lines to represent buildings. The children were fascinated with drawing their home and the location of their bedroom or their belongings within this space.

creativeexplorers start and finish

We enhanced our provision with  photographs of buildings from our local environment, maps and architect drawings. This led onto map-making and treasure maps with children planning how they would set up their play animals and working accurately to their plan during work time. The children created a large 2-dimensional map with roads and dead ends which over time they adapted with 3-dimensional bridges, swings and traffic lights. The whole project lasted four months and opened my eyes to how children see things.



Inspiring quotes

I’ve been working with a new setting recently and in particular looking at the culture within the setting, highlighting the need to develop reciprocal relationships to support their development and was reminded of this quote from Carla Rinaldi.

The school sits within, and interacts with, it’s own cultural and social environment, and each protagonist – child, parent, teacher – brings his or her own values, interests, ideas and expertise, which are shared and respected by the others. (Rinaldi 2000)

3D Work and Third Level Thinking

I have just finished reading the latest publication from Reflections Nursery on their latest work on 3D materials. Their clear documentation really illustrates how children and staff developed as co-constructors of knowledge and understanding during their journey.The project valued time as a resource. Children were given time to explore and experiment, consolidating their understanding and educators used time to engage in reflective dialogue.

3D Work and Third Level Thinking is a fantastic resource for anyone inspired by the Reggio Approach to learning.

Professional Development Day at Reflections Nursery, Worthing

Wow, what can I say! I’ve just returned from presenting a workshop at Reflections Nursery,Worthing and am buzzing with excitement. It was inspirational to engage in professional dialogue with so many like minded people.Delegates came from Australia, Dubai and Iceland as well as all over the U.K.

The nursery looked stunning and really illustrated the relationship between children’s experiences,the environment  and project based learning. The resources and project work displayed  highlighted  how all the spaces such as the forest school in the local woodland, the outdoor garden area and the  inside space work together to create one learning environment. Martin Pace, the director was as inspirational as ever and the staff confident and articulate as they  engaged with the visitors. The whole experience has given me so much to think about!

My beautiful picturepic 884

All photographs courtesy of Reflections Nursery, Worthing.