At Acorn, we aim to support parents/carers and their children to feel welcomed and valued as part of our community, respecting their individual needs and circumstances. The journey with Acorn usually begins with a home visit, where the nursery manager and the child’s key person visit the family in their home, bringing along some resources from the nursery for the child and key person to explore together to start developing a secure and trusting relationship. Home visits are an important start for the settling in process as it is a familiar place where children and parents/carers feel confident to share important information about their family and customs. The settling in process continues in the nursery while the parent/carer and child become familiar with the environment, people, and routines. The key person will use an ‘All About Me’ form to collate personal information including details about the child’s likes, dislikes, interests, and any support the child may need. Collecting this information is key for our practitioners to understand how best to meet their needs and to prepare the nursery environment to support their learning and development. We do not have a blanket rule when it comes to the number of settles needed and these are arranged to suit the individual needs of every child and family. To ease the child through the transition into nursery, the key person will ask for photos to create a Family Book which serves as a resource for the child to look through freely, share with their key person, and as a means of maintaining a connection to home within the nursery setting.

Children learn best through play so knowing them well helps our practitioners provide a high-quality, rich learning environment with open-ended learning experiences and natural resources, enabling all children to thrive and reach their full potential. Our approach to play, learning and care is centred around putting children first and is based on our ethos and five core values – Personal, Professional, Nurturing, Outdoors and Ethical. We adopt a relational approach and ethic of care that prioritises developing professional, nurturing relationships, cultivating children’s social and emotional health and wellbeing through responsive and respectful care giving practices. Children thrive when they feel respected and cared for, and as social beings, they often seek connection with caring adults whom they feel they can trust. Children communicate their needs and wants through behaviours when seeking a connection with adults. A responsive adult who knows their key child well focuses on their needs and wants, looking beyond the behaviours and emotional reactions, using every interaction as a learning opportunity to help children understand how to overcome difficulties and learn about expectations in different social environments. Children soon learn that all emotions, but not all behaviours, are welcome.

Acorn supports our children to develop a relationship with, and learn about, our local communities and how they fit within them. We plan regular trips and outings that support children to learn about different social norms. Children soon learn that they can be physically active and loud in a play park, quiet and calm in a library and respectful and kind when visiting our elderly community in a care home.

We aim to provide a healthy happy start for all children, supporting them to become confident, independent, and resilient individuals with knowledge and skills that will equip them for life. Children need opportunities to learn through trial and error, and making mistakes is key to developing resilience, with support. We focus on encouraging children to develop a can-do attitude where the process of learning is valued over producing a product, paying attention to the journey and not the destination. Learning through repetition and first-hand experiences, children like to get ‘stuck in’ and while they are developing their physical skill and coordination, little attention is given to any mess they make around them and on themselves. A child learning to pour their own drink at mealtimes will inevitably master this skill if they practice the motion of pouring and emptying through play. We provide children with life-like experiences in play by using authentic resources to capture children’s interest and provoke curiosity. For example, this may include a ceramic tea set to pour and empty water into cups and containers, thus developing skills and respect for equipment as they soon learn that things can break if treated too roughly.

Children are inquisitive explorers and use their senses to explore and understand how things work as they develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, creativity, and imagination. Recognising sensory play as an important part of child development, our environments facilitate sensory rich experiences for children to experiment with a range of materials. While we try to protect children’s clothes from becoming too messy, getting messy is part of childhood and will, without a doubt, happen as children practise and refine their skills. For some children, painting is a whole-body experience as they wonder what the wet, cold texture feels like on their cheeks and arms intermittently switching from painting their picture and themselves. We allow the children to express themselves, scaffolding their learning with sensitivity and stimulation, thus enabling children to be autonomous learners. A lightly coloured expensive outfit is best kept at home for this very reason!

Demonstrating sensitivity and care through our interactions helps pave the way for children to adopt such behaviours themselves when interacting with others and the natural world. Developing a loving relationship with nature and our planet are key to our ethos and deeply embedded in our practice. All settings have a garden, with a space dedicated for growing and harvesting crops to use in cooking activities and as part of a healthy, balanced meal. When children are involved in gardening, they learn about the life cycle of plants, where food comes from, and healthy eating thanks to the availability of the freshest produce.

Children are taught about positively impactful environmental practices and regularly go out into the community to collect rubbish with litter pickers, are encouraged to compost food waste using a wormery, and are provided with the knowledge of how to recycle (and why this is important). Children learn about the world by exploring it first hand, going outside in all weathers, exploring the changes that occur in different seasons and rummaging through mud and piles of sticks, looking for and handling mini beasts with interest and care. When children learn about the wonders of the world, and all who live in it, they learn that the world itself needs to be protected and looked after for all to enjoy the beauty and serenity it provides.