Learning through fun and play

Principle & statement of intent

At Bumbles, we believe that children, as individuals, learn through play that is well-explored, child-led and fun. Play is a vital part of childhood and is necessary for every child’s healthy development. Play supports children to move through each stage of their development naturally allowing them to make friends, come to terms with difficulties, follow their instincts, think for themselves and learn from others.

This policy has been formed following the guidelines and principles in the:

  • Department of Health & Social Services NI – Childminding & Day Care for children under age 12 Minimum Standards published July 2012. – Quality of Care, states that:
    • Children’s wellbeing is promoted and their care, developmental and play needs are met. A broad range of play and other activities are facilitated to develop children’s physical, social, emotional & intellectual abilities.
    • Observations of what children do and say, are used to meet their individual needs, promote their wellbeing and guide the work with them.
  • The Playwork Principles – these are explored and followed in our wrap around settings. We believe that children at this stage learn by leading and planning their own play. As playworkers, we support and facilitate play, we do not seek to direct it.
  • Playboard Website and the Forest School Association – we are exploring the Forest School Approach over the coming months.


In the nursery we follow the Early Years Organisation guidance on the nature of an appropriate curriculum for pre-school children and the PPA Guide to the Curriculum, 1991 which states that “The essential basis for all future learning is established through children’s early play and learning and through the attitudes to learning which are acquired during the pre-school years.” Most importantly therefore, during their time at Bumbles, we hope that children will be learning that learning is fun.

In planning the curriculum, staff will provide children with experiences and support which will help them to explore the key areas of development. These are:

Personal, Social and Emotional Development

  • We explore social skills, learn to get along with others and make friends.
  • We promote activities to help them understand, manage and talk about their own feelings, as well as the feelings of others.
  • We will support them in learning about what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in society, the adults will act as positive role models modelling the behaviours that encourage empathy and kindness to others

We will help them to develop independence and ultimately develop a positive sense of themselves and others.

Communication Language and Literacy

  • We encourage learning and competence in communicating, speaking and listening. Learning to listen and speak emerges out of non-verbal eye contact, and hand gesture.
  • Reading together gives children opportunities to listen and use language, extend their vocabulary and experience stories, songs, poems and rhymes.
  • <We provide opportunities and encouragement for children to use their skills in a range of situations and for a range of purposes, and they are supported in developing the confidence and disposition to do so.

Physical Development

  • The physical development of babies and young children is encouraged through providing lots of opportunities for them to be active and inactive throughout the day. We provide a play environment that encourages lots of time and space for energetic play as well as time for rest and relaxation.
  • We strive to help children to improve their skills of coordination, control, manipulation and movement both indoors and outdoors.
  • Children are supported in using all of their senses to learn about the world around them and to make connections between new information and what they already know.
  • As they progress from group to group, children are supported in developing an understanding of the importance of physical activity and making healthy choices in relation to food.

Cognitive Development

(Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy, Creative Development & Knowledge & Understanding of the World)

  • Children are supported in developing their cognitive skills through exploring the environment and materials in the world around them at their own pace.
  • Children are provided with a range of tools to safely encounter creatures, people, plants and objects in their natural environments and in real life situations, take part in practical experiments and work with a range of materials.
  • The environment and activities offered are invitations to play, spark their curiosity and promote learning opportunities.
  • Children are encouraged to practice and talk about their learning and extend their skills in problem solving, reasoning and numeracy.

Children’s creativity is extended by supporting their curiosity, exploration and play. They must be provided with opportunities to explore and share their thoughts, ideas and feelings, for example, through a variety of art, music, movement, dance, imaginative and role-play activities, mathematics, and design and technology.

Play in all its aspects, is the principal means of learning for the young child and, as such, is fundamental to successful education at this stage, therefore the curriculum will be experienced through a variety of broadly based play activities – many of which will relate to several aspects of learning and all of which will be a source of pleasure and fun.

The activities offered in Nursery fall into the following main areas:

  • Imaginative play – e.g. house, hospital, shop, café, clinic, hairdressing salon.
  • Natural materials – e.g. water, sand, clay, wood, dough.
  • Creative materials – e.g. art/ craft using a wide range of media, music.
  • Physical play (indoor and outdoor) – e.g. climbing, balancing equipment, bat/ball, mobile toys, yoga and meditation.
  • Construction materials – e.g. large and small blocks and bricks; smaller construction toys.
  • Table-top toys – i.e. a large variety of smaller materials which require matching, sorting, grading and encourage pattern making.
  • Picture, story books, and story telling – on an individual and group basis.

At least one, but usually several examples from each of these seven areas are constantly available to the children throughout each session. Some activities which require increased organisation and supervision – e.g. planting seeds, cooking, music and drama, – are also provided on a regular basis.

The main emphasis in nursery will be on providing small group and individual activities for children, as it is inappropriate to expect young children to all do or want to do the same things for any significant amount of time. Whole group and adult directed activities, therefore, are kept to a minimum and children will be offered plenty of opportunities during the day to make their own choice about what they want to do and follow their own interests.

Through Effective Early Learning observations recorded by all staff, our team regularly evaluate and assess the suitability, effectiveness and content of the activities they provide for the children in their care. Staff, consequently change the provision they offer in response to the changing needs and interests, not only of the children, but also as a result of any additional knowledge and insights they gain themselves through staff training. As well as assessing the appropriateness of the activities they provide, staff also assess each child’s individual progress against those developmental milestones he / she would be expected to attain by certain ages.

In the nursery the adult’s role is one of facilitator rather than instructor and our staff are constantly engaged in:

  • responding to children’s comments, questions and requests
  • talking with children, offering views, suggestions and observations
  • sensitive and informed involvement and, when necessary, intervention in the play
  • careful observation, planning and preparing curriculum details – on the basis of observed interests, abilities and needs

At all times our team:

  • are aware of their influence as a role model
  • value each child as a unique individual
  • hold high, but realistic expectations of all children
  • collaborate and co-operate with parents, and any others who may be involved in the child’s development
  • recognise their own need for continual professional development
  • recognise the need for ongoing curriculum review.

In December and June we will reflect and report on that previous months learning and development for each child and will provide a summary via our digital app. The team will then review the plans for the next period against the long term plan for that year.

Observations captured for each child are analysed, assessed and reviewed weekly and monthly by staff. We encourage flexibility which allows the team to respond and react to children’s progress to ensure we are meeting individual needs and that all children have opportunities to make progress.

Wrap Around Settings

Whilst for children in the nursery setting, there is a need for an educational curriculum, for those children coming to our wrap around settings it is deemed that those needs will be met in their respective nursery or primary schools. At Bumbles we recognise the importance of play to a child’s development and follow the Playwork Principles. As Playworkers we support and facilitate play, we do not seek to control or direct it. We allow children to initiate and direct play themselves.

Play takes many forms, doing nothing in particular, doing lots, being boisterous, showing off, being contemplative, overcoming difficulties etc. Through play children explore the world and learn to take responsibility for their own choices. Play can be sociable or solitary, play can help children to climb, swing, gallop and chase. It can help them to try things out, test boundaries, develop confidence, explore and experiment in the world around them. We aim to get the balance right between play and relaxation whilst still being focused on our care ethos of helping children to grow in confidence, independence and self-esteem.

The Playwork Principles

These Principles establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork and as such must be regarded as a whole. Many of our staff team are undergoing playwork qualifications, and these are the principles that form the basis for our play. They describe what is unique about play, and provide the playwork perspective for working with children and young people. They are based on the recognition that children and young people’s capacity for positive development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities. They are on display in our settings and are used in planning alongside the children who attend our setting:

  1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.
  2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
  3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
  4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.
  5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
  6. The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
  7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.
  8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children.

Facilitating Play

We support and facilitate play in our wrap around settings at Bumbles by:

  • Providing an environment which stimulates and facilitates the different play types. Bob Hughes defines the 16 play types as:
    1. Symbolic – Using objects, actions or ideas to represent other objects, actions, or ideas, e.g., using a cardboard tube as a telescope.
    2. Rough and tumble – Close encounter play which is less to do with fighting and more to do with gauging relative strength. Discovering physical flexibility and the exhilaration of display and it’s friendly and positive. This type of play can burn up a lot of energy.
    3. Socio-dramatic – When children act out experiences, e.g., playing house, going to the shops or going to a restaurant.
    4. Social – Any social or interactive situation where the expectation is that everyone will follow the set rules – like during a game or while making something together.
    5. Creative – Allows children to explore, try out new ideas and use their imagination. They can use lots of different items, altering something and making something new.
    6. Communication – Play using words, gestures, e.g., charades, telling jokes, play acting, etc.
    7. Dramatic – Play where children figure out roles to play, assign them and then act them out.
    8. Locomotor – Movement for movement’s sake, just because it’s fun. Things like chase, tag, hide and seek and tree climbing fall into this category.
    9. Deep – Play which allows the child to encounter risky experiences and conquer fears, like heights, snakes, and creepy crawlies. Some find strength they never knew they had to climb obstacles, lift large objects, etc.
    10. Exploratory – Using senses of smell, touch and even taste to explore and discover the texture and function of things around them. An example of this would be a baby mouthing an object.
    11. Fantasy – This is the make-believe world of children. This type of play is where the child’s imagination gets to run wild, and they get to play out things that are that are unlikely to occur, like being a pilot or driving a car.
    12. Imaginative – Play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply, like imagining you are a bee or pretending you have wings.
    13. Mastery – Control of the physical and affective ingredients of the environments, like digging holes or constructing shelters.
    14. Object – Play which uses sequences of hand-eye manipulations and movements, like using a paintbrush.
    15. Role – Play exploring ways of being, although not normally of an intensely personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature. For example brushing with a broom, dialling with a telephone.
    16. Recapitulative – Play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness.
  • These do not necessarily cover all the ways children play and there is often overlap between two or more categories. Nevertheless, understanding these play types can be really helpful when planning, observing, or participating in children’s play.
  • Providing a range of equipment, resources and activities on a daily basis and keeping a record of these to ensure that varied play opportunities are offered.
  • Encouraging children to take part in the planning process, planning activities that will reflect their own interests and ideas in developing their natural curiosity and imagination. We encourage them to request additional or alternative equipment as they choose. If a request has to be refused, we explain why and explore alternative opportunities.
  • We don’t expect the children to be occupied at all times. Rest and relaxation are vital elements of care at Bumbles.
  • We offer the children opportunities to play outdoors everyday where possible. We feel that being in the outdoors is key to healthy development. Our wrap around settings make use of the outdoor areas for a variety of activities, not solely physical play.
  • We allow children freedom of creative expression, particularly in artistic and creative play.
  • We intervene in play only when necessary – to reduce risks of accident or injury, encourage appropriate social skills or to protect the play space.
  • We make children aware in advance is a play activity is due to end, we provide opportunities for activities to extend and develop over time through storing and re-introducing for completion.
  • We have a selection of fiction and non-fiction books available for all age ranges. Children are involved in choosing and selecting these throughout the year.

Forest School Approach to Learning

The Forest school ethos is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and is certainly an aspect of play and learning development that we are interested in exploring further across Bumbles’ settings. During 2021 we are hoping that some members of our team will undertake Forest School training highlighting the importance of exploring the outdoors in a variety of new and different ways.

The approach takes a long-term sustained view of outdoor learning. Forest schools seek to encourage, motivate, engage and inspire children through positive outdoor experiences. With the introduction of our settings beside Ormeau Park we hope that this will be an easy transition, although playboard has highlighted that the forest school ethos is not limited to those settings with access to woodland. The Forest school approach is a style of outdoor learning that extends and facilitates play activities in an outdoor environment.

Outside space is not seen as a place where children go to burn off energy. The divide between indoors and outdoors is broken and children learn in and from nature. They are given freedom to direct their own learning and enter into a certain amount of ‘risky-play’ (see Risk Benefit-Analysis). This in turn increases their sense of engagement and motivation. The rich variety of activities on offer and the sense of independence can have very positive effects on a child’s intellectual, cognitive, physical and emotional development. It can help to build a child’s self-esteem and confidence whilst also providing a springboard for every area of learning and development.