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How to Develop Your Nursery’s Ethos

Communicating your approach to early education will help you hone your practice and connect with customers…

  • How to Develop Your Nursery’s Ethos

There are over 25,000 group-based providers in England, all of whom follow the Early Years Foundation Stage, yet each one is different.

Knowing how to develop your nursery into an outstanding setting with a strong vision and philosophy, or ethos, is what will ensure you create an environment for children to flourish in.

What is an ‘ethos’?

Put simply, an ethos is a set of ideas and attitudes associated with a particular group of people, activity or, indeed, early years setting.

When beginning to formulate yours, it’s important to think deeply about why you are opening a nursery, and what beliefs and ideas you have about children, education and care.

Each person is different and will be passionate about different learning styles or methods of teaching, and these should be the focus area for creating and embedding your ethos.

Typically settings might follow a Montessori or Reggio Emilia ethos, approaches that have been developed over many years and use specific routines and resources.

Recently the forest school ethos has become increasingly popular, as practitioners are recognising the importance of being outdoors and creating learning opportunities for exploration and play in a natural environment.

But these aren’t the only options.

Make it personal

Why should a parent choose your nursery over another? Why should a practitioner decide to work for you and not somewhere else? Having a clear ethos that reflects your passion for early education is key in attracting like-minded clients and staff.

I’ve always advised parents to visit as many nurseries as possible when deciding where to send their child, because regardless of recommendations they will ultimately connect best with a setting or manager whose beliefs mirror their own.

This is why your ethos is so important: it’s a reflection of you and your nursery, and is a means to connect with the parents, staff and children.

So personalise your ethos – it doesn’t necessarily have to adhere to the Montessori, Steiner or Reggio approaches. As is the case with me, you may find elements that strongly resonate with you while also having views unique to yourself. Rather than follow the crowd, step back from it and develop your own approach.

Dare to be different

Recently, I supported a forest school daycare setting and developed the ethos alongside the owners, incorporating several ideas, beliefs and methods to create a unique attitude that reflected the vision of the business.

When putting your ethos together I suggest having an open discussion and noting down all the theories, approaches and words that relate to you and your vision for your setting. Mine looked something like this:

  • ‘Forest school’
  • ‘Holistic approach’
  • ‘Multiple Intelligence’
  • ‘Making mistakes’
  • ‘Resilience’
  • ‘Emotional intelligence’
  • ‘Happiness’
  • ‘Creativity’
  • ‘Imagination’
  • ‘Boundaries’

This list is then the starting point from which to pull your ethos together and make it individual to your setting. These points will be the foundations, the building blocks that underpin all that you do, and you can use them to write an ethos statement that makes your approach clear. Here’s an example:

The Childcare Guru’s ethos is a unique, child-centered philosophy that aims to develop each child holistically. The Multiple Intelligence approach teaches us that every child is intelligent, which we firmly believe, so combined with the Early Years Foundation Stage we aim to support each child to develop their individual intelligences through play, giving them the confidence to achieve their potential.

Our outdoor environment, ensures that children have the opportunity to learn about the world around them and learn in a natural space, allowing them to take managed risks, supported by their teachers, who encourage self-belief and resilience.

Boundaries and guidelines support the children in understanding what is expected of them by their teachers, peers and the environment, ensuring they are safe at all times. Emotional intelligences are greatly supported and we believe in each child having a voice and opportunity to discuss their feelings, to encourage them to feel confident speaking out and managing how to deal with emotional situations as they arise. Happiness and wellbeing are at the core of our values, and opportunities for imaginative and creative play are always available – when the gates to a child’s imagination are opened, anything is possible.

Linking ethos to practice

Once you have an ethos statement, it’s vital that you embed it into your daily practice – it’s not meant to be purely for show on your website or advertising booklets but at the heart of all that you do.

The good news is that adopting an ethos that you have put together is easier for having come from you originally, rather than requiring you to adapt it from elsewhere.

However, it’s important that all of the staff have clear understanding of the philosophies behind your statement, so that they feel confident putting it into practice.

Inductions, training and reflective practice will help to support this as well as modelling from those who created it.

While you as owner or manager will feel confident understanding the ethos statement and explaining it to staff and parents, it may help staff if you simplify it to a set of bullet points.

These should then be displayed throughout your setting so that those core values are a visible daily reminder.

Planning of activities should combine both the EYFS and your philosophies. For example:

As part of our daily routine, the preschool-aged children sit together before lunch for a philosophy session. This comprises storytelling and asking of enquiring questions, which allows the children to turn take, listen and voice their opinions without judgement or fear, thus building their emotional intelligences, confidence, self-esteem, literacy and social communication skills.

All of the attributes fall in line with the ethos statement above.

Communicating your ethos with parents

As mentioned previously, your ethos is your main initial attraction and selling point, so parents will (hopefully!) already be on board with the way in which you deliver early education.

It is important, however, to re-emphasise this – for example, offering parents the opportunity to be involved in nursery life, similarly to their child.

In this way, the nursery becomes a community and parents can better understand and follow the setting’s values and philosophies in their home environment, providing a more holistic experience for the child.

This can be achieved through things like event days, emails and newsletters, and stay-and-play sessions.

Closing thoughts

As a nursery owner or manager, never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and create an ethos that is exclusive to your setting.

One style of learning will never be agreeable to everyone, yet people do connect with those that are passionate, driven and committed to providing early education that is second to none.

For me, balance is the secret ingredient to success – children, parents and teachers alike need balance within everyday life.

Jamie Victoria, AKA the Childcare Guru, has worked as a nanny, nursery manager and deputy head. Today she advises early years settings and parents, and offers freelance forest school training and much more. Find her at thechildcareguru.co.uk and follow her on Twitter at @childcareguru_.

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