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Early Years - Nursery & Reception

“The Early Years department is superb.  The team achieve the perfect balance for the children.  They are both professional and warm, focused on each child’s individual learning approach, whilst also instilling a sense of independence and confidence in all children.  It really is the perfect foundation for a love of learning.”  An Early Years Parent

There is a very warm and welcoming feel to the Early Years department at Dolphin. Every child is treated as an individual and the children feel safe and secure in the very happy, stimulating environment. 

Kindness, making thoughtful personal choices and forming positive relationships with each other is evident when you watch the children at work and play.

Developing a love of learning is the main aim of Jane Robinson and her highly experienced and enthusiastic team. She and her team share a passionate belief that the potential of each child is limitless, and this is shown by the excellent progress every child makes whilst in the team’s care.

Jane found the school for her own children 20 years ago and it inspired her to train as an Early Years teacher.

The children have a wealth of wonderful learning opportunities including visits to the copse, embracing foreign languages, dance, off site trips and working with the older children who inspire them with their caring yet confident attitudes.

The department retains a Montessori ethos yet also embraces current thinking with the child’s ideas and interests placed at the heart of the curriculum.

Jane Robinson, Head of Early Years


Quotes from parents

"The Early Years department is superb. The team achieve the perfect balance for the children. They are both professional and warm, focused on each child’s individual learning approach, whilst also instilling a sense of independence and confidence in all children. It really is the perfect foundation for a love of learning. The proof- how happy the children are. My son skips happily into school every day."

an Early years parent

"The Early Years staff at Dolphin are calm, patient, and caring. They treat the children as individuals, and take the children’s concerns seriously - from a grazed knee to a homeless flower. They understand that to a small child, the ‘little’ things are ‘big’ things. Our child loves the Forest School at Dolphin, as have we during our visits in the termly Family Week. We are grateful that a school such as Dolphin exists, and that our children have the privilege of attending it."

an early years parent


Nursery Trips

Reception Trips

The Nursery Curriculum 2023/2024


Dolphin Early Years and Early Learning Goals

Children enter Dolphin Early Years with a wide range of previous experiences. They will have reached different levels of intellectual development and social competence; ongoing observation constant assessment and review supports teachers in differentiating the teaching and helps them cater for the needs of individual children, as they work to meet the Early Learning Goals of this education stage. The curriculum will ensure that children become involved, enthusiastic and active learners, who are keen to question, explore and value their learning experiences, teaching will be practical, relevant and fun. 



  • To develop a love of learning in every child
  • To plan a curriculum using the EYFS educational programme to provide the children with learning experiences of the highest quality, considering both children’s needs and achievements and the range of learning experiences that will help them to make progress towards (and, where appropriate, beyond) these goals.


There are three prime areas and four specific areas of learning:


The Prime Areas

Communication and Language

Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Physical Development


The Specific Areas



Understanding the World

Expressive Arts and Design



  • To enable children to receive a broad and balanced curriculum.
  • To provide a curriculum that is relevant and enjoyable to pupils and draws on their own experiences.
  • To provide a curriculum that acknowledges the age, maturity and different capabilities of the pupils.
  • To provide a challenging and ambitious curriculum.
  • To foster independence.
  • To offer opportunities for pupils to learn in a practical way, encouraging pupils to use all their senses to explore the world around them.
  • To help children become creative and imaginative.
  • To develop communication skills.
  • To encourage pupils to care for each other and for their environment.
  • To work with parents to ensure individual pupil’s needs are met, successes are shared and areas of concerns/development are communicated.
  • To provide an environment which is safe, secure and enjoys the confidence of parents.






  • To put every child in our Nursery at the heart of our curriculum.
  • To use in the moment planning where we take moments of children’s curiosity in our Montessori choosing time and turn them into an activity.
  • To complement this we use medium term and weekly planning. At the end of each week we take time to celebrate and reflect upon the teaching opportunities of the week. By doing this we identify future enhancements to our teaching.
  • To deliver the curriculum through methods appropriate to learning by, collaborative, exploratory, manipulative and imaginary play and if appropriate more direct teaching situations.
  • To involve parents in the shared responsibility of their children’s learning.



Skills to teach

  1. Independence
  2. Communication
  3. Exploring the world through their senses.
  4. Fine and gross motor skills.


Values to teach.

  1. Caring for themselves and others.
  2. Responsibility for themselves and others.
  3. Reliability
  4. Sensitivity to other cultures and beliefs.





The activities provided in the Nursery give the children opportunities to develop in all seven areas of learning. With the youngest children there is a strong focus on the prime areas, which are the basis for successful learning in the other four specific areas. As each child grows in confidence and ability within the prime areas there is a shift towards a more equal focus on all areas of learning. There are a wide variety of activities available.


Montessori Ethos


The Nursery’s programme and ethos is based on Maria Montessori’s inspiring ideas.  Montessori materials are accessible to the children so they can choose an activity for themselves and learn to work independently.  This is in line with the EYFS which advocates child-initiated activities as a vital and effective way of learning at this young age.  The Nursery aims to cultivate the children’s own natural desire to learn.  There is also a role play area, creative corner and comfortable book area which the children can choose to use in their ‘work time’.


Outdoor Learning


Young children need the opportunity to explore the great outdoors and at Dolphin the Nursery children have access to several outdoor areas.  The partially covered outdoor space adjoining Nursery enables free flow between indoor and outdoor spaces every day.  Activities provided include gardening, there are huge wipe boards and various mark-making materials and large construction materials, again the activities encourage the children to learn through hands-on exploration rather than a pre-selected course of study.


Other areas to which the children have regular access are the school play area, the areas in front of Nursery and Reception, the school playing fields and copse at the far end of the field which the children use in all seasons. Sessions in the copse are led by a qualified Forest School Leader.The Nursery children use the swimming pool every week during the Summer Term.




These are a vital ingredient in the philosophy and ethos of the school, and to the learning experience of the children. There are at least 3 Nursery trips per term which may be linked, for example, to a season or particular topic, to the love of books or a craft experience.  The children love the independence of all of these trips.



Small-Group Time

Young children enjoy and learn from short periods of group time.  Talk is developed through one-to-one conversations and within small groups. A circle time is held first thing every morning and other groups include story time, fun letters and sound activities, songs and rhyme time and creative time. These are punctuated through the week as are the subjects taught by specialist teachers…. Languages/World culture, PE, dance and music.


Breadth of Learning

The seven areas of learning are also addressed through developing the ideas and interests of the children. This provides wonderful opportunities for the children to develop and their learning grow.  The Nursery team also arrange regular visitors from the Upper School and each child has a Year 6 buddy with whom they often develop a close bond through the academic year. The children are also given opportunities to share their learnings with older children and parents such as through concerts, house poetry and sports day. Visitors also come from the  local community and the use of modern technology and real resources help learning come alive.  Learning is very much hands-on at a self-discovery level.


The Nursery Curriculum is child-driven and each child’s experience is unique.  The children absorb information from the environment in a natural and delightful way.  Dolphin Nursery provides an exciting, colourful, orderly and inviting environment where the children work happily with purpose, care and competence. We have a very flexible curriculum with the child at its heart.





The Prime Areas


Personal, Social and Emotional Development

The Nursery staff know how important their position is as role models, not only in demonstrating good social behaviour and skills to the children, but also in modelling positive learning behaviour.  They do this by demonstrating their own enthusiasm and interest and by giving the children encouragement and support in the pursuit of their own interests and ideas.  In Nursery independence is nurtured.  The environment and curriculum are carefully prepared in order to accommodate and support the children’s developing independence.


Activities are demonstrated in full to individual children in order to nurture a sense of fulfilment when they persevere with tasks to completion.  Sometimes materials are presented to a small group of children.  More motivated children can often inspire and support those who are less confident.


Usually the child’s key person presents the learning materials when they are developmentally appropriate for the child.  This requires good observational skills and knowledge of the child and maximises the child’s chances of success, resulting in sustained interest and development of self-confidence.


Montessori materials have an in-built ‘control of error’, enabling children to be independent and take control of their own learning.  They become motivated by personal success, not by praise or material rewards.


Children are permitted to use materials creatively, either alone or with others, as long as they treat the equipment with respect.  They are encouraged to experiment and share their ideas with their friends.  There are many activities that provide opportunities for co-operative play for two or more children, including the large construction materials, the role-play area and board games. 


The development of social skills is further supported in the Nursery by a varied programme of group activities, where children develop awareness of others and learn to co-operate.  Children regularly introduce themselves to visitors and thank them for coming.  Circle time, ‘Jigsaw time’ and story times often provide openings for discussions on a variety of moral and social issues.  Many Circle and story times are in response to children’s requests or needs and many discussions on social issues are most effective when carried out very quickly after a certain incident has arisen.


The Key Habits of the school such as kindness are celebrated in the Early Years weekly assemblies and children love being given a certificate when a teacher in that very moment praises them for making a good choice. We have a word of the week board which is linked to our assembly themes.


During work time the children are given opportunities either to work alone, undisturbed, or to work with others.  They set out their work on a table or on a floor mat to define their own workspace and help them to develop respect for each other’s work.  In addition, they are shown how to return their activities neatly to their correct place on the shelves.  Activities are not usually duplicated in the Montessori classroom, therefore, children need to wait for their turn or find alternative work.


The staff endeavour to make the environment and learning materials aesthetically pleasing and, whenever possible, natural materials are used.  With their natural sense of order, the children very soon begin to monitor and care for the environment themselves.  We want this first stage of the children’s education to be fun and happy.  Through practicing co-operative negotiation and self-organisation they develop independence, confidence and, importantly, make friends.  These skills will help further their social and educational development throughout their school life and as adults.


Within this area of learning the children learn about the benefits of a healthy diet. In circle time we talk about ways of keeping healthy and safe, and the children enjoy regular cooking and eating the results. Oral hygiene is also one focus of for example assemblies, experiments and visits from a local dentist.



Communication and Language

Listening, speaking and understanding are nurtured along with the love of books.  The noise level in the Nursery is kept to a level where verbal communication is not difficult.  The staff set an example with their use of rich, clear and expressive language.  Discussion with the children is an important part of the learning process.  Children are listened to, they are encouraged to ask questions and open questioning from the staff encourages them to talk.  Children are given time to speak and their ideas are valued.  There are daily circle, story, poem and rhyme times. The comfortable, colourful book corner encourages the children to explore books independently, with friends or with a member of staff.


Listening attentively is vital preparation for reading and in the Nursery there are several activities to help the children concentrate on particular sounds.  This helps when they are ready to perceive subtle differences in letter sounds. Vocabulary is developed in numerous ways such as through the trip programme and children handling items and describing them. 


In the Spring term the children are encouraged to bring in a shoe box of special items on a rota and they have the opportunity to talk about these and answer questions from a small group of children. This helps both speaking and listening skills.


Physical Development

Whenever possible, during the work time the children are given the opportunity to move freely between the indoor and outdoor environments.  A partially covered paved area running alongside the Nursery is overlooked along its length by full length patio doors and is accessed by a glazed double door.  Activities regularly available outside are large block play, role-play, gardening, painting and chalking on large wall boards, sand, mud and water play. Action songs also take place in the Nursery.


The children also walk to the school play area every day where there is a large climbing frame, slide, balancing apparatus, and a range of tricycles and scooters.  Small apparatus such as balls, hoops and streamers are regularly used.  The tennis courts, playground and playing fields are also used for physical education, games and topic work.  The children use the school swimming pool in the summer term. 


Physical development is an essential part of our Nursery Programme.  Body and spatial awareness, hand-eye co-ordination and courage-building skills are all included. There are weekly specialist PE, Dance and Forest School sessions.


The Montessori materials provide a wide range of opportunities for children to practise and develop their fine motor skills.  The practical life area includes pouring, tweezing, threading, sewing, cutting and folding activities. There are many activities available which help to develop the children’s muscular skills.  For example, the Montessori cylinder blocks have little knobs which a child grips with the same three fingers he will later use to hold a pencil. Large brushes, chalks, wipeboards and sand tray all help to develop the children’s motor skills.  These activities all help prepare the children for learning to write.


  Within this area of learning the children also learn about the benefits of a healthy diet. In circle time we talk about ways of keeping healthy and safe, and the children enjoy regular cooking and eating the results!

Independence is encouraged and the children learn to put their coats and shoes on and to manage their own hygiene.



The Specific Areas



Practical experience helps children towards an understanding of the many aspects of mathematics.  In work time the children can choose to sort, match, order, sequence and count.


They gain experience of weighing and measuring through, for example, cookery and capacity through sand and water play.  In the role play corner children may make price lists for a shop or restaurant and talk about and use money.  Experience of working with shapes comes in many forms such as creating structures on our light table, sweeping leaves into different shape outlines or through building using our large wooden blocks.

Maths is about doing, discussing, understanding and, when ready, applying.


In the Nursery there are concrete Montessori materials to represent all types of quantities, for example, the number rods and spindle box represent exercises in associating the numerals with the numeric quantities. 


The children can choose to use number puzzles or play number games such as bingo, dominoes or simple board games.


Outside resources such as a number line, large clock and sand and water trays all provide opportunities to develop mathematical skills.


The Nursery staff encourage the children to think numerically at various points throughout the day.  For example, the children count how many are present on a particular day, they enjoy writing the number in the air, on a wipe board or showing it with the fingers on their hands and various number songs are regularly sung. They are encouraged to identify numerical patterns such as when investigating number bonds to 5 and then to 10.


Wide-ranging maths vocabulary such as ‘1 less’ ‘1 more’ ‘largest’ and ‘shortest’ is introduced regularly in a practical context by the staff.


Each child is allowed to progress at their own speed.  The aim is to develop an interest and joy in all aspects of mathematics within the young child’s understanding. Building a solid foundation with an in depth understanding of the early numbers is key rather than racing on to large numbers.



The Nursery approach to reading and writing is multi-sensory.


Through mainly song the children are exposed to a wide selection of languages from around the world. This helps the children hear and pronounce sounds when they start to read.


We use a combination of the Government’s Letters and Sounds Phase 1 and Jolly Phonics actions and songs to start the child’s reading journey.


When ready children can choose word building activities such as the pink and blue boxes (which have tiny toys and 3 letter words broken down into sounds in them), magnetic letters, work jigsaws and sound books.


A Nursery child can join a small Reception phonics group if ready – no limit is placed on a child’s learning.


In Reception each child has a reading programme developed specifically for them. In Nursery if a child is ready they will be introduced to some of the reading activities and resources used in Reception so that a seamless transition to their reading programme in reception is made.


A child will one day come to realise he can write words with a pencil, their ‘explosion into writing’ and writing begins in a spontaneous, child-initiated way. In Nursery tracing paper is available for children to have a go at writing their name, they can explore mark making and letter formation guides are available if a child is ready. There are envelopes, cards and paper available and the children enjoy giving cards and letters to their friends.


Understanding of the World

A range of science, cultural and geographical materials are available on the shelves for the children to choose from.  For example they can investigate scientific phenomena such as magnetism, they can build a human skeleton and investigate life cycles and seasons.


The children are encouraged and helped to use the pictures and reference books available for finding out more information about the activities and subjects that interest them.


Seasonal and festival related activities are offered in this area after being introduced during small-group topic lessons.  The children gain an awareness of different cultures and beliefs, remember and talk about significant things which have happened to them and become aware of how different people in society can help each other.


The topics and seasons are brought to life with numerous visits and visitors.  Education, we believe, is about the real world.


The children also gain experience of the wider world by daily activities such as caring for the fish, tending the garden and investigating living things found outside.


Expressive Arts and Design

Creativity is recognised as being particularly important during the Early Years and the Nursery environment and curriculum are planned in order to inspire and support creativity in art, music, dance, role-play and imaginative play.  We endeavour to provide the children with opportunities to work alongside artists, performers and other skilled and talented people.


In our creative corner painting, drawing, cutting, gluing, paint mixing, modelling and construction skills are developed.  To support this numerous materials such as junk modelling and collage materials, pens and coloured paper are always available.  Children are encouraged to experiment and work is created by the child, not the teacher.The children are also encouraged to express themselves through the weekly music sessions and daily songs.  In the role-play corner the children use their imagination to create various scenarios and learn how to express their ideas, thoughts and feelings.  Young children love imaginative play. 

Dolphin Nursery aims to structure and nurture every child’s creative ability and confidence.


In summary in Dolphin Nursery we aim to inspire children and create in each one “A true love of learning”.