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We are thrilled to announce that Woodlands Nursery has been Highly Commended in the inaugural Muddy Stilettos Schools Awards in the Most Creative Learning Through Play – Early Years category for the innovative Dare To Paint initiative.
This commendation follows Woodlands being named as a Top 20 nursery in the East of England by daynurseries.co.uk last year.
Congratulations to our wonderful Head of Woodlands, Shirley Hayman, and her fantastic team who every day ensure that our Woodlanders have the best day, full of enriching learning opportunities and FUN.

About Dare to Paint 

Our “Dare to Paint” initiative has seen the youngest members of the Beechwood community engage with art in innovative, creative and fun ways, and has increased the children’s engagement and independence when taking part in art activities.
Gone are the days when painting at Nursery meant putting a child in front of an easel, with a piece of paper pegged to it, and give them a brush and pots of red, blue, and yellow paint.
We may not like to admit it, but painting for Nursery aged children can be predictable, and even boring, and sometimes only requires minimal creativity.
At Woodlands, we want children to be creative and confident, to express themselves in different ways, and to have a choice of activities – and this includes during their art sessions. We wanted children to understand that painting for one child does not need to be the same as for another, that there are unusual places and ways to experiment with their creativity, which in turn gives them independence and confidence to make their own decisions, with assistance if or when needed.
The aims of the initiative were:

• To develop children’s independence in selecting resources for themselves
• To instil that each child must take responsibility for clearing up the material they had used
• To encourage children to be fearless and more creative in their use of paint
• To give children free rein to experiment with colour and textures, and to learn the associated language to describe what they had created
• To evaluate children’s in the moment planning and processes, as well as their results
• To support the children to feel excited by the opportunities that being creative can bring
• To build confidence in their artistic abilities
• To build enjoyment and participation in art activities, particular for boys
• To develop colour and shade recognition beyond basic colours

Early Years staff facilitated lots of different opportunities for the children to experiment with colours (including less commonly used ones like gold, rose gold, silver, grey) discussing what “shades” of colours means and how these can look and can be made. Mixing paint is of course a common activity in Early Years settings but Woodlanders were also offered extended opportunities to experiment and discuss what happens when lots of colours are mixed, versus just adding white or black to a colour. They also experimented with different textures and could analyse the impact of adding different substances to paint for example washing up liquid, glue, sand, soil, flour, sugar, salt and cereal – many of these their own suggestions!

Gone were the easels and instead children experimented with lying flat on their backs and painting the underside of tables, painting on glass, on clingfilm stretched around the legs of an upturned table.  They used wide decorating brushes to see how quickly they could transform a surface, then made the transition to thin brushes and jet-black ink to paint Chinese numbers and characters as part of their study of Chinese New Year. Tools were not restricted to “just” paint brushes and the children tried out rollers on the pavement, using sticks, making their own brushes (attaching feathers found in Forest School to sticks the children had collected), and using a variety of household objects to make prints and patterns – the children were particularly fascinated by the patterns they created with the bottom of a fizzy drinks bottle!)

Wherever possible, Woodlands staff encourage cross-curricular links and as part of the Dare to Paint initiative, pupils have also been learning the different colours in French. Music and Art frequently work in tandem and children have experimented moving their bodies in time to music whilst painting, or have just listened to music as they paint, reflecting the impact different styles of music have on the colours they choose and the type of painting they create.
Children have also learnt that painting does not need to be a solitary pursuit and have engaged in team painting in pairs and small groups, and have also produced a piece of collaborative artwork as a whole class. Children have also been able, within reason, to choose when they set up their painting space – we refer to this as “in the moment” learning, rather than adhering to a set timetable when painting only happens when adults deem it to be “time for painting”.

“Companionable Learning” or learning in a state of mutual attention between child and adult has been a focus of much of Woodlands activity this term; learners work side by side and children learn that their teachers and other adults are interested in them as individuals and are also excited about learning and exploring alongside them – adults and children are more than likely learning something different, but the most important thing is that the adult is learning something about how the child’s mind is working during these moments. There are 4 specific areas of ‘Companionable Learning’ development; attention, authority, apprenticeship and allowed time and space. We have been practising “companionable learning” in Art this term when children paint alongside each other or with their adult helpers

Staff have been overwhelmed by the impact this initiative has had on the children, and on the ways in which painting will from now on be included in the curriculum. Much of this evidence is qualitative rather than quantitative
  • Pupils have become more independent and confident when setting up their own painting station; they have displayed fearless creativity as they assess and choose their own resources to incorporate into their own use of painting, exploring far beyond simply using their hands and a brush.
  • Language and vocabulary skills have been enhanced, and the children have used imaginative language to name the colours they have created – examples include cappuccino, caramel, blood red, sea blue, frog green and chocolate bar brown, to name a few!
One piece of qualitative evidence is the number of boys who are now choosing to engage with painting. Prior to the project, it was normal for just one boy to choose to paint each day; since the project launch, we frequently have up to 6 boys engaging with painting activities each day.
Again, not easily quantifiable but nevertheless very clear to Nursery staff, pupils are noticeably more responsible and independent when it comes to cleaning up after themselves – children aged 2 and 3 are independently putting their creation onto the driving station, clearing up spills etc. We have also seen children squeezing paint out of the bottles themselves, where they might previously have asked for assistance and our pre school Woodlanders frequently help out their younger nursery-mates, showing them how to select pains and how to squeeze the bottles.
They have adopted a more scientific and creative approach, with Nursery staff frequently hearing “I wonder what would happen if…” as children debate amongst themselves how to approach a painting task, whether there are better or different materials they could use, and whether it would be better to try a particular activity inside or outside. They also incorporate painting to activities that have been set out by staff who had not considered that painting would feature, such is their engagement and confidence.
Since the advent of “Dare to Paint”, The purpose of painting has changed at Woodlands; before, painting was about creating a piece of work to take home. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, and we know that parents appreciate it, we are delighted that painting has become more than this – children are using painting as a way of experimenting, of socialising, developing confidence, independence and imagination, and of course, having fun.


Woodlands Art