Embracing the process

Personal growth through art

Children’s art can provoke many reactions but there is so much more going on under the surface than what can be seen. Art allows children to reconstruct and assimilate their experiences and observations, to create meaning to the world around them. Especially for those who are just beginning to learn how to read and write, as shapes and symbols become a communication tool and a personal language.

Adults often judge children’s art by adult standards, assessing it on its execution. However what a child creates is a unique representation of their own experiences and development. Children are able to produce artwork with distinctive qualities that no adult can replicate.

Journey of discovery

Children are often shown the ‘right’ way when learning numbers and letters, whereas art opens up a world of possibilities where diversity and individuality can be celebrated. There may be a temptation for educators to fix, provide templates or insist all children follow the same objective. But this extinguishes the activation of creativity and invention, whilst subconsciously enforcing the notion that there is a ‘right’ way to do art.

In contrast, the Reggio Emilia approach we implement at Inspirations allows children to explore new materials and mediums by themselves, for themselves. Keeping the environment and activity open-ended provides children the freedom and responsibility to make their own decisions. Materials are thoroughly explored, skills and knowledge are repeated and reinforced in their own time, and children become masters of their own learning. Children can put in to practice the ‘hundred languages’, communicating, expressing and creating a dialogue of their own... one which is rich and colourful and not limited to an adult’s expectation.

The process of a creation is equally a process for the child. Simple scribbles can be a representation of an object in action or an experiment on pressure and shape. Figures and shapes can become parts of a narrative that slowly emerge. Therefore, when a child is put at the centre of their learning they feel empowered and encouraged to fully immerse themselves in their process rather than fixating on the outcome. Ideas of right and wrong fade away and curiosity and discovery take precedence. Ultimately, providing the child harmony between body and soul, deepening their connection emotional, cognitively and physically to their sense of self.

Julia Lai

Other Ways to Communicate

When we talk about communication people often only think about speech, but there are lots of different ways to communicate. Eye contact, body language, facial expressions, gestures, and drawing and writing are daily tools we might use for sharing information.

At Inspirations we follow the Reggio Emilia approach, where one of our key principles is the ‘hundred languages of learning’. The principle refers to communication and the one hundred ways children can express and process the world around them. It provides children opportunities to engage through arts and media, light and shadow and music.

At Inspirations we implement this approach through our daily sessions. The pre-school children decide where they would like to go at choosing times. They may choose to stay in the yurt and outdoor classroom, where the environment is carefully set up by trained staff which use the children’s interests to extend their learning, or they may decide to go off site. Our child-led curriculum provides forest school and art studio workshops twice a day, for two hours. Working in small groups in the art studio ensures that the children can work intimately on projects, expressing their thoughts and ideas through a diverse range of mediums. The forest school sessions provide a breadth of natural resources for the children, and with the guidance from trained staff, a world of beauty, connection, movement and autonomy.

Communicating in all the different ways may come easier to some people than others and some may find them all challenging. Some people may have conditions which can affect the way they communicate. For example, someone who is autistic will often have difficulties when it comes to communicating, especially in social situations. Some people struggle to verbally communicate so will need to learn other non-verbal methods.

In our nursery each room is supplied with visual aids. This picture-based resource enables babies and children that are preverbal to interact with us. Visuals provide good support to a verbal instruction and help children to understand and make connections. When necessary, we also use Boardmaker which is a software often used across Leeds to support children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) as well as children with English as an additional language. Using resources that they may use when they move on from us is important for consistency. Some children may need PECS, which is a Picture Exchange Communication System. This is a unique communication tool using Boardmaker to enable children to communicate their wants and needs. The programme involves another person acting as the communicative partner, responding to the child's requests. It teaches children that communication is an exchange and how to put words together to form a sentence.

In our baby rooms we use Makaton during singing times and for other frequent words such as ‘more’ or ‘drink’. Makaton involves signing key words, using a spoken word at the same time. Although it is not an official form of signing, it is based on signs used in the British Sign Language. Makaton was developed for very young children with special needs or other communicative challenges. It is helpful for someone who can hear but has difficulties with communication as it uses symbols, verbal words and hand signs.


Kayleigh Woolger

Art vs Craft

What is a craft?

1. An activity involving skill in making things by hand.

A creative activity with a predetermined outcome and there is nothing wrong with it, it can be a nice way to relax or create a keep sake, particularly for adults. In fact new skills can be learnt in the process and concentration skills can be encouraged. Take for example knitting, and sewing, a skill that needs to be learned with instruction in order to create the desired outcome.

However, at Inspirations we believe there is a time and a place for a craft, and we would much rather encourage unique creativity without boundaries. With everything we do and make in life we draw inspiration from other peoples ideas, take for example the current interest in Jackson Pollock in the Art Studio. His method of painting has inspired us to try it our selves, but when it came to creating this piece of art, through trial and error and experimentation, the outcome is decided by them, and that is the important factor.

Who are we to tell our children what their art should look like?

We believe there are more creative options to crafts. By providing our children with tools, and telling them what to make and how it should look is projecting our ideas onto them, when the children should be at the centre of their own learning.  Our role is not to tell a child what colour something should be, and we most definitely shouldn't be giving our opinions on how 'good' something is at the end of a creative session. These restricting activities have the potential for huge disappointment and create a barrier to the child venturing down their unique path of creativity. At Inspirations we use encouragement over praise, and if a child is looking for a comment on their drawing I will try to use factual language such as 'i see you used lots of green!' 'you seemed really focused whilst making that' or 'you must be really proud of that'. Factual statements instead of us giving our opinion will help build self esteem instead of encouraging them to do things to impress others.

We are a place where mistakes are part of the journey, and the process holds more importance than the end result. Open ended activities are important in early child hoods development. Of course they promote imagination and creativity, but they also encourage problem solving skills and social emotional development. Creativity doesn't just include drawing and making, it includes role play, dress up, music, building from cardboard boxes, magnets, loose parts, building blocks..the suggestions are endless and all a part of the 100 ways of learning. They piece together to make each unique child, who has learned new skills and ways of learning through experimenting and ideas, with us there to ask open ended questions.

How can we help support creativity?

Whilst allowing our children to play and learn we can support them by asking open ended questions. They might not always answer, a good sign they are truly engaged, but some questions you can ask at the right time will support them in extending upon their own learning.

  • Tell me about that?
  • Why do you think…?
  • How do you know…?
  • I wonder what might happen if you...?
  • Why do you think this happened?
  • I wonder if you will add anything?
  • What can you do about it?
  • What do you think would work?
  • How do you think it could work?
  • Can you do it another way?
  • How are these the same?
  • How are these different?
  • What do you think comes next?
  • What else can you do?
  • What does it remind you of?

So next time you come to do a craft, why not encourage your child to take a unique spin on it. By removing that set outcome you will find the pressure is gone and creativity flourishes.


Exploring Pattern in the Art Studio

This week in the Art Studio has had a child led focus on pattern, but how did we get there? Last month we found a butterfly on the decking that was no longer alive. The children shared ideas on what might have happened? 'It got stung by a wasp!' 'It was eaten by a fox!'

Whilst they came to their own conclusions we brought the butterfly into the Art Studio for a close examination. Out came all the research books as we identified it as a 'Speckled Wood'. The butterfly inspired some drawings, which lead onto paintings with particular focus on the wing patterns and colours.

This naturally lead onto art work and printing techniques by folding the paper to make prints of butterfly wings as we learnt a new word 'Symmetrical'. Their symmetrical patterns progressed and this interest strayed away from the butterfly and lead onto pattern within art using various techniques.

This week we took our pattern painting onto a large scale with the added media of light and shadow as a kaleidoscope was projected onto the wall. We also used clay to create pattern by imprinting beads and various other loose parts.

The Art Studio as well as being a Reggio Inspired place to explore project based learning is also a space for our children to explore new surroundings and new friendships in smaller groups. For some it is their space to build with the magnets, notice new books, experiment with different art materials and explore shadows on the projector. It is a space that can be quiet, a space that can be loud, where we play instruments and sing with the ukulele, and a space with provocations, a space that is rearranged whenever new interests emerge. With between 6 and 8 children in each session it can be the perfect opportunity to hear the children's voices which guides our planning.

Here's some of this weeks photos from the Art Studio.


Being Two

This Month we are focusing on our middle room at nursery, the toddler room, also known as our Honeybees room.  Being two is more commonly referred to as the ‘Dreaded Twos’ or ‘Terrible Twos’; a term we find very unjust and instead celebrate this age with the phrase ‘Terrific Twos'.

Terrific Twos

It is very easy to conclude that your Toddler is in the midst of the ‘Terrible two’s’ when they act up and try push your buttons, especially when you are faced with patience testing tantrums.
It is important to remember that they are experiencing so many emotions and ultimately navigating their way into becoming tiny humans. They do not mean to drive you to the bottle of wine sat in your fridge, they are just growing and learning whilst showing you who they are and that being two really is terrific.

Adventure and Independence

In our eyes being a two year-old is about adventure and independence, traits we
feel are continuing to shape them after the transition from Baby to Toddler.

The Toddler room, or the Honeybee’s room as we refer to it is set up to allow the above,
and is a large area both indoors and out to move around freely, with many areas of
provision to explore and investigate. Whilst these areas are being slowly destroyed by tiny
hands and feet, friendships are being formed, and language is continuing to develop by
using simple sentences to share feelings, experiences and thoughts. They become more
aware of others feelings, and they are starting to understand boundaries and routines, as
well as listening with interest and understanding simple questions.

Milestones - Potty Training

Being Two also comes with it's challenges and a certain milestone is often met during this
period of their lives… Potty Training! Early signs that they may be transitioning
to this stage include awareness and communication. From telling you that they have done
something in their nappy to expressing the urge to go, these are all clear indictors that the
time is right and you should go with it and know that we are always their to support you. Remember that children develop at their own pace and they may not be ready to be potty trained until later.

Here are some links to books and tips for support-




Children are not things to be moulded, but people to be unfolded- Jess Lair

Next week we will focus on the importance of schemas, with some tips to supporting young children's language development. In the meantime if you've had a tough day, you've passed bath time and skipped straight to bedtime, you're still doing a great job.  Remember it is this age that children are making new connections in their brain, pushing boundaries and learning vocabulary at rapid speed. We have to give credit to them for all this multitasking, whilst keeping our silliness alive, reigniting our imagination, and providing daily entertainment.

Although there can be some hard times amongst the great times if we start to see the world through their perspective we might all agree that life as a toddler can be challenging but also very fun.



Seekers of Meaning

New Video

Over the last few weeks I have been filming the children as they explore the Art Studio. To read more about our Art studio you can go back to last weeks blog.

The children's current shared interest is construction and building houses from clay, bricks, sticks and blocks. Some of that is captured in our brand new video that you can watch here-



Inside the Art Studio

The Art Studio

Every morning and afternoon our Pre-Schoolers choose where they want to spend their time, between the Yurt/Outdoor Classroom, Forest School or the Art Studio. There is a quaint pebbled path that leads us behind the Yurt, past the new pond and up to this purpose built creative space, but this isn't just any art classroom, we do things a little differently here. http://simonr30.sg-host.com/the-art-room/

Why do we have an Art Studio?

Of course creativity is woven throughout every aspect of our learning at Inspirations, there are mark making tools, paints and clay accessible in all areas, so why do we need an additional separate creative space? The Art Studio, (referred to as an Atelier in the Reggio culture) is so much more than just an Art Room. It is its own separate space for the children to own, re-purpose and re-visit week after week, and is set out to foster self discovery.

100 Languages of Learning

It is a space for smaller groups of children to branch off, be heard, share ideas, and develop the confidence to be leaders of their own research and learning. It is an environment that plays host to books, materials and tools that support the 100 ways of learning with the support of myself as the Atelierista. It is a space where children proceed through their inquiry to reach their hypothesis though guided experiments, mixed media, play, music, light and shadow, sculpture and dramatic play. A space for them to give meaning to, give identity to, and in turn put them selves and their ideas into context within the world they live in.

The walls of the Art Studio are a canvas, a projector screen, an art exhibition and a metaphorical mirror reflecting the evolving learning journey of our children. Through photos and quotes of the children's voice on the wall the children can see where their ideas started,  where they are now, and by reading back the children's own words they see that their inputs are recorded, valued and remembered.

It's also important to note that the Atelierista is not an art teacher, rather, an Artist who knows the potential of art materials and children, and the limitless possibilities when these are combined.

Beautiful Mistakes

In the Art Studio the children are not afraid  to try new things, because fear of failure doesn't exist. How can it exist in a place where mistakes are simply learning opportunities. A fallen glue pot can become an art project in its self, and a drawing gone wrong can inspire new ideas. One project that stands out began when a child wiped up spilt watercolour paint from the floor with a baby wipe and watched as the colours soaked through the wipe. He then decided to add baby wipes to a canvas, the 'dirty' baby wipes themselves then becoming the art.

Seekers of Meaning

As constant seekers of meaning, our children are making sense of the world around them with everything they do, and our Art studio is one section of our pre-school that fosters this.

This week we will be filming inside the Art Studio to see their explorations brought to life, this short film will be shared on You Tube next week.

- Nathalie


Pre-School at Horsforth

Happy New Year to everyone, it sure has been an eventful start to the year as we continue to tackle a pandemic with 3 inches of snow thrown in to test us. But hope and positivity prevails, and we really valued your responses to our previous blog on the little steps we can all take to create a more sustainable year.

We thought we would start the year of blogs by taking a look at our Pre-School Settings across Horsforth and Adel. Currently our Pre-School bubble at Horsforth has closed, so for those affected we are posting daily activities and zooms for the children, you can find all the information you need on Tapestry.

We start by looking back at 2018- the time we implemented the Reggio Approach into our classrooms, changed our name from Dolphins to Inspirations, and rebuilt our entire Pre-School area. This change meant moving the Toddler Room into the old Pre-School room, opening up a second Baby Room, and building a Yurt, Outdoor Class Room and Art Studio on the patch of un-used grass land behind our nursery.

Our Yurt

Flattening the land for our Mongolian Yurt was quite the task, over the spring months of 2018 the changes were finalised and after calling in help from some of our parents, together with Colin the Yurt was erected in just a couple of days. The Yurt is a unique space and feature at Inspirations that provides just one of many learning areas for our Pre-School children. It is a cosy space to warm up in adverse weather and to eat their meals during winter. The yurt is filled with literacy areas, maths areas, open ended resources and books for reading and researching. See more about our Yurt here- http://simonr30.sg-host.com/our-yurt/

Outdoor Classroom

Our children are predominantly outdoor learners, and our outdoor classroom is a constantly changing space that matches the children's interests and mirrors seasonal changes. Adapting our classroom to match their interests invites our curious young minds to explore and discover, and is the perfect space for them to unleash their creativity.

No Fear of Failure

Throughout our Pre-School areas room Reggio Emilia is of course the guiding principle, and our spaces reflect that. Our Project based approach provides the backbone of their learning, so it is important that our environment and educators support their creative thought process without any fear of failure.

Exciting News

This January are excited to announce a brand new Room Leader for our Pre-School room. Jennie is an experienced Reggio inspired Early Years Educator who over the course of the last 15 years has worked in Dubai, Japan, Angola and Vietnam and has been to Reggio Emilia three times. We’re very excited that she has joined our team and brings her passion for our pedagogy and supporting children through child- led learning. Her email address is jennie@inspirationsnurseries.co.uk if you would like to get in touch.


If you’re interested in your child joining our Pre-School over 3’s room please take a look at our website and get in touch with Kayleigh@inspirationsnurseries.co.uk.

In next weeks blog we will be taking a look at our Pre-School setting over at Adel. In the mean time stay safe in the snow and please do send in any photos you have out exploring the weather. We will select some highlights to share on our social media this weekend.

"We value space to create a handsome environment and its potential to inspire social, affective and cognitive learning. The space is an aquarium that mirrors the ideas and values of the people who live in it" -Loris Malaguzzi


- Nathalie

Inspecting trees at Forest School

The Benefits of Forest School

At Inspirations we value greatly our outdoor environments which are extensive and include the use of our local Horsforth woodland at Hunger Hills. Our passion for outdoor learning and forest school comes from a deep understanding and appreciation for the ethos. The pedagogy was developed in Sweden in the 1950’s and the approach focuses on the natural environment being utilised, not only as an area where children can blow off excess energy but more importantly where children are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature.


Forest school children develop an appreciation and deep seated love of nature and are able to explore and learn from all that the environment has to offer, at a pace that suits them.

'Lead their own Learning'

The forest school ethos allows for each individual child to lead their own learning journey. They find their own pace, interests and methods of learning and attainment that best suit them. There is no pressure, no preconceived results, no adults determining a beginning or end to their project or interest.

Adults of course play a vital role one which is supportive and patient, they build strong positive relationships which children know they can trust and count on. The Adults help children take managed risks encouraging children to consider, they ask questions and encourage with a hands-on approach which helps supports critical thinking.

Resilience and Determination

Forest school children are shown to be ahead of their peers by the time they start school at the age of five.  They show confidence, are very willing to ‘have a go’ and not be deterred by failed attempts.  They are resilient and eager to keep trying until they find a positive solution to a problem. It is shows they are effective problem solvers who work well within a team, exhibiting high levels of motivation and concentration to any task facing them.

The forest learning environment also creates strong communicators and gives children a deep level of understanding about the word around them. They are socially advanced, understanding feelings and consequences of their behaviour and are more likely to think before they act. Naturally children who spend time in wide open spaces where the floor is uneven, who have trees to climb and weather to navigate are more confident in their own physical abilities. They are more prone to want to be outdoors as adults and as a result are more healthier, happier individuals.

There are several studies on the benefits of forest school and outdoor learning philosophy. These studies are becoming more prevalent as the ethos has slowly become more popular. Below are a few links to the most recent studies showing the benefits mentioned in our blog above.



- Nicola

Learning through Light

The Reggio approach (as outlined in our previous blog) puts children at the centre of their own learning. The ethos is based around a hands on approach to learning, with art, materials, and loose parts used to create learning opportunities and encourage critical thinking; but one thing we haven't touched upon much is the use of light as a material.

If you explore our rooms at inspirations, or the photography on our Instagram and website you will see there are projectors, light boxes, and sensory dark dens throughout all of our spaces from the Baby Rooms up to Pre-School.

Why do we use light and shadow?

In the younger rooms the use of light cubes, fairy lights and projectors invite children to expand their natural curiosity and encourage babies to engage and remain focused for a longer period of time. As well as having a calming affect, this sensory experience also provides a different perspective, allowing the child to develop creative and critical thinking.

In the Toddler and Pre-School rooms we use over head projectors, torches and mirrors to allow the children to deepen their knowledge and understanding of light and space. Have you ever witnessed the first time a child acknowledged their own shadow?

Seeing their reaction just highlights the  sense of magic and wonder that comes with light play. In the Reggio Approach we talk about natural objects a lot, and sun light alone is a completely free resource that should be utilised to support learning. Light and shadow can be a source of intrigue as children notice the way in which light changes the way things look. It gives the child the opportunity to witness the illumination of things around them, predict patterns, test their ideas and develop new concepts.

We set up a camera in our baby rooms to see how they interact with light, you can watch the video here-



At home why not set up an activity for your child based around lights, shadows or reflection using mirrors, we would love to be tagged in a photo of your activity on tapestry, Instagram or Facebook. 

“light and certain light phenomena are central protagonists and highlight the extent to which expressiveness and beauty can accompany an understanding of scientific thinking.” - Vecci (Reggio Atelierista)

For more reading on this topic you can find 'Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia: Exploring the Role and Potential of Ateliers in Early Childhood Education (Contesting Early Childhood)DF' on amazon. 

- Nathalie (Atelierista)