Get to know: Abacus Nursery School – Sunday Mirror

Sunday Mirror Blog Post feature image Abacus

Shirley Wilks & Jill Vella
Co-owners at Abacus Nursery, Bromsgrove
Learning outside

Our Story

Written by Shirley Wilks and Jill Vella (co-owners) with input from staff Jane, Rachelle, Jo and Vicky

Outdoor play is an important part of our nursery. What can be better than fresh air and having the sky as your ceiling. You can move around at speed, make a mess, lots of noise or find somewhere quiet to play.  It doesn’t matter how small your outside space is, it can be transformed into an exciting place to be. You can make it safe, inviting, stimulating and challenging - allowing the children to take risks.

Physical Benefits

In this digital age, with ever-younger children spending more time on screens and less time outside, it is important that we encourage an active lifestyle to promote health and fitness. There are numerous benefits to be gained from outdoor activities, including gardening.

Children love to be outside moving around. Rain, wind and temperature make no difference if they are dressed appropriately. Playing outside develops gross motor skills (throwing, catching, jumping etc) and fine motor skills (hand-eye co-ordination etc), develops muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, strong bones and develops movement skills.

Being outside makes children feel good.

Abacus Cultivation Street planting plant child

Developmental Benefits

Abacus Cultivation Street planting plant child3

Looking at the natural world promotes observational skills, sensory development, team work, sharing experiences, problem solving and creativity.

Children not only learn to have patience while waiting their turn to plant, but patience to watch plants grow, learn about life cycles, living, dying and recycling. With staff support, all the gardening and outside activities promote language development and increase children’s vocabulary.

The children enjoy the awe and wonder of planting seeds, tending to them and watching them grow. This leads to discussion about where foods comes from, cooking activities and trying new fruit and vegetables that they have grown.

Mental/ Psychological Benefits

All young children have a curiosity for the natural world. Through gardening and outdoor play they can observe, explore and learn to make sense of the world. Staff encourage this enthusiasm and support the children to venture into new experiences and take risks.  Outside play gives our children a sense of freedom, relieves anxiety and promotes emotional well being.

Because children relate so well to animals we have Barney, our cockapoo. He regularly comes to nursery and with parent’s permission joins the children for stories in the garden.

Research has shown that young children achieve more and are happier when Early Years Practitioners work closely with parents and share ideas about how to support and extend children’s learning and development.

Abacus Cultivation Street planting plant child2

In spring and autumn we invite parents and grandparents to accompany us on a walk down the lane, past fields and into the wood for the children to collect leaves, twigs, stones and other natural materials. When we return to nursery parents are invited to stay for an informal collage workshop with lots of sharing, chatting, discussion, gluing and sticking of the treasures found.

Simple outdoor activity that kids love


One of the favourite areas of our garden is the mud kitchen, where the children can play and experiment with kitchen utensils, sticks, soil, water, leaves and stones or whatever else they find.

The mini beast area is under a large buddleia bush which attracts butterflies in summer. There is a bug hotel made of bricks, stones, bamboo, sticks and various natural items. With magnifying glasses and big moveable logs, the children are able to hunt for mini beasts like worms, spiders, centipedes and ladybirds.

They are always fascinated when they find something and with adult support learn about being gentle and caring.

We have lots of flower tubs which the children water with their mini watering cans. And, along the fence, we have recycled plastic milk bottles filled with bedding plants.

Outside activities cover all 7 areas of the Areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum;

·        Communication and language

·        Physical development

·        Personal, social and emotional development

·        Literacy

·        Mathematics

·        Understanding the world

·        Expressive arts and design.


Published in the Sunday Mirror

Being outdoors and engaging with nature is great for our kids! Studies have shown that outdoor activities have a positive impact on children’s physical health as well as their mental development, motivation and self-esteem.

Shirley and Jill, co-owners of Abacus Nursery School, told us all about the benefits they see these children get from being outside: “Outside play offers our children a sense of freedom, relieves anxiety and promotes emotional wellbeing. These experiences also promote the development of motor and observational skills, sensory development, team work, sharing, problem solving and creativity. “

Jill goes on to explain “Gardening is a great way for children to learn about patience, both whilst waiting their turn to plant a seed and in anticipation for their seed to grow. The learning opportunities are endless and include the weather, pollination, recycling, sustainability and a safe introduction to life and death. With staff support, all the gardening and outside activities promote language development and increase children’s vocabulary. This leads to discussion about where foods come from, cooking activities and trying new fresh food they’ve grown.”

Taking the curriculum outdoors is a new way for children to learn and being creative with the natural world is simple. Nature makes fun the focus, so they forget that they’re learning at all. And it’s not just for nursery age children, students of all ages can benefit from taking their learning outside. Stones, conkers and sticks can be used as an outdoor abacus and aid addition, subtraction and division. Not only do they benefit from the unusual and original approach, but they get to study in a relaxed and engaging environment.

The Cultivation Street competition, sponsored by Calliope®, rewards  schools across the country for their fresh approach to harnessing the natural goodness of outside spaces. For more information, visit

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