Before they cut the ribbon at The Maples Day Nursery official opening ceremony on 8th February, founders Stephanie Bennett and Lyndsey Hellyn took time out to explain what the Curiosity Approach is all about.
‘We describe it as a beautiful recipe made from ingredients that have inspired us, shaped by great educational pioneers, delivered by thoughtful and mindful practitioners, to bring magic back to childhood,’ says Lyndsey.
What does that mean in practice? A nursery setting that’s ‘an extension of home, not a watered-down version of school’.
Instead of a busy riot of colour, settings are calm, with neutral natural tones. These are especially valuable for children with additional needs, but Stephanie notes that most children now live in a modern whirl. ‘Tech is fab, we’d never ban screen time – but it’s hard to get a balance. Children aren’t going outside as much. They need an environment that stimulates their senses and brings wonder back to their childhood. Does coming through the door feel overwhelming? Or welcoming, sparking the imagination?’
Loose parts are essential play resources in a Curiosity Approach setting: shapes, corks, blocks, springs. These allow the child to explore, add, create for themselves, in a way that’s different every time and for every child. Using authentic items like those at home – such as real crockery in a play kitchen – encourages children to respect their environment, and learn there are consequences to their actions.
Staff ‘bring their inner child’, with passion, drive, and a willingness to get on their hands and knees and have fun.
The Curiosity Approach draws on the progressive educational theories of Steiner, Reggio, New Zealand’s Te Whariki and a little Montessori, in a modern combination developed over many years of practical experience.
Lyndsey is a former teacher, while Stephanie began her nursery career with an NNEB and now holds a Masters in Early Years Education. Both women run multiple nurseries of their own in Birmingham and Leicester.
The Curiosity Approach evolved from this real-life practice, when the pair discovered they were both independently adopting similar strategies in their settings – from replacing plastic play resources with natural ones, to moving away from formal planned activities to facilitate child-led play.
‘We didn’t invent curiosity,’ says Stephanie. ‘It’s an innate desire. But I began to notice a change in the practitioners coming through: the need to inspire a younger generation. At first we were going to offer training, but we realised it was something bigger than that.’
The Curiosity Approach is now used in 16 countries, and the official Facebook page has 60,000 followers.
Lyndsey attributes their success to two things: the fact that they believe absolutely every word they say, and the simplicity of the concept.
‘Pedagogical theory can be overwhelming – for young staff members learning, and for parents. The Curiosity Approach does what it says on the tin. Be curious. Be adventurous. Play.’
What do the pair say to parents who are concerned their child might miss out by being in such a special environment?
‘Academic achievement is the most common thing for parents to question,’ says Stephanie. ‘Will they learn their ABC, will they learn numbers? It’s understandable: parents feel under pressure to help their child achieve their potential. But they’re babies. They don’t need formal education. Our children learn those things – supported by staff who integrate counting, talking, reading into the child’s own play, not by sitting them all down as a group and doing a worksheet.’
‘The work of the child is play,’ Lyndsey adds.
Curiosity Approach settings are registered nurseries, follow the EYFS, and apply the same requirements for training and staff ratios as any other childcare provider.
The difference lies not only in the unique atmosphere of the environment, but in the culture and values that are embedded throughout too, drawing on Te Whariki’s ‘golden strands’: a sense of belonging and community for children, parents and staff.
‘Everything in The Maples encompasses what we do, and it’s with great pleasure that we’ve been invited here today,’ Stephanie said, as the two Curiosity Approach creators officially opened The Maples Day Nursery. ‘We wish the nursery and the staff every success for those curious, imaginative little children, to create those thinkers and doers of the future.’
The Maples Day Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham is a brand new childcare setting, offering a unique combination: the Curiosity Approach, and an absolute commitment to sustainability.