Welcome to the pre-school without any lessons...
Sheffield Small School offers a play-based alternative education for youngsters aged three to six.
It opened to give parents a more ‘gentle’ choice, away from the Government’s early years curriculum, after expanding from a parent and child group in the city.
And the school already has 10 children on roll, with hopes of registering with Ofsted to get nursery funding later this year.
Chloe Forfitt, the project co-ordinator, said: “The school came about as I have a three-year-old daughter and I wanted something different – but there wasn’t anything so I decided I had to create it myself.
“I wanted play-based education for her because I think that is incredibly important for that age group, rather than sitting down and doing reading and writing.
“The baby-and-me group I went to was an alternative to what we felt were really full-on toddler groups. It was really gentle and calm.
“We do look at literacy and numeracy but through songs and games. There are many learning opportunities through what we do, only it’s without the formal sitting down learning.”
A day at Sheffield Small School – which is based at the Regather Works co-operative in Sharrow – starts at 9.30am with free play for the youngsters.
Youngsters are encouraged to let their imaginations lead, without input from adults.
Play is intended to help the young pupils learn negotiation and social skills, problem solving and memory. Building with wooden blocks aids learning in maths, and songs helps literacy.
Chloe, a teacher trained under the Steiner method, added: “The adults sit out of play because kids play completely differently when there are adults involved.
“As the adult you’re a powerful figure in the classroom and if you just leave youngsters to play they come up with all kinds of scenarios.”
Every morning youngsters can choose to make their own bread, to be eaten at snack time, and enjoy crafts such as potting seeds for outside.
The day has a regular rhythm, with songs at certain points, and always includes outdoors time from 11.30am to 12.30am.
Parents meet up with the school to enjoy time in the outdoor space – with nature, food growing and using natural material all embedded into the school’s ethos.
Days end with a story.
Chloe, who lives in Heeley, added: “Because the day has such a clear rhythm the children feel really secure. They know what’s going to happen at certain points and they respond to it really well.
“All of the toys we use are open, so a cloth could be used for dressing up, it’s all about imagination.”
In the future it is hoped the school could even take on older age groups. Staff are working with Hathersage Primary School for guidance.
“It won’t suit everybody but it is nice to have an alternative,” said Chloe, aged 34.
“In my experience children all learn at their own pace.
“I have known children in my classes at school previously who learned to read and write when they were nine. One boy we tried everything with, and eventually he taught himself by reading the subtitles on Ray Mears programmes.
“The children are still learning numeracy and literacy but we don’t have letters and numbers explicitly out there.
“There are a lot of things you need before abstract theories like letters and numbers, such as the dexterity to hold a pencil.
“If you try to teach a child heady subjects too early, before gross and fine motor skills, creative problem solving and socialisation, among many other things, those foundations to learning are shaky.”
The Small School runs every Wednesday and Friday from 9.30am to 12.30pm. Classes cost £7 but concessions are available. Call Chloe Forfitt on 07940 893 920.