ONE CHILD frowns in concentration while cutting a piece of paper, another pretends to be on a noisy train and a third is absorbed in guiding a toy digger towards a mound of sand. These may seem like mere snapshots of pre-school life, but staff at a Midlothian nursery are putting such moments into a bigger picture.
Thornybank Nursery School in Dalkeith uses "learning stories" to look at how a child is developing. This means closely observing a child involved in a particular activity, building on the skills and interests he or she has shown, and recording subsequent progress.
The nursery aims to identify three learning stories for each child each term. The stories help staff step back from the intense learning environment of young children. They also reduce workload by providing an overview of a child on a single piece of paper.
"I take these learning stories and note if the child is getting breadth and balance," says Audrey Lenaghen, class teacher.
The stories are prompted by the child, rather than being predetermined.
"It's what the child is drawn to. We have a very children-centred approach."
Parents can also feed into the process. One boy's mother showed staff a photograph of her son playing with a digger at the beach. A learning story, therefore, centred around his play with diggers.
"Learning stories also give the parents a much clearer insight into nursery education," she says.
How a child uses scissors can also prompt a learning story. Initially, staff would watch to see if he or she was struggling with the grip, and could cut in strips or around a shape.
"We might provide squares and rectangles to help practise with cutting, then give them a harder shape," Mrs Lenaghen says. "We would try and get them to the next step."
Learning stories also smooth a child's way into primary school.