Children enjoy outdoor classroom

(BBC) – Kim Trehar is kneeling down on a tarpaulin in a shady corner of a field. She has mud on her face and it’s streaked across her jumper.

The little girl next to her is one of a number of children making muddy patterns on a pristine sheet of paper with her fingers.

There’s an excited chatter as mud and water are splattered liberally.

Ms Trehar is a teacher at Litchard Junior School in Bridgend and this is what a classroom now looks like for the youngest children in Wales.

This is the Foundation Phase – the assembly government’s flagship early years scheme.

Borrowed largely from Scandinavia, the idea is to free children to learn not by rote but through play.

It allows them to use their initiative and relies for its success on a ratio of one adult to every eight children.

Ms Trehar said: ‘I love it, this is really different… they’re learning but they don’t think they’re learning… they’re gaining listening skills and counting skills and they’re working in a creative atmosphere.

‘The old way of teaching could be one adult to 30 children. Now it’s one to eight and you can see they’re getting more out of it, having more one-to-one time with an adult.’

Caroline Webster’s daughter Lauren is a bright, inquisitive four-year-old who already knows that she wants to be a doctor, and a firefighter at weekends.

Ms Webster said: ‘It is very different but it is a much better way of education. It allows freedom for the children to experience things and gain in confidence.’

But there is a growing sense of concern from head teachers about the long-term future of the Foundation Phase.

It’s intensive but expensive, and teaching unions have long worried that the ambition of the scheme might not be matched by appropriate funding levels.