Last Updated: Monday, December 12, 2022

Building the Ambition at Cowgate Under 5s Centre

What is this?

This practice exemplar from Cowgate Under 5s Centre in Edinburgh contains a series of five short video clips that showcase the high-quality provision on offer at the setting.

Who is this for?

All practitioners involved in early learning and childcare.

This practice exemplar from Cowgate Under 5s Centre in Edinburgh contains a series of five short video clips that showcase the high-quality provision on offer at the setting. Each of the five videos explore a different aspect of the centre's provision:

  • Curriculum rationale
  • Role of the adult
  • The indoor learning environment
  • The outdoor learning environment
  • Supporting creativity and imagination

The setting has a strong commitment to adopting the principles for early learning pedagogy as advocated by Friedrich Froebel. These principles are visible across the entire life and work of the setting and feature prominently in the practice of all practitioners.

How to use this exemplar

The videos can be used separately to help ‘drill down’ into an aspect of early learning and childcare provision, or these can be used as a series to think about the totality of high-quality early learning and childcare. Each video has a set of accompanying questions that aim to provoke discussion/thinking about the aspect of practice being exemplified. If you intend using the videos together to examine the totality of your practice, you may also wish to consider using section 8 of Building the Ambition.

Reflective questions:

  • Are you sure there is an agreed idea in your setting of what high quality looks like?
  • In what way have you in your setting agreed what makes appropriately challenging adult/child verbal interactions?
  • How skilled are the practitioners in your setting at initiating high quality learning? How do you know?
  • In what ways has your setting been successful in engaging parents in high quality learning experiences?

Explore the exemplar

What was done?

As part of continuing engagement with the aim of sharing effective practice, Education Scotland worked with children, parents and staff of Cowgate Under 5s to create a series of short videos that offer insight into the provision on offer.


Cowgate Under 5s Centre was inspected by Education Scotland in March 2014 and was awarded evaluations of excellent in all aspects.

What was the impact?

In March 2014 Education Scotland reported that:

“Children’s learning at Cowgate Under 5’s Centre is outstanding. From the earliest age, children are encouraged to explore and investigate the world around them, both indoors and outside. In all areas of the nursery, highly knowledgeable staff provide comfort, encouragement and stimulation. Because their work is of the highest quality, children develop secure relationships with caring and trusted adults and make excellent progress. The nursery has strong and shared philosophies and values. Adults place trust in children and allow them to drive their own learning.”


Curriculum Rationale

Word file: Transcript - Cowgate - Froebelian Approach (23 KB)

PDF file: Images from Froebelian Approach (790 KB)

Reflective questions for Curriculum Rationale:

  • What are the key influences on your practice?
  • As a team, what are your beliefs about education, children and childhood? Consider how often you make time to discuss such issues with colleagues in your setting.
  • Do you recognise any of what you have heard and read about the ‘Froebelian’ approach in your own practice?
  • Do you have a strong rationale for what you do? How do you communicate that with others? In what ways have you involved children, parents and colleagues in the design of your rationale?

Role of the Adult

Word file: Transcript - Cowgate - Just enough support (14 KB)

Reflective questions for Role of the Adult:

  • What strikes you most about the role of the adult in this video clip?
  • In your view, how were the ‘right’ conditions for learning set?

Creating the conditions for learning

Word file: Transcript - Cowgate - Welcome to our world (15 KB)

Reflective questions for Creating the conditions for learning:

  • What is the message that you want to convey to children, parents/carers and visitors when they come into your setting? To what extent have you been successful in conveying this message? Have you asked parents and visitors what their first impressions are when they come into the setting?
  • Do you think that yours is a setting that parents would want to be in? Have you asked them?
  • The parents on the video talk about the importance of creating 'fluidity' for children, regardless of age. Do you think this is important for children? What factors help to create fluidity? In your setting, are children encouraged to go to places that they find interesting?
  • As a staff member, do you enjoy being in the playrooms with children? What do you like? Is there anything that you don't like? How could this be improved?

Inventing, building and creating

Word file: Transcript - Cowgate - Inventing, building and creating (14 KB)

Sequence book examples

PDF file: Sequence book - How to make bread (713 KB)

PDF file: Sequence book - Making purple paint (257 KB)

Further reading

Add to the discussion with this extract from the publication 'Seeing, Making, Doing'. 'Art to order: Identical egg-box daffodils?' considers the role of the practitioner in enhancing young children's creativity.

PDF file: Art to order: Identical egg-box daffodils? (61 KB)

This presentation challenges some common misconceptions about creativity and learning. As you use the presentation, you should reflect on the conditions for creativity set within your own setting. To what extent do children have the opportunity to design their own learning? What, if any, are the constraints on children's thinking, and how could these be removed?

PowerPoint file: Creative Revolution - Truths and misconceptions (1.7 MB)

Reflective questions for Inventing, Building, Creating:

  • At Cowgate, some of the building blocks are situated at the big window overlooking the nursery garden. What inspiration do you think that children could draw from this? Where are the construction experiences located in your setting? What inspiring objects/materials do children have around them? Could there be further consideration given to inspirations/stimuli?
  • At Cowgate, if children want to paint, they organise their own paints. Sequence books help children to understand process. To what extent do children in your setting take ownership of their own learning in the same or a similar way? How might you offer children more responsibility for their own learning.

The Great Outdoors

Word file: Transcript - Cowgate - Freedom of Outdoors (16 KB)

Further reading

Section four of the Outdoor Learning: Practical guidance resource focuses on making use of your school or centre grounds.

Reflective questions for The Great Outdoors:

  • Look at your outdoor setting. Where are the opportunities for children to experience ‘ice in the belly’? What could you add to encourage children to test their own limits?
  • In your setting, how do you find an appropriate balance between gathering observations of children and ensuring that they have the kind of freedom that they need to discover and experiment?
  • What kind of opportunities do children have in your setting to experience ‘vestibular movement’? How important is this in your setting? Do staff discuss the ways in which such experiences can be enhanced or improved?
  • What is the most ‘interesting’ area/object in your outdoor setting? When was the last time you changed or added something of interest to your outdoor space?