Under Starter’s Orders

Taking your first step onto the schooling ladder can be daunting, and that’s just for the parents. Where to start, how to decide, what to choose and how will your little one fare? Charlotte Peterson investigates the world of the under fives.

The first day of nursery is a big one, whether you still have a babe in arms and you’re heading back to work for the first time, or you have a two-and-a-half year old toddler raring to go and racing you to the nursery gate. Some will take it in their stride (as you check your phone constantly and count the hours until you see them again), others will be slower to settle in and may take some coaxing across the threshold.

So how to go about preparing for this first step onto the educational ladder? As with most big moments in life, it’s best to be well prepared and well versed in the options open to you

What are the options?

What is it you’re looking for? Are you going back to work full time or part-time and need morning until evening childcare on your way to and from the commute?

Perhaps you’re looking for a few mornings or afternoons of nursery so that your child can socialise and both you and your child gain a little independence. Or have you stayed at home, done a great raft of music, art, dance and sports classes and are now considering which option will be the right choice to set them off on the national curriculum?

Nursery schools – offer education for children aged from two-and-a-half to five. They are registered with Ofsted to provide childcare and are usually open part-time. Your child’s first 15 hours a week are free. Private nurseries are also able to provide free nursery places if they are registered with both Ofsted and the local council. Any charges for extras or additional time will be invoiced separately.

Pre-school playgroups – offer places for small groups of children aged from two and-a-half to five to learn and play together. Playgroups are usually open part-time and often the responsible adult needs to stay for the session.

Day nurseries – offer childcare for babies under one up to children of five, and are always registered with Ofsted. Usually open all year round from 8am to 6pm. For three- and four- year-olds, they follow the same Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum as nursery schools.

Independent schools – some provide education for children aged from three before moving into the Reception in the academic year in which they turn five, and then up to 11. Schools must be registered with the Department for Education and are usually only open part-time, in keeping with school terms. The first 15 hours a week are often free – check whether that is the case on an individual basis.

Childminders – offer paid-for childcare for more than two hours a day, usually in their home but sometimes in yours, and always registered with Ofsted. Their duties include providing a safe and loving environment and helping with children’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development.

How to choose a nursery or pre-school?

As with any open day, it’s good to arrive with a few questions up your sleeve, which will help you to be mindful of not just the environment that welcomes you, but also to discover what goes on behind the scenes, and day-to-day for the children. An impartial educational website, gettherightschool.co.uk has compiled these questions to help parents in their decision making:

What resources and equipment do you have to support children’s learning?

How are activities planned and organised to meet the Early Years Foundation Stage?

Do you provide any additional help and support to under-fives with special educational needs?

How many children do you have attending?

What sort of activities do the children do?

How is the average day/session organised?

How do staff manage bad behaviour?

What qualifications and experience do the staff have?

• How long have you been open?

• Do you have outdoor and indoor areas for children to play and learn?

• Do children have a rest during the day?

• What time do sessions start and finish?

• Is there a sibling policy?

What to expect when it’s time to start

Practicalities – Set the alarm. It may be the first time you’ve had to do so in quite some time, but there’s a great deal to be said for starting the first day on the right foot, rather than on the back foot. Many eager beaver babies will be up with the lark anyway, but toddlers will be much more aware that this is the start of something new, and so if you’re calm and organised they are more
likely to be so too. To avoid any ‘I shop and I shop and I have nothing to wear’ moments, it’s a good idea to choose what they’re going to wear the night before, so they rise to a happy day with a plan in place. Keep breakfast options limited so that is a short affair, keep a toothbrush downstairs to avoid any last minute disappearances upwards, and you’ll be ready for the off. Scooters, if
they’ve mastered them, are great for the usually short journey to the nursery.

Do check, but many nurseries don’t need children to be toilet trained when they start; this will doubtless come during their time
there as they watch older children visiting the loos and want to do so themselves.

Katherine Dawson, Head of Early Years at Parkgate House Nursery says, “We have the a nutritious packed lunch if one is needed. Most nurseries will offer a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.

When you are due to pick up, always come armed with something to manage rapidly declining blood sugar levels. Being ‘on show’ is exhausting for young children, and it is incredibly common for a child who has been impeccably behaved, smiley and helpful for the teachers all morning, to be beside themselves with exhaustion and hunger the minute they’re handed over to you.

Reintroducing a lunchtime nap is often a good move to ease them through the first few weeks, even months.

Settling in – The first few weeks of the new routine will be exciting and exhausting in equal measure. Some nurseries have settling in sessions and events to support the children with their first day nerves. Katherine Dawson of Parkgate House Nursery says, “We hold a teddy bears’ picnic before they start where the children meet their teachers and other new starters in a relaxed fair-like event.

There’s a puppet show and lots of fun stalls like hook-a-duck and the lucky dip. We also hold parent workshops where we talk about the curriculum and strategies to support at home, and an ‘All About Me’ sheet is sent home so their teachers know about their favourite toys and so on.”

Trinity St Mary’s C of E Primary School in Balham has just welcomed two year olds into the school – already sweetly named ‘Tiny TSMers’, and understands that a child’s first official schooling experience is a big step for both children and parents. David Wiggin, Chairman of the Board of Governors acknowledges, “This is why we feel it is important for parents and teachers to join
together to make this experience a caring and successful one for everyone concerned, reflected in the passion and goodwill felt by the whole school to our new ‘Tiny TSMers’.” Some nurseries offer the chance to have a little sleep during the day as very young children are bound to be tired. Kay King, Principal of Young England Kindergarten says, “The length of the school day will gradually be increased throughout the first one to two weeks. Parents should follow the advice of their child’s teacher as they get to know your child.”

Separation anxiety – This is a normal part of a child’s development and nothing to fear or to try to avoid. Babies will often cry when separated from the person who they are with the most. At a later stage, a child will often cry at drop-off but will then be distracted by an activity and focus on that  instead. Soon enough, a bond will develop with a teacher and the child will feel secure in his or her company – saying goodbye to you will become easier. Kay King, Principal of Young Kindergarten England says, “Separation anxiety is entirely normal, and reassurance from both parents and teachers will really help. A transitional toy can be a comfort to children and praising them a collection will also help their confidence.”

Talk to your child about how it can be hard for us all, but that you’ll see each other soon enough and they’re going to have a lot of fun in the meantime. As you drop-off, don’t loiter. It’s best to have a quick kiss, hug and goodbye and then walk away. Hanging around will only prolong the concern and keep them focused on you rather than all the adventures that await. Eva Toth and Elisa Sicking-Bressler, Co-Heads of L’Ecole du Parc advise, “Remember the second day is often harder for the children than the first, as they now realise that being left at nursery is a recurring event.

We encourage parents to say goodbye instead of disappearing without explanation to build up the trust, and children gradually understand that they’re not being abandoned and that someone will always come to collect them at the end of the session!

Easy steps to lessen separation anxiety

Be consistent at drop-off and pick-up

Have a goodbye ritual and stick to it

Reflect on your feelings about separation – are your feelings influencing theirs?

Play out the goodbye scenario together at home first

Take a favourite toy to keep them company

Visit the nursery before day one so it’s familiar

Any new stage in life – or simply a change in routine at this young age – can cause a range of emotions, but keeping calm, being well prepared and taking it in your stride will be the route to smoothing the path that lies ahead for your little one.

What am I entitled to?

Free nursery education
All families in England are entitled to free part-time childcare or early education for 38 weeks of the year – a total of 570 hours which you can use flexibly with more than one childcare provider – from 1st January, 1st April or 1st September following your child’s third birthda.

Last year, there was a national roll-out of 30 hours of free childcare for working families which can also be used flexibly, even ‘stretched’ to cover 52 weeks of the year. Find out more details and what your family would be entitled to at www.childcarechoices.gov.uk.

Free education nursery providers
Those offering free nursery education for three- and four-year-olds include maintained nursery schools or primary school nursery classes.

Maintained nurseries are council-run, usually open 9am to 3.15pm and free to all parents/carers, offering up to 15 hours a week. Many provide before and after school childcare too, but generally do not offer nursery places for two year olds.

When to apply
The closing date for applications for nursery places in a maintained primary school for entrance in September 2018 was in February 2018. Each year follows a similar timeframe and planning ahead is essential. Visit childcarechoices.co.uk or your local borough’s website for further details.

What is the early years foundation stage?

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is how the government and early years professionals describe the time in your child’s life between birth and five years old. This important stage helps your child get ready for school and prepares them for future learning. A child’s early years experience should be happy, active, exciting, fun and secure, but it must also support their development, care and learning needs.

Nurseries, pre-schools, reception classes and childminders registered to deliver the EYFS must follow a legal document, the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, developed with a number of early years staff and parents.

The EYFS Framework sets out:

The legal welfare requirements that all those registered to look after children must follow in order to keep your child safe and promote their welfare.

The seven areas of learning and development to guide professionals’ engagement with your child’s play and activities as they learn new skills and knowledge

Assessments that will tell you about your child’s progress through the EYFS

The Early Learning Goals – the expected levels your child should reach at age five, usually the end of the reception year

You are able to get information about your child’s development at any time and there are two stages (at age two and age five) when the professionals caring for your child must give you written details on their progress

For more information about the Early Years Foundation Stage visit www.foundationyears.org.uk.

Ideally, there are a number of skills that your child should have mastered by the time he or she starts school.

Self-care – Washing hands, asking for help if feeling unwell, going to the loo on their own

Independence – Looking after belongings and keeping them tidy, being away from parents

Communication – Reading stories, looking at picture books, talking about own feelings, practising writing name and spotting it when written

Writing – Tracing patterns and colouring in, experimenting with different scribbles, holding a pen

Counting – Counting objects, number rhymes and counting games, recognising some numbers when written

Listening – Sitting still and listening for a short while, following instructions, understanding the need to follow rules

Sharing – Taking turns and sharing toys, playing games with others and interacting with other children

Curiosity – Learning about the world, exploring new activities or environments, asking questions

Getting dressed – Buttoning and unbuttoning clothes, putting on socks and shoes, using a zip and putting on a coat

Eating – Opening packed lunch and packaging independently

Routines – Getting ready to leave on time, putting on uniform, good bedtime and mealtime routines

Source: Dolphin School

Nursery Schools

Al-Risalah Nursery
10a Gatton Road, SW17 0EE
020 8767 0716
From three to five years

Bertrum House Nursery
290 Balham High Road, SW17 7AP
020 8767 4051
From two and a half to five years

Eaton Square Nursery
28/30 Eccleston Street, W1W 9PY
020 7931 9469
From two to four years

Gateway House
St Jude’s Church Hall
Heslop Road, SW12 8EG
020 8675 8258
From two and a half to five years

Marmalade Cat
St Andrew’s United Reform Church
1 Altenburg Gardens, SW11 1JH
020 8265 5224
From two and a half to five years

Mouse House
25 Mallinson Road, SW11 1BW
01622 833331
From two and a half to five years

Nightingale 1 Montessori Nursery School
St Luke’s Community Hall
194 Ramsden Road, SW12 8RQ
07958 567210
From two and a half to five years

Noah’s Ark
Endlesham Church Hall
48 Endlesham Road, SW12 8JL
020 7924 3472
From two and a half to five years

Noah’s Ark
St Michael’s Church Hall
Cobham Close, SW11 6SP
Noah’s Ark
West Side Church Hall
Melody Road, SW18 2QQ

Parkgate Nursery
80 Clapham Common North Side, SW4 9SD
020 7350 2452
From two and a half to four

Streatham & Clapham Prep School Nursery
42 Wavertree Road, SW2 3SR
020 8674 6912
From three to five year

The Little Red Hen Nursery School
Christchurch Hall
Cabul Road, SW11 2PN
020 7738 0321
From two and a half to five years

Trinity St Mary’s Nursery School
6 Balham Park Road, SW12 8DR
020 8673 4166

Day Nurseries & Pre-Schools

Abacus Ark
St Paul’s Church,
St John’s Hill, SW11 1SH
020 3733 1921
From three months to five years

Abacus Early Learning Nursery
135 Laitwood Road, SW12 9QH
Also in Streatham (7 Drewstead Rd, SW16
1LY) and West Norwood
020 8675 8093
From nine months to five years

Active Learning Fulham
Grove House, Bagleys Lane, SW6 2QB
0330 838 1969
From three months to five years

Balham Day Nursery & Pre-School
36 Radbourne Road, SW12 0EF
0333 920 3046
From three months to five years

Balham Rainbow Nursery
3a Ramsden Road, SW12 8QX
020 8355 0892
From four months to five years

Bright Horizons Wandsworth Common
Day Nursery and Preschool
4 Northside, SW18 2SS
0370 218 5309
From three months to five years

Bright Horizons Clapham Village
4-14 Brommels Road, SW4 0BG
0330 134 6448
From three months to five years

Bright Horizons West Hill Day Nursery and Preschool
38 West Hill, SW18 1RX
0330 057 2970
From three months to five years

Bright Horizons Northcote Road Day
Nursery and Preschool
119a Chatham Road, SW11 6HJ
0333 305 7539
From three months to five years

Elm Park Nursery
90 Clarence Avenue, SW4 8JR
020 8678 1990
From three months to five years

Grove Hall Nursery
59 Balham Grove, SW12 8BD
020 8673 1943
From five months to four years

L’Ecole du Parc
French: 64 Garfeld Road, SW11 5PN
Bilingual: 2 Stormont Road, SW11 5EN
020 7993 6460
From two to five years

Little Wombles
Broomhill Road, SW18 4JG
07884 253398
From six months to five years

Magdalen Nursery
The Lodge, Magdalen Road, SW18 3NP
020 8870 4022
From three months to five years

Playtime Wandsworth
Spectrum Way, off Broomhill Road, SW18
020 3735 9410
From three months to five years

The Baby Room
195 Lavender Hill, SW11 5TB
020 7228 8277
From birth to five years

The Baby Room
18 Old Town, SW4 0LB
020 7498 9450
From birth to five years

The Baby Room
52-54 Webbs Road, SW11 6SF
020 7924 2722
From birth to five years

The Eveline Day and Nursery Schools Ltd
30 Ritherdon Road (Head Offce), SW17 8QD
020 8672 7549
From three months to five years

The Eveline Day and Nursery Schools Ltd
Seely Hall, Chillerton Road, SW17 9BE
020 8672 0501
From three months to five years

The Eveline Day and Nursery Schools Ltd
Geraldine Road, SW18 2NR
020 8870 0966
From three months to five years

The Eveline Day and Nursery Schools Ltd
14 Trinity Crescent, SW17 7AE
020 8672 4673
From three months to five years

The Eveline Day and Nursery Schools Ltd
22-23 The Boulevard, 205 Balham High
Road, SW17 7BW
020 8675 7276
From three months to five years

The Eveline Day and Nursery Schools Ltd
89a Quicks Road, SW19 1EX
020 8545 0699
From three months to five years

The London Preschool
2 Knightley Walk, SW18 1GZ
020 3319 7330
From six months to five years

The Northcote House
67-69 Salcott Road, SW11 5TG
020 7924 3696
From one to five years

The Woodentops Nurseries
24 Thornton Road, SW12 0LF
020 8674 9514
From six months to five years

The Woodentops Nurseries
1 Poynders Road, SW4 8NX
020 8675 5033
From six months to five years

Young England Kindergarten
St Saviour’s Hall,
St George’s Square, SW1V 2HP
020 7834 3171
From to two and a half to five years

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