Pre-nurseries, nursery schools, forest nurseries, childminders, playgroups and daycare; there is a bewildering array of options for parents to choose from for the first milestone in their child’s
educational journey. Your little ones will learn to socialise, take turns, to wait, grasp a proper pen grip, to focus on tasks, build confidence and to love learning at this early stage. Much of what children learn at this point is laid out in the government’s Early Years Foundation Stage framework (EYFS) which dictates that the focus should be on seven areas of learning and development and the expected levels your child should reach by the age of five so they are prepared for school. The seven areas are: communications and language; personal, social and emotional development; physical development; literacy; mathematics; understanding the world and expressive arts and design.
Some nurseries will go above and beyond and additionally teach the soft skills of resilience, confidence, problem solving and independence, skills that are arguably much needed after the two-year hiatus due to Covid.It can be an exciting time for your child, but it can also be an anxious time so it’s imperative that you find the right fit. The pandemic caused some children to lose confidence, become more anxious and less independent; some may have additional social and communication needs. The only way to discover if your child’s wellbeing will be taken care of is to visit and ask lots of questions, not least what provisions are in place to teach resilience. “Make sure you ask plenty of questions, to really understand what the ethos of the setting is,” advises Natalie Atkins of The Kindergartens.
Adds Amy McManus, owner of Little Green Nurseries in Clapham Junction: “I always say to parents, ‘Ask the managers how long the staff have been there’ as it’s a good indicator of the staffs’ happiness,” she says. “A child’s personal, emotional and social skills must be solid before they go to reception. Parents are more aware that it’s not just childcare but what’s on the curriculum that matters. Understanding the world is such an important part of Early Years,” says McManus.
Emma Yates, The Butterfly Preschool registrar, adds: “To consider the nursery as the place where instruction is given is one point of view. But to consider the nursery as a preparation for life is The Butterfly way of doing things.“
|HELPING CHILDREN THRIVE AT NURSERY|
|Research suggests that high quality early childhood education and care have positive and long-lasting impacts on a child’s life. What might that look like in a nursery setting?
Foster curiosity – Children are born with an innate curiosity that allows them to explore their new world as they discover each sensory input; as they learn to crawl, walk, and talk, their curiosity ignites a passion to learn.
Enable exploration – The nursery environment should allow children the freedom to explore while being safe and well organised, prompting learning and problem-solving.
Encourage imagination – Imagination supports learning and the acquisition of knowledge. Children draw on their imagination in play to revisit prior experiences such as a day at the beach, which in turn expands their knowledge and understanding of the world.
Promote independence – Learning to do things for oneself, including making decisions and taking on responsibility, is key to independence and a crucial life skill – a major focus of the EYFS curriculum. Children build confidence through independence and it boosts physical development too, particularly with hand-eye co-ordination. Everyday tasks, such as hanging clothes, pouring drinks and tidying away toys, make strong foundations for handwriting and drawing.
Providing such a flexible and rich environment needs highly skilled staff who seek to draw out the very best from all the children in their care.Source: Little Green Nurseries
Staff to child ratios are dictated by Ofsted so that’s one box ticked. Check
out what emphasis is placed on core skills such as literacy and numeracy, ask how
the curriculum is taught so that it inspires learning. Furthermore, find out how the nursery allows parents to check on their child’s progress or concerns.
Adam Woodcraft, Early Years Co-ordinator at Dolphin School/Noah’s Ark Nursery on Northcote Road, agrees that staff are the bedrock of any school. “Choosing a nursery is about being confident to trust the staff to look after – and I think nurture – each child’s growing interests and abilities. “Nurseries should be places of fun, developing strong foundations and growing relationships.
The way in which children and adults relate to each other is far more important than the resources or the buildings, although these should be chosen and used in the best way for the children to be able to safely enjoy making discoveries and trying out new skills.”
It is worth checking out the actual building as you do need to know whether your child will be exposed to both inside and outside facilities. McManus warns: “Resources can be deceiving; they might look pretty but
are staff actually using them?” Also check the breadth of the curriculum. Are sports on offer, or dance, practise in buttoning-up jackets and tying shoelaces.
“Offering a range of creative activities gives children the opportunity to attempt things in the familiar surroundings of their ‘second home’ such as learning a new language, song or physical skill,” adds Adam Woodcraft.
Last year Dolphin School/Noah’s Ark Nursery became part of the primary school building. “Having a key person for each child helped each child settle quickly,” says Woodcraft. They utilise two classrooms, the nursery classroom and the sensory room. In the nursery classroom mainly free-flow activities take place where children follow their own interests and are supported and stretched by adults as they interact with each other. In the sensory room children enjoy group times, Spanish lessons and Rhythm and Movement sessions, for example. There
is a weekly sports session in the hall with a specialist PE teacher from the primary school. There are fortnightly visits to the local playground and library, and even a trip to Bocketts Farm in Surrey.
Co-curricular and creativity is also key at Eveline Day Schools, a family-run business providing a wide-ranging curriculum and a home-from-home environment where children feel loved, cared-for and safe. “We provide a really good foundation for each individual to become the best of themselves,” says Executive Head Eveline Drut. “Our motto is that we go the extra mile and teach respect for one another. We bring up empathetic, emotionally intelligent children who can handle themselves and their mental wellbeing. The things we’re keen
on offering our students, as a minimum, is swimming, speaking a language and playing an instrument.”
|CHANNELLING THE ‘PLAY-DRIVE’ FOR LEARNING|
|Educators working in the formative years of children’s education are keenly alive to the different benefits arising from different types of play. They seek to harness children’s ‘play-drive’ – children’s natural and irrepressible desire to play – and to channel it towards the enjoyment of certain benefits, the nature of which will depend on each child’s unique learning journey. For example, a child whose next step is to develop turn-taking may be provided with a turn-by-turn construction game to complete with other children. The child who would benefit from strengthening fine motor control might be given the opportunity to remove buried treasure from a sand tray using tweezers. Classrooms and homes in which the benefits of play are prioritised in this way are a magical place to be and create an atmosphere filled with the enthusiasm of children playing and the buzz of learning.
Source: Eaton House The Manor Pre-Prep
We all know that over and above all else, your instincts are a good guide and Little Green’s McManus advises to go by the feel of the place. “Don’t go on other people’s views; you must go and see it for yourself.” Visit on a typical day and time when you would be dropping-off and picking up.
Red flags are if the main person doesn’t show you round as you need to start building a relationship with them. “It’s a delicate time for parents,” says McManus “and you need to build a relationship from the outset. It shouldn’t just be via email.”
“Listen for the buzz in the classroom from the care and nurture of the teachers. Is there interaction and respect, is there laughter and camaraderie between the staff?” advises David Wingfield, Headmaster of Eaton House The Manor (EHTM) Pre-Prep School in Clapham.
“Children have a desire to play as engagement so the teacher’s role is for that to happen unencumbered. Schools should be building the classroom around that so children know they are able to make mistakes and teachers should facilitate it and not dictate,” adds Wingfield.
“There is something so profound about teaching maths to four or five-year-olds as they are learning concepts so mind-blowing, or the sound of letters and blending them to form words. Children are learning the most profound things through play. When they’re five or six in a more formal learning setting, that play-based learning can disappear, so schools must get a balance between the two and it is possible.”
|FROM NURSERY TO ‘BIG SCHOOL’|
|Starting a new school can be daunting, especially when you’re just four years old and joining Reception. Our Reception team visits nurseries in mid-June to meet the children before ‘Moving Up Morning’, held in early July, when the children spend a couple of hours meeting their new class and teacher. Fast-forward to September and new Reception children attend school for half-days for the first two weeks, which helps them adjust to school life and the exhaustion it brings! We, alongside many other schools, learnt during Covid that saying goodbye at the school gate works better for separation anxiety versus parents entering the classrooms.
Some of the best things you can do with your child are: help them learn how to dress independently, teach them how to recognise their name in print, and develop their gross and fine motor skills with games like throwing, catching and Lego.Source: Finton House School
Free nursery education
All families in England are entitled to 570 hours of free childcare or early education per year, which is usually taken as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks.
Working parents of three-to-four-year-olds, where both parents are each earning less than £100,000pa, are also eligible for a further 15 hours, ie a total of 30 hours. In addition, there is a Tax-Free Childcare account – the government pays £2 for every £8 you pay your childcare provider. More info at: www.childcarechoices.gov.uk
Free education nursery providers
Those offering free nursery education for three-and-four-year-olds include maintained nursery schools and primary school nursery classes; private nurseries offer the 15 (some 30) free hours as above.
When to apply
Closing date for applications for nursery places in maintained primary schools for entrance in September 2022 was in February 2022. Each year follows a similar timeframe. More info at: www.childcarechoices.gov.uk
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
The EYFS is how the government and early years professionals describe the time in your child’s life between birth and five-years-old. Nurseries, pre-schools, reception classes and childminders registered to deliver the EYFS must
follow a legal document, the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, which sets out: the legal welfare requirement that
all those registered to look after children must follow; the seven areas of learning and development to guide professionals’ engagement with your child’s play and activities; assessments of your child’s progress; Early Learning Goals – the expected levels your child should reach at age five; and the written details the professionals should give you at age two and age five. More info at: www.foundationyears.org.uk