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Choosing a nursery?

We asked eight respected local heads to give their TOP TIPS for parents starting out on their child's educational journey. Here's the experts' list of the most important things to consider...

Choosing the right nursery setting for your child – one in which they will thrive and develop right at the start of their school career – is a big deal. So don’t make any decisions until you’ve read this!

Clockwise, from top left: Nik Pears; Hilary Blake; Dee McConkey; Mike Piercy; Gareth Doodes; Moyna Edmondson; Claire Corkran and Alison Cordingley

1. Look at the bigger picture

Nik Pears, Head of Prep, Kent College Pembury, says:

Working parents are increasingly choosing schools with nursery offerings over private nurseries because of the ‘added extras’. Think about the setting of the Nursery, what is it you’re after for your child? For example, our Nursery & Prep is set in 75 acres of beautiful woodlands – we offer forest school and have just opened our brand new extensive outdoor adventure play area. Little ones in the prep have access to the senior school facilities – including an onsite indoor heated pool, sports halls and fully equipped theatre. Being in a school with older pupils can be extremely beneficial to younger children who have inspiring role models around them from a very early age.

Kent College Nursery & Prep takes girls from 3 years old and offers wraparound care from 7.30am – 7.30pm. Next Open Morning, Tues 5 March, 9.30am-12pm.

2. That ‘feeling’ is as important as facilities

Hilary Blake, Headteacher, Sacred Heart School, Wadhurst says:

The most important element of any school is the people, whether they are pupils, staff, parents or visitors. Choosing the right Nursery is not necessarily just about having acres of fields or expensive equipment. It’s about that warm feeling and the confidence you get from knowing you’ve found a nursery where your child can feel at home and will be happy; a setting where the staff know the needs of every child – right from the Nursery staff to the head teacher. Sacred Heart provides precisely that level of care: small enough to know each child as an individual within a nurturing and enabling environment.

Sacred Heart opened a new purpose-built Nursery in 2018, which admits children following their second birthday and offers wrap around care from 8.00am to 6.00pm. Go see for yourself at one of their free Parent & Toddler mornings – a fun session of play and refreshments on 1st and 3rd Fridays each month from 9 – 10.15 am.

Photo: Sacred Heart School

3. Focus on play

Dee McConkey, Head of Pre-Prep, Junior King’s School, Canterbury

On visiting any good nursery, parents should be struck by a bright and engaging environment and one in which they feel truly welcomed. Research has highlighted the significance of play in children’s development and progress. Therefore the facilities provided should be organised in such a way that children are encouraged to experience a variety of play opportunities that will excite, motivate and challenge them. Parents should be able to see that the learning opportunities found indoors are reflected and given equal status outdoors. Ask most parents to tell you about a happy childhood experience, it will more often than not, have taken place outdoors. Whether you are in our purpose built, timber framed nursery or experiencing the play opportunities offered by Forest School, at Junior King’s we provide an environment that is innovative, industrious and above all, fun.

Junior King’s nursery accepts children from the age of 3. Flexible sessions are available from mornings, including lunch, 3 times per week, to five full days per week as required and wrap around care available from 8am to 6pm. Next Open Day, Sat 18 May 2019.

4. Choose somewhere that sparks curiosity

Mike Piercy, Headmaster, The New Beacon, says:

Children are naturally curious – a classroom should be full of (managed!) chatter; questions and answers. In our Reception class this is most definitely the case: the boys are often seen around the grounds, in the woods, in the outdoor classroom learning about their world and environment. Any learning environment, to nurture curiosity, must be an open one which allows children a voice, the opportunity to offer opinion. The curiousity that starts at nursery age can set a child up for life. I often interview older boys in practice for a senior school interview. I encourage them to expect the follow-up question ‘Why?’ when they have offered an opinion – with greater maturity, at the next level of learning, we can gradually expect them to rationalise and justify their thinking.

The New Beacon are opening a new term time nursery for girls and boys rising three in September 2019. Session are from 8.40am – 3.20pm with wraparound care extending the core hours to 8am – 6.30pm. Next Open Day, Fri 22 March, 1pm-3pm.

Photo: The New Beacon

5. Talk to staff – and children

Gareth Doodes, Headmaster, Dover College, says:

A child should feel as comfortable in their nursery setting as the parent. From the initial telephone call to the moment you step into the nursery to explore make sure you engage with staff and pupils directly. They should be welcoming, friendly, fun and warm – you are trusting your most prized possession with them after all! Talk to the staff, who should be comfortable discussing any aspect of the nursery provision. Talk to the children at the nursery, who should be enthusiastic about what they are doing (although some may be shy!). Look for creativity. Lots of paint, glitter and glue. Children should be able to play outdoors and run around, too. Watch the interaction between staff and pupils which should be natural and not forced. Happy staff and happy children ensure high levels of well-being and mental health.

Situated within the Junior School the Dover College nursery offers children aged 3 and 4 years of age a vibrant, lively and varied provision from 8.15am to 5.30pm during term time. Next Open Morning Sat 2 March, 10am.

6. Confidence is key

Moyna Edmondson, Head of Nursery, Marlborough House School, says:

Those all-important first steps in developing a young person’s unique, individual character begin the moment they join us in Nursery. It is here that our youngest children develop their confidence and independence and are given the opportunities to form their character in a safe and secure environment.  This may be in Forest School where they finally conquer climbing that tree using wonderful determination and courage, or caring for our Nursery animals with the necessary responsibility and empathy. Look for a nursery that can provide an environment that celebrates the individual, feeds their curiosity and ambition and instils an ‘I can’ attitude that will stay with them as they journey through school and later life.

Marlborough House School Nursery is open to children the term that they turn three years old. Flexible sessions available to suit individual needs, Breakfast Club starts at 7.30am and After School Care Club runs until 6pm. Next Open Morning, 1 March from 9.30am 11-30am.

Photo: Dover College

7. Think ‘where next’?

Claire Corkran, Head, Sutton Valence Prep, says:

Keep the next step after nursery in mind when you look around any childcare settings. School nurseries provide a natural progression and can support families as they transition from nursery into ‘big’ school. School routines, teachers (some of whom will teach a child throughout their educational journey) and other pupils quickly become familiar, helping the child settle in quickly. At Sutton Valence Prep School, the Nursery is next door to the Reception classes and the children regularly play together during break giving them confidence in the next stage of school life.

Sutton Valence Prep Nursery is now open 50 weeks a year and takes children from 3 years old. Full wrap-around care available from 7.30am until 5.45pm. Next Open Morning, Fri 15 March from 9.30am.

8. It has to work for you

Alison Cordingley, Headmistress, Fosse Bank School, Hildenborough, says:

I’d advise parents to look at the whole picture and think about what works for them as a family. An increasing number of families find themselves in the position where both parents work. They need to ask themselves a series of questions. Do they need childcare all-year round? Do they need daily wrap-around care? Do they need access to a train station? At Fosse Bank we have made huge changes in the last year or so to make life a little easier for working parents. Our families are happy knowing that the same familiar school staff are caring for their children. Inside, or, more often, out and about in the woods, parents know that when they walk the ten minute route to school from the railway station after work, they will be picking up tired, happy, and probably muddy, little people.

Fosse Bank Nursery: Breakfast Club from 7:30am and After School Care to 6pm. Holiday Club, now extended to 50 weeks per year. Next Open Day, Sun 10 March, 2pm-4pm and Open Week, Mon 11 – Fri 15 March.

Go see for yourself: Most of these nurseries accept applicants for 15 hours of funded care a week and some 30 hour funded places, where applicable. They also offer flexible childcare – from a couple of mornings a week right through to full wrap around care 5 days a week. Give them a call to chat!

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