Finding the Best Nursery
This month’s back to school edition of our #MimisFriends series is close to my heart, for many reasons. The path from nursery, to choosing a big school, for my daughter did not run smoothly. And as she has just started, I can now reflect upon our experiences. I wanted to dedicate this month’s guest post to a brilliant duo, both friends of mine, who helped guide me personally in making the right choice for my daughter’s next school. Any parent, will find the prospect of choosing a nursery/ school for their child a daunting decision. Looking objectively at our children’s strengths and weaknesses, when they are still young, can be incredibly difficult to do.
I live in Notting Hill and upon the the birth of my first child and daughter I was advised by all my parent friends to register her immediately at our local independent nursery and prep schools, such was the competition to secure a place. So, I found myself knee deep in school admin, for my hospital bed. Whilst, my friend’s advice was correct, I did need to register her early (some schools preference that in their admissions process), what they failed to tell me is HOW you know which nursery/ school is the right fit for your child. And, that is how I made my first mistake. I found that by the time my daughter was 4 years old, the school I had committed to from the outset, was just not a great fit for her, or indeed us. My views on the sort of school I wanted her to go, where at odds to what I had signed up for. So, I found myself with no school at all, just 2 months before the Summer Holidays. In a panic, I called a friend and ex-teacher Chloe and asked for her expert advice.
Chloe Berry and Sabine Hook are the wizard’s of the London/ UK school system. They are both experienced consultants and qualified teachers with a wealth of experience of both the independent and state school system. They are the power houses behind SH Nursery Consultancy which provides support to parents trying to navigate nurseries, schools and the general education system. Not only did they help me find a brilliant prep school for my little girl (against all odds and considerable time pressure), they are a wealth of information and knowledge. I was absolutely thrilled when they agreed to hosting this month’s guest feature; their clients pay considerably for the knowledge and expertise.
So read on….
as this is a master class in finding the right school,
for your little one
finding the right Nursery School ~
Sabine and Chloe have kindly agreed to share their experience, on how to choose the right nursery school for your child. Their checklist, of things to consider, and questions to ask is gold dust to any parent; currently making this decision. I hope it will prove an invaluable start, to finding a nursery that your child can thrive in.
1. Keep it local
When selecting nurseries in London proximity should be a priority as most London parents will be spending huge amounts of time grappling with the rush hour traffic when children start school. Walking to nursery will make for a relaxed and happy morning routine and the fresh air will increase your child’s concentration levels for the rest of the day.
2. Visit the Nursery
Some very over-subscribed nurseries only allow visits a year before entry, or after already paying a registration fee, but this is clearly a crucial step in the selection process. The wide range of nursery provision – in terms of ethos, teaching styles and organisation – allows you to develop a clear idea of what environment will best suit your unique child.
3. Ofsted rating
Another important thing to consider when selecting a nursery is the Ofsted reports and destination schools. Nursery schools are all inspected by Ofsted and when evaluating your choice be sure to read through the report and to make sure the grading doesn’t fall under a ‘good’ rating or preferably an ‘outstanding’. Information on destination schools over the last few years is especially important if you are considering competitive entrance at 4+. Some nurseries have strong relationships with certain schools and manage to get a large amount of children through these competitive entrance assessments year in, year out.
4. Timings of the day
A crucial question parents need to ask is what kind of nursery is best for their child? This all depends on your needs, most importantly the age you wish you child to start nursery and the hours you wish them to attend. Day nurseries work best for working parents who need full day childcare coverage and will often take children as young as 6 months old. Independent nursery schools mostly offer half day places either 3.5 hours in the morning or afternoon with the occasional full time place and can take children as young as 2 years old. Lastly schools with nursery classes will often not take children under 2.5 years old and will offer a similar morning, afternoon or sometimes a full school day. Selecting a nursery attached to a school is probably the least disruptive choice as it avoids the madness of 4+ assessments; your child can remain in the same location and seamlessly work their way up the school. The negative of this choice is that parents have to select a school that will suit your child at a very early age.
5. school admissions & registering your child
London parents will be faced with some of the earliest registration deadlines of all. Parents in some particularly competitive areas of the city may even be allowed to register from three months pregnant!
However it is important to remember that there are many brilliant nurseries that do not demand such ludicrously early interest. To ensure you don’t miss a place at your favourite nursery it is helpful to try and consider your local options before birth so that you can register at birth or shortly afterwards. This is also the case for many schools such as Wetherby Pre-Prep, Pembridge Hall and Sarum Hall that assign places on a first come/first served basis. State nursery or school options usually only take registrations the Autumn before your child would be due to start.
6. Outdoor Environments
It is essential that pre-school children are given access to an outside area and regular gross motor activities, such as ball skills, dance or PE. Whilst viewing a nursery, make sure you ask how often children use outside provision and how long they spend outside during a typical session. The best nurseries will ensure children have a chance to learn and play outside everyday for a minimum of 30 minutes, and preferably more. Forest schools offer outside learning all day, everyday and are remarkably inventive in the way they bring all areas of the curriculum into the outdoors.
7. What happens afterwards…
Although it feels far too early, London parents generally have to weigh up their nursery and school choices simultaneously since registrations happen so close to birth. If you have you heart set on a particular school then try asking if they have a lot of children from one nursery or enquire at a nursery school what destination schools many children are going onto. If you are looking at assessment based schools (ones who will assess children for entrance at 3 or 4+ level) then it is particularly interesting to see how many children are gaining places there annually. Some schools have nursery classes attached which will either guarantee a place in a reception class or will substantially improve your child’s chances of getting a place. Generally though it is best to judge a nursery on its own merit and on how comfortable and happy you feel your child would be there. Certainly never select a nursery school only on the strength of its connections or destination schools.
8. Check the amount of qualified teachers employed
This is something you can check on a recent ofsted report as the qualifications of staff are generally listed at the bottom of the report. However to get a more up-to-date insight into staffing it would be sensible to call the nursery or ask the headmistress during your tour or visit. Staff holding EYP (Early Year Professional) status will be qualified up to a teacher level but will only be qualified to teach in Early Years. It is not a necessity to have any fully qualified teacher’s to run a nursery but is always an interesting insight into what the school values highly.
9. Nursery school philosophies
In the UK there are a range of nursery philosophies on offer including Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Rudolph Steiner and the government curriculum called the Early Years Framework (EYFS). All the above nurseries adopt a ‘child-centred curriculum’ led by children’s interests and abilities. ‘Learn through play’ is underpinned by teacher’s skilled and focused observations, which allows children to develop at their own pace.
The EYFS is more ‘traditional’ in that there is an increasing emphasis on literacy and mathematical development in preparation for the move into the more formalised Year 1 classroom, whilst still helping children acquire skills in communication, physical development and emotional stability.
The notion of following a rigid, pre-set curriculum is unpopular in the Rudolph Steiner, Montessori and Reggio Emilia nurseries, all preferring a more spontaneous flow of learning stimulated by children’s interest and ideas. The Rudolph Steiner Early Years curriculum does not include the formal learning of the three R’s – Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic – until a child is 7 years old, in the belief that it is more important to first develop social and emotional skills in a creative and secure environment. A typical Rudolph Steiner setting has regular repeated activities include painting, crafts, storytelling, puppetry and the domestic arts such as cooking, cleaning and care for self and others. Whilst the concept of a child as an ‘active learner’ has come to form the basis of the EYFS philosophy, it could be argued that this is a consequence of the success of Montessori and Reggio Emilia nurseries in this respect.
Final words of wisdom…..
Despite these general points to consider when making your choice of nursery, you must remember that the most important factor is, of course, your child. It is impossible to accurately predict what kind of learner your child will be at 2-and-a–half, so selecting a range of nursery schools should give your son or daughter the best chance of getting a good fit. Try not to select five identical Montessori nurseries, or limit yourself only two nurseries attached to schools. You might find the style of learning is completely inappropriate for your son or daughter. If you have, for example, an active boy who needs to learn through movement, then a well-equipped and frequently used outside environment will be a must. If your daughter, for example, is already showing high levels of concentration and an interest in letters, then make sure you choose the nursery that will continue to extend her learning and provide stimulating and challenging activities. This might involve bringing forward phonics teaching in an age-appropriate way, or ensuring that there are regular reading books going home. The most vital criteria is of course choosing a happy, supportive nursery who will work with you and your child effectively.
Balancing all these elements in your choice of nursery will provide the best possible chance for successful, stimulating and happy Early Years education, and crucially will provide the perfect foundations for your child to progress confidently on to their first pre-prep or junior school.
introducing Sabine, Chloe and their educational consultancy…
Sabine lives in west London and has two little boys aged 4 and 2. After university Sabine trained as a primary school teacher in London and after a year living and teaching in Egypt she returned to London as Head of Early Years and noticed there was no where offering specific early years support to London parents. First time London parents were often overwhelmed trying to decide on this first important step in their child’s education and staying on top of the early registration deadlines and the choice available. As a result she set up SH Nursery Consultancy providing support in all areas of Early Years education including finding and selecting the best nurseries, preparing for assessments, helping to support children’s learning and development, education mapping and school advice.
Chloe is both a parent to an energetic toddler and an experienced teacher having worked in a popular inner London independent school. She specialises in 11+ preparation for the most competitive senior schools and assessing for all entrance levels from 8+ onwards. Chloe is the Junior and Senior School Consultant at SH Nursery Consultancy.
SH Education consultancy offers a range of services ranging from preparing for 3 year nursery placements to 11+ school assessments. They offer nursery and school advice, and help parents find the right school for the child, with placement packages and bespoke reports. They are one of the first consultancies to offer a specialty in early years and nursery advice and one that has fostered strong personal and professional relationships with the most popular schools and nurseries in London.