Monday, 7 July 2014

Playschool was never like this

Outdoor fun
In September my boy will be going to 'big school' and it is a big deal. We take a lot of time to choose schools and it is a big thing in a child's life. We will shop for uniform and shoes and he has been to meet his teachers and class mates. When we take so much care about choosing and preparing for school why is it that we don't take nursery quite as seriously ? After all it is the first experience most children will have of being cared for and learning in a new environment.

When my son not much more than a year old I went back to work and he was taken care of by my sister who is a nanny. It was paid work and she undertook it with the professionalism you would expect, but also with a love for her nephew that made it all the more reassuring to me that he was well cared for. The decision to leave work soon after was not a simple one, but it was never because I worried that he wasn't being cared for.

I was employed in a new role a few months later and the pressure to go full time meant I was looking for childcare again. My sister was not available to do the full time role and I accepted that I needed to look for nursery provision for my boy. The difficulty in this, however, was something I just wasn't prepared for. We made some mistakes that I'm going to share so that you don't do the same:

Mistake number one: We didn't shop around 

As we went to Gymboree I talked to other mums who were going back to work and who had their children in nurseries and I took a recommendation from one of them. She told me about a Montessori nursery that she rated very highly. I didn't know much about nursery, but knew enough to decide that Montessori was the was to go for us. I went to look at the one she recommended and it seemed nice enough. I didn't look at any others. I have since realised that the principles of Montessori are adopted by a lot of nurseries even if they do not specify that they are a Montessori nursery.

Mistake number two: We didn't realise that if your child seems unhappy you don't have to leave them there, you can stay. 

I talked to the owner of the nursery who was very laid back and we agreed that my son would have a trial and see how he got on. He was still not even 18 months and I was worried he would be upset, but they assured me he would be fine. I left him with them for a little while. He cried. I went outside to the car and I cried. I came back. They told me he was fine, but he looked unhappy. If I had known better I'd have asked to stay with him and play the first time and try leaving him for a short while the next time.

Mistake number three - I didn't trust or listen to my instincts 

The staff did not give me a settling in plan or any suggestions for how to make his settling in any easier. I took him again the following week and he was upset again and they told me to leave him and that he'd be fine. He wasn't. I wasn't. I talked to the nursery manager who essentially told me off for suggesting my son wasn't settling in and said he didn't need my business and if I was unhappy I could go elsewhere. A good nursery will give you a clear settling in plan and guide you on how best to help your child make a happy transition. They won't insult or humiliate you for being overly protective of your child.

Mistake number four - I was fobbed off when I asked to see nursery policies and I didn't insist on seeing them. 

The final time I took my son to nursery he seemed a bit better, but when I returned he was in a vest on the floor with the door wide open. When I asked why they said he didn't have a shirt only a jumper in his bag. I asked why they didn't put his jumper on him and they looked blank. When they told me he had taken a nap on the floor as they didn't have enough cots and only children who came every day could have a cot I left and knew we wouldn't be back again. When we came for the first look round they had shown me cots for sleeping, nothing was said about a hierarchy of sleeping that included the floor.

Mistake number five - We didn't report what we experienced 

This week there was a news story about Ofsted inspections of nurseries in Croydon that suggests nursery provision in our area just doesn't make the grade. The nursery I took my boy to was judged inadequate and;

"was censured in March, not because there had been an incident, serious or otherwise, but because staff could not demonstrate they understood safeguarding and welfare requirements."

I feel vindicated in my decision to not take him back there. I had tried to find an Ofsted report for the nursery at the time, but it was not available and I didn't know who to tell. I decided that staying home with my son was more important for his welfare and my sanity until he and I were ready for him to go to a pre-school or nursery setting a few months later.  

I don't do messy play at home

This experience informed the process when we looked for the nursery where he has been very happy for 2 years now. Me and Hubbie visited at least half a dozen nurseries and while they were nice we considered all the pros and cons. We wanted somewhere that had outdoor space, friendly children and staff and written policies. The one we chose is not the closest to us, but he has blossomed there and I trust the staff with my precious child. The staff are never to busy to talk to me about my concerns, they advised on how to help him to use the toilet instead of nappies and they have supported me when his behaviour has been difficult at home. It has been a great choice for us. 

Not all parents can or want to stay at home and take care of small children. We rely on others to help us with our beloved babies and trust that they are doing a good job. Of course there will be days when things go wrong. I have signed the accident book so many times it's not even funny. I've had to pick him up as he has had a temperature and I have been mortified when they have told me he has hit another child or said a rude word *whistles innocently*

He has also been on trips where they have taken the bus and walked to the park to feed the ducks. They have sports sessions, play outside, draw and paint, play with sand and bake cookies. He plays nicely with the younger children and has tried foods that I don't make at home. He gets invited to his friends' birthday parties and he has a different 'best friend' every week. 

It might not be for everyone, but nursery has been great for me and for my boy. His happiness and his safety are important to me. 

It's not too much to ask that those things are a priority for the staff caring for him too. 

Learning through play

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