First Steps

Roosha Sue, Head of Eaton House The Manor Nursery gives her tips on choosing the right nursery for your child

Nurseries come in all shapes and sizes, and while it may seem daunting at first, finding a place that suits your child’s needs can actually be quite an enjoyable process. To start, consider both the nursery itself and whether it’s a feeder to a larger group of pre-prep and prep schools. If it is, this will make your life a lot easier, as your child will be based somewhere familiar for at least eight years.

You may think it too soon, but it’s also worth looking at the senior schools that these pre-prep and prep schools are sending children on to, to see if those schools align with your own expectations. Ultimately, though, you should never choose a dark, cramped and limited nursery solely based on the link it has to a prestigious pre-prep or prep school. Remember that two years can feel like a very long time in the life of the average toddler!

At Eaton House Schools, we don’t select children at age three or four, as we believe that certain forms of higher intelligence won’t start developing until the age of five. What we are able to provide is a detailed context for each child as they rise naturally into the Pre-Prep, allowing for a seamless transition. By the time they go up we can genuinely say that we know our families and children very well.

Beware of schools that promise that all children will read when they leave nursery. Some will read early, some will not. It is important for educational development that young children blossom at their own rate and are ‘school ready’ rather than ‘reading’ uniformly. Our Pre-Prep and Prep results prove that nurture not pushing is the right approach for long term success. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, even at the best nurseries.

Locale can be a big factor, too. Nursery can be a great place for parents and young children to bond, and playdates and kitchen table conversations are all a part of the process. At Eaton House School, we have two nurseries in Belgravia and Clapham, both of which are local ‘hubs’ for our families.

Look at the size of the school, and think about what will be best for your child. Some prefer smaller, more intimate spaces with fewer children, while others like larger nurseries, perhaps split into age 3s and age 4s in separate classes, so that children can achieve the maximum amount of socialisation and experience before moving up to the pre-prep stage.

Playgrounds are good for active play – the best playgrounds will have bigger features like water and sand play, wendy houses, or a child-size pirate ship, or other features with plenty of room for children to let off steam. They should be clean and well-kept and have lots of bright primary

colours, toys, and activities to enhance imaginative play. Flower boxes and coloured benches are always a good sign, as they show that the nursery recognises that little ones often need a time out.

High-ceilinged, larger nurseries in mansion houses, on the other hand, can also be very lovely, with plenty of space to learn and play, and sometimes with access to garden squares or parks for games.

Ask about the teacher-to-pupil ratio and whether the play is structured by subject and themed by season. Structured play can allow boys and girls to develop more quickly, and it enhances debate and engagement when topics like ‘work roles’ or ‘under the sea’ are introduced. Inter-active whiteboards are a must to develop literary and numeracy skills, and it’s worth asking how much emphasis is placed on these core subjects, as well as on language skills, like learning basic Spanish.

However, you need to make sure that curriculum-based learning is enhanced by plenty of fun, imaginative play. Here are a few things to ask about: Dress up corner with costumes, Home Corner with mini kitchen and items like a mini Henry the Hoover, hands-on experiences, the gentle introduction of sounds and numbers, craft and art play, circle time, computers, outside play, water and sand play, gym and yoga, individual work, new boys’ and girls’ introductory teas and plenty of trips and holiday celebrations such as Halloween, Harvest, Christmas and Easter together with outings to theatres and museums.

Find a nursery that allows parents to chat to carers daily in the classroom – this is important for your peace of mind – one that observes children daily and plans according to the child’s individual needs. Try to look for schools in which there are three intakes a year in September, January and April. This means that you have a good spread of birthdays across the year, and summer babies aren’t at a disadvantage.

Investigate sibling policies, too. We have one here at Eaton House The Manor Nurseries, as a high proportion of children have brothers or sisters, and this helps to create a more welcoming and comforting family environment.

All in all, the ideal nursery aims to make a difference each day, putting the wellbeing of your little ones at the front and centre of everything they do, and giving each child a fun, exciting and worthwhile learning experience. Happiness should always be the top priority!

A slightly abridged version of this feature was first published in Little London, September 2019