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Some nurseries in the UK have taken the decision not to add screen based devices to the nursery environment, claiming they encourage sedentary behaviour.
However Kiddi Caru Day Nurseries believes ICT plays a very important role in the early years. Childcare director Sue Meekings says: “We support the use of ICT and indeed have a broad range of ICT materials – I am always assessing new things in terms of what benefits they offer. ICT is here and not going anywhere. It will definitely be part of the childrens’ lives going forward – in their social life and work life. What is important is that they use it.
“The major benefit with ICT is that it engages children who might otherwise not be interested. It’s easy to turn children off learning, far more difficult to engage them.”
Children at Kiddi Caru nurseries use Tablets and Easi Ears (the portable digital headphones that can be used for songs and stories). “Children respond to them well because they are both the right size and portable. We can use them inside and outside, as opposed to the large white boards that were all the rage a few years back and were in many ways too much of a challenge,” says Mrs Meekings.
The first Kiddi Caru day nursery was set up in 1998 and now comprises a flourishing chain of 20 nurseries in central and southern England that are part of The Childcare Corporation. Kiddi Caru has established a good reputation for high quality child care in state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly nurseries.
Mrs Meekings, who is responsible for learning and care, and has been with the company for more than 10 years says : “The company is by no means the biggest – although there are between 850 and 900 staff – but we have been able to keep the level of intimacy and involvement high. I know many of the staff personally – and they are all highly valued. We attract people who stay with us – in some ways we’re like a big, extended family. I genuinely believe that staff will rise to the challenge and they do.
“We also invest heavily in our people and their training and go far beyond the basic legal requirements for staff qualifications. Around three quarters of our staff exceed the level of NVQ qualification required. In practice, this means that on a daily basis senior staff are not side-tracked into having to look after more junior staff. We believe that if each person knows what they are doing, this makes for more effective nurseries.”
She supports the proposals put forward by Education Minister Elizabeth Truss earlier this year to make it a requirement for nursery staff to have a C in GCSE maths and English and says “I think it’s positive as it raises the profile for entrance to the sector. However, I don’t think it should be applied retrospectively as some excellent members of staff don’t have this qualification.”
Mrs Meekings acknowledges that the Early Years sector as a whole is in a turbulent state owing to the Government’s thrust towards educational attainment. “It’s a difficult period at the moment. When I joined the Early Years sector play was important, now we seem to be going to a more formal approach. I am an advocate of learning through play – young children learn through doing things and it’s wonderful to see them when they are in the zone learning through play with an experienced childcare professional. I do not believe that more formal learning will achieve more.”
Last year, Ofsted changed the way it handled complaints and began to carry out complaint-driven inspections in response to concerns raised about nursery providers.
Mrs Meekings feels this has changed nursery providers’ whole approach to Ofsted. “Before the changes in September 2012, we enjoyed an open and transparent relationship with Ofsted. Now with the constant response to any complaint it feels as though we are now acting from a position of mistrust. Ofsted’s current approach is to consider everything that has ever happened at a nursery when considering an individual complaint means that red tape proliferates,” she says.
Communication at all levels is vital at Kiddi Caru Day Nurseries. As part of its management policy, Kiddi Caru holds regular parent evenings, distributes monthly newsletters, has dedicated parent notice boards and encourages feedback whenever possible. The company also provides development and learning records for every child that parents can view and contribute to at any time they wish.
The proliferation of social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter and text messages – so much a feature of the way young parents communicate -- has been fully utilised by Kiddi Caru staff to keep parents updated. Says Mrs Meekings: “As a minimum service to parents – if a little one has had a bad morning and, say, was crying when dropped off at nursery, then one of the staff will send a photo and text message to the parent to reassure them that the little one is OK.”
Kiddi Caru is currently registered for 2000+ childcare places, and steady growth is envisaged over the next few years. In terms of the future, Mrs Meekings says: ”We want to grow calmly and quietly as a company -- not double our size in an instant -- and this will help us maintain our high standards.”
To have your say in our debate on whether ICT is beneficial in the early year, go to www.daynurseries.co.uk/news/article.cfm/id/4/Is-it-beneficial-for-children-to-use-ict-in-nursery
First job: Saturday assistant in a pet shop
Favourite book: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
Favourite film: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
Favourite piece of music:It varies from day to day, but I’m a great fan of all the work of Annie Lennox
Best present: There hasn’t been a best present - I’m always delighted to be given anything
Last holiday? A cruise round the United Kingdom