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While many nurseries let staff be cuddled but never allow them to cuddle children, the Cuddles Day Nursery group feels no such qualms. Its nurseries let staff embrace children whenever required, if it means the child gets the emotional support they need. This is one of many approaches that have collectively led to all three of the group’s nurseries achieving an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted inspectors this year.
Situated in Poole, Cuddles Day Nursery Canford Heath, Cuddles Day Nursery Parkstone and Cuddles Day Nursery Poole Stadium all achieved ‘outstanding’ in 2017. Inspectors said: ‘Staff support children's emotional well-being exceptionally well. Babies relish cuddles’.
Emma Murray, nursery manager at Cuddles Day Nursery Parkstone, says: ”We don’t have a rule for physical contact. Whether emotionally or physically, if a child looks like they need comfort they will get a cuddle. This helps children develop secure attachments with key people, gives them a positive self-image and builds their sense of security at the nursery.”
But it’s not just the name that‘s a clue to the group’s success. The group’s Facebook page is filled with quotes such as ‘Play is the highest form of research’ by Albert Einstein. She says: "We are very much influenced by play and children’s own interests. If children show an interest we make it a ‘hands on’ experience."
Tree climbing is problem solving
A quote from the Swiss clinical psychologist John Plaget, known for his work in child development, goes: "When you teach a child something, you take away forever the chance for him to discover it himself".
This may sound like a recipe for disaster but the line seems to influence the nurseries’ daily operations. Three-and four-year-olds regularly go into the woods and climb trees. And because practitioners know what is achievable for each child, they will watch them climb.
“We teach practitioners that children won’t climb further than what they think they can climb", the nursery manager explains.
“One of the things looked at is ‘sustained shared thinking’ – a skilled practitioner will know when to lead a child, when to stand back and observe, and when to intervene to support independent and creative thinking.
“We don’t want staff to take away the learning process but encourage creative thinking, problem solving, brain building.”
Such problem solving sees the nurseries let two-year-olds cut grapes using safety knives that have blunt but serrated edges, which help to develop children's fine motor skills and also their mark-making skills.
Inspectors visiting Cuddles Day Nursery Canford Heath said in its August Ofsted report: ‘Staff ask questions very skilfully that encourage children to think critically and solve problems. For example, when sand is too dry for sandcastles, staff ask children what they can do. Children learn through trial and error as they add water and persevere until they achieve the right consistency.’
They added: ‘Staff observe children's learning meticulously and analyse their progress precisely.’
Nose blowing and teeth brushing
Referring to Cuddles Day Nursery Parkstone, inspectors found: ‘Children have excellent opportunities to learn to do things for themselves’ and approved of the fact that each room has 'a nose blowing station that children use independently’.
With a box of tissues and a mirror on standby at a nose-blowing table in every room, children learn about taking responsibility for their own personal hygiene. Even babies learn the art of nose blowing as staff model the action of blowing their nose and hold a tissue to an infant’s nose.
‘Staff support healthy lifestyles superbly’ noted inspectors, who celebrated the sight of children brushing their teeth after lunch and their ability ‘to state that sugar is bad for their teeth’.
Explaining the teeth brushing Ms Murray says: “We’ve been doing that since we opened. Sometimes children would come in and their teeth weren’t brushed. So they all brush after lunch.”
Interest in a child’s overall care was picked up by inspectors who described how staff at Canford Heath ‘pay meticulous attention to following children's home routines’. Staff do this by making home visits before children start nursery and getting parents fully involved in their child's development at home by giving them learning resources to use at home. They even set 'cheeky challenges' for parents to complete with children such as counting how many numbers a child can see on the way home from nursery.
Inspectors saw evidence of children’s physical prowess, remarking in Parkstone’s Ofsted report: ‘All children benefit greatly from outside play in all weathers. Staff provide children with excellent opportunities to develop their physical skills.’
Canford Heath’s nursery manager Fran Morgan puts children through their paces with a physical workout at the local gym. Trained as a qualified gym coach, she helps the children build core skills with forward rolls, practice climbing and improve their balance with low and high beam work.
‘Children cheer each other on’
Heavy investment of time in children’s physical, emotional and personal skills is coupled with a focus on social skills, resulting in well-behaved children. Inspectors said at Canford Heath: ‘Children's behaviour is exemplary and staff are extremely positive role models. Children play tremendously well together and cheer the achievements of their friends.’
Cuddles Day Nursery Group was founded in 1999 by its director Linda Duly. Emma Murray says: “We’re lucky the director has invested a lot of time visiting the nurseries. The group invests a lot of time in children and families and their overall support as well as staff training."
Staff attend classes on boys learning, brain development, SEN, food hygiene, and a host of other subjects. Every staff member is taking paediatric first aid classes with the group now aiming to go through accreditation for the Millie’s Mark award – the early years’ sector’s new quality mark for excellence in paediatric first aid.
Referring to the group's recent 'outstanding' hat-trick, the nursery manager adds: “We are very proud of achieving ‘outstanding’. We are always aiming for staff and children to achieve high. We will continue to aim high."