Help! My child is nearly 3…

Ruth Sibly, Head of Early Years

What should I do next?

Every parent or carer wishes for their child to be happy and safe when they are left at a setting during the day. As a practitioner I know how crucial this is for a child to thrive. Statutory school age in the UK starts from the term after a child turns five, although the majority of children will attend a Reception class. This helps to provide a strong foundation for the years ahead in Key Stages 1 and 2 (5-11 year olds). Your child can start in Reception in the September following their fourth birthday. 

Before this point there are a range of options available from birth (some settings take babies as young as six weeks) up to five. These can be daycare settings, local childminders, family members such as grandparents, private nannies or playgroups. All setting types come under the umbrella of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). However, how a provider chooses to implement the EYFS is generally up to them. This means that there is a broad spectrum for you as a parent or carer to choose from and it can be a challenge to know the difference between them all! All children are different and will thrive in different environments. For some parents this may be the first time anyone other than themselves has looked after their child on a regular basis so it’s important to make sure you understand what will be on offer and are happy and confident to leave your child in their care.

Before starting school in Reception it is important to consider your child’s needs at their current developmental stage, as well as what you need. When looking at a setting it is worth considering location of your home and work, your working hours (if returning to work), a potential setting’s opening hours, food that will be provided, sleep provision, staff qualifications, ratios of staff to children and flexibility offered in sessions. The next step is to view a range of settings as this will help you make an informed decision about what is best for your child, and for you. For example, staying at home with a relative/nanny or attending a daycare provider or childminder will tend to be a home-based approach with time for play, meals and naps built in. The hours will generally match a parent’s or carer’s working hours. 

After the very early years of birth to three comes a range of nursery provision, sometimes called ‘pre-school rooms’ in a daycare setting. The Cornflower Nursery at Headington School is a school-based Nursery which falls under the EYFS, as does the Reception class. Our setting is suitable for children who are developmentally mature enough to cope with a more structured setting than a daycare provider. We operate a six term entry point and accept children from the term after they turn three. We pride ourselves on offering a bespoke approach for each child as an individual. We have a dedicated early years team with qualified teachers in the Nursery and Reception classes who work closely with a team of qualified learning assistants. When you approach us we will work with you to create the best pathway for your child. 

The Cornflower Nursery has a strong focus on the prime areas of development; communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development. These areas are crucial foundations. As an academically selective school later on, our early years department has some more formal sessions than you might expect to see in other childcare settings, alongside a play based approach to the early years curriculum.

When you enter the Nursery, or Reception, classrooms you will see a range of play-based resources out. These have all been very carefully planned for, and changed, adapted and enhanced based on children’s interests and developmental needs. For example, recently we observed an interest in penguins in Reception and the children asked to learn about them. We planned this for them and added a penguin play tray with penguin story books and information books. In Nursery, the children were interested in patterns and numicon shapes so we added numicon baseboards to make pictures and peg boards that they could use to make intricate patterns. An adult could also work alongside them to guide and challenge them by encouraging repeating patterns of two or three for example. 

The children join in with a variety of school-based lessons such as Phonics and Maths. One of the key things which differentiates a setting like Cornflower Nursery from a typical day nursery is the wealth of specialist expertise to which the girls have access. We have a specialist teaching team who take the children for sessions in Music, PE, French/MFL, ballet, computing and Forest School. The days are busy and full on! We cater for a morning and afternoon snack as well as a family dining style lunch to develop table manners, trying new foods and using cutlery. In Nursery parents have the option of choosing which sessions their child will attend. We have a minimum of two full days or three morning sessions. Some families choose a dual nursery approach and might use a daycare setting for some days and our school nursery for others. This tends to work well with the youngest children who join us.

Another huge benefit to a setting like our nursery is where and how it sits within the wider school. The Cornflower Nursery is not a standalone nursery but part of an exciting school community at Headington which offers education to girls from 3 to 18. The Nursery sits on the Prep School site where we educate girls 3-12. While it may seem overwhelming to think that your tiny three-year-old will be joining a school where they could remain, develop and flourish for the next 15 years, there are significant advantages for each girl who joins our nursery. Being a part of a larger school set up allows for enhanced opportunities to develop skills in communication and confidence. For example, each year we hold an Early Years Nativity performance where Nursery and Reception work together to learn a repertoire of songs to perform to tell the Nativity story. The children have a shared playground and older year groups often chat to our youngest children over the famous pencil fence. When there is a whole school event such as a jubilee party or a Christmas Fair we are very much a part of that. Our department is incorporated into a structured school day that fits in with the rest of the Prep School timings, helping familiarise girls with the kind of formal timetable they can expect during the next stage of their education. The Nursery teaching hours run from 8.30 am to 3.20pm and there is an option for wraparound care from 7.45 pm – 6.00 pm once your child has settled. This is a long day for our youngest children and we would strongly advise that this is only accessed after a discussion with your child’s key person. 

Joining us at the Cornflower Nursery will allow your child to build strong relationships with staff within a familiar environment where they feel safe and secure. The curriculum will stretch and challenge them as well as support them where they need support. This builds a strong foundation to their future life at Headington, and ultimately beyond! Girls really thrive here and it is such a privilege to see them on the first steps of their educational journey. The best way to find out if any setting is best for you is to take a look round – and we are always very happy to welcome parents and answer any questions they may have to help them make this important decision.