There is little more nerve wracking then dropping your little one at nursery for the first time. Will they be happy? How on earth will they settle when at home they rarely leave your side for a second? Will someone cuddle them if they cry? Will someone cuddle you if you cry? (We are only half joking on that last question.)
Nursery provision in Dubai offers an overwhelming choice of nursery styles, locations and curricula, made all the more confusing if you are new to the UAE. Here is the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com guide to making the right choice for you and your child.
Making a shortlist
Start by shortlisting nurseries that will make your life easier. As ambitious as parents today can be, there’s little good in choosing a highly academic, little Einstein producing nursery that sees you landed with a hideous daily commute. Factors to consider include:
• Proximity to work, home and the school(s) of your older children. Schools and workplaces often open brutally early in Dubai. Can you get everyone where they need to be whilst maintaining their (your) sanity? If you can’t manage the commute, does the nursery offer transport? If you are a stay at home parent does the nursery run offer a chance to stop for a coffee and a whip round the supermarket on the way home?
• Term time only or all year round? It may come as a surprise to parents that many nurseries in Dubai operate on a term time only basis. Great if you can make it work (especially if you plan to leave for the long, hot Dubai summer) but not so helpful if both parents are working with only a standard 4 or 5 week holiday allocation. If you do decide to use a term time only nursery, can you afford a nanny/home help to cover the dates the nursery is closed? Does the nursery have the same closure dates as your older child’s school? Siblings with differing mid-term holiday dates can be a real challenge to co-ordinate!
• Is the nursery affiliated with a school/school group? The recent spate of school openings has reduced the pressure on school waiting lists and place availability in Dubai, but a nursery that offers your child priority for your preferred school may well be a sensible long term strategy.
• Curriculum. If you plan to return home any time soon, it may make sense to choose the curriculum widely offered in your home country. That said, this is probably more relevant for primary and secondary age children, but do read up on the curriculum offered and make sure you feel it will meet the needs of your child.
• Languages. Most nurseries operate with English as their first language but you will find others that lead with French, Arabic and German. Many English speaking nurseries will offer language programmes as a regular activity.
Once you have made your shortlist spend a little time perusing the websites of your chosen nurseries. Look at the fee structure and make sure it is affordable. Are activities (music, yoga, sports etc.) included in the basic fee or charged separately? Do they cater for children of your child’s age (many nurseries cater for children aged 12 months + and not below). Spend time on social media and parenting forums asking questions about your selection. As yet the KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority) does not publish nursery inspection reports (as it does for schools), so your best bet for reliable and honest feedback will be other parents. This may help you to narrow your field still further. Check also if the nursery is on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. As well as a write up, you can, if we have had sufficient feedback, find a tab for What Parents Think...
Most nurseries will offer a guided tour by appointment, but there is little harm in dropping in to ask a few questions and book your tour. A sneak peek at a nursery when they are not expecting you is are great way to inform your gut feeling. Do you receive a warm welcome? Does the nursery feel calm, happy and well organised?
Take a Tour, armed with questions
Before you take a tour, write down a list of questions to ask. Nurseries are often busy and noisy – it’s easy to come away without having asked everything you need to. Remember that you are interviewing the nursery for the fantastic privilege of caring for your child. Ask questions, then ask a few more.
What to ask and what to look for
Every parent will have their own priorities for childcare, so do think about what exactly it is you want for your child. Are you looking for somewhere peaceful and nurturing for a young baby or are you looking to have your 3 year old up to speed and ready to start school? That said, there are a few generic questions that we think every good nursery should be prepared to answer:
1. Do the buildings and equipment look well maintained?
2. Are all the entrances and exits secure and monitored? Are there clearly signed fire exits?
3. Does the nursery have documented health and safety procedures that they are willing to share with you?
4. Does the nursery employ a qualified, full time nurse?
5. Do other staff have Paediatric First Aid training?
6. Are there quiet, comfortable and age appropriate sleeping areas for the children?
7. Are the staff appropriately qualified to teach the curriculum offered? A nursery that offers the EYFS should have lead staff qualified with Cache Level 3 Diplomas as minimum. Primary school teachers are often employed in nurseries in Dubai – parents should be aware that there is a very different skill set and these teachers may need additional training to bridge the gap between their qualification and nursery work.
8. How will the staff help your child to settle? How is separation anxiety dealt with?
9. How is feedback on your child given? At what intervals? How will any concerns be raised and addressed?
10. What is the adult:child ratio for each age group?
11. What is staff turnover like? How many staff are retained year on year?
12. Does the nursery have a good balance of indoor and outdoor play areas?
13. How the children are kept engaged and interested throughout the day – is there a good balance between structured and free play?
14. Do the children have access to classes from visiting teachers? E.g. ballet, football, swimming and music.
15. Do they children have regular access to books? There should be a mixture of books which are accessible for independent use and story time books which are read by the staff.
16. Is there are wide range of resources and play equipment? Look for creative resources, (paints, glue, age appropriate scissors, modelling clay, collage materials), construction toys (blocks, simple Lego, tubes and linking shapes), physical play equipment (hoops, balls, balance beams, sand and water play) and imaginary play (dress up clothes, role play areas e.g. kitchens and shops).
17. How are the different age groups separated? Is there scope for play with both older and younger children?
18. Is television offered? When and for what purpose?
19. How can parents support the nursery and be involved in the nursery community?
20. Do they children and staff look happy? The most important of all questions! Staff who look stressed or frazzled will not be able to nurture your child in the same way as those that enjoy their jobs and are relaxed at work. Look for happy and smiling staff interacting with warmth with the children in their care. Look for children who with relaxed body language who are enjoying their day and have confidence in their teachers and surroundings.
Finally, evaluate your nursery choice with care, but never disregard your gut feeling. Listen to your instincts only you know your child best.