Blossom Village was something of a surprise to our reviewers. We had expected a good quality nursery, as had become the norm for our visits to the Blossom group, but what we found was a nursery and team taking an entirely new direction – a significant shift towards supporting children with additional needs.
Blossom Village decision to focus in on support Special Education Needs (SEN) has come about as a result of Blossom’s acquisition of Inspire. Inspire was a mainstream nursery with a focus on SEN. We had visited Inspire some time ago and saw many familiar faces now happily adapting to life within Blossom. Inspire closed for the last time in December 2017.
Blossom Village Centre Director, Jacqueline Potgieter and her Deputy Limara Freeman were waiting to welcome our reviewer as we arrived. Jacqueline has a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification and Limara a background in marketing work.
They are both relatively new to Blossom, and are adapting quickly to life in early years education and learning about the children and curriculum. They are both excited by the new direction for Blossom Village and feel that becoming a 100% inclusive setting will really benefit the nursery, the Blossom/Babilou group and the local community.
This is a nursery/preschool, with licenses from both the Ministry of Education and the KHDA. In practice, this means that the nursery is able to cater to children up to the age of 6. We felt that was an important point for parents of children with additional needs, who may well appreciate not having to move their child to ‘big school’ at the age of 4.
Changes are happening rapidly, with one classroom having been quickly re-purposed as a physiotherapy room. It wasn’t quite complete on the day of our visit, but it was nearly there – and equipped with a variety of equipment - and we could see that it will be a great resource for teachers and visiting therapists alike. At present, a physiotherapist visits every Monday, but this will become more frequent as the centre becomes busier.
Jacqueline, Limara and our reviewer discussed day to day life at Blossom Village. Despite the move towards more inclusion and SEN provision, this remains a predominantly mainstream nursery, and one operating a combination of the English EYFS and Blossom’s own sensory curriculum, Skygarden (Skygarden was created by the group CEO, Zahra Hamirani). This regular inclusion of sensory exploration will be another bonus for children with additional needs, and we feel that the EYFS is flexible enough a framework for children of all abilities.
The nursery is housed in a once residential villa, and has several distinct areas and classrooms at ground and first floor. There is a large outdoors area, with a variety of challenging climbing equipment, balance beams, a splash pad and sand area and a new garden/growing space which the children with use to grow their own herbs and vegetables.
For the hotter months, there are two soft play areas (one for younger and one for older children) and a gym. On the morning of our visit we saw a class having a gymnastics class with qualified gym instructors. They were using a variety of specialised gymnastics equipped and the children were enjoying practising their forward rolls! This gymnastics class was offered as part of the regular curriculum, but optional (paid) extra-curricular activities are also available – including ‘Monkeynastics', Soccerkids and Ballet. These are delivered in the afternoon sessions.
As we toured the garden we saw one class having their Arabic lesson outside in the beautiful weather. Arabic and French are both taught here, on a one language per week basis. Children receive 15-30 minutes language tuition per day, depending on age.
Upstairs there is an open room, which classes can use for library time, role play activities and ICT time - there being a bank of ipads and desks, all fitted at child height. Adjacent to this is the language classroom. The nursery has a music teacher and all children have a music lesson every day.
Classes for the very youngest children are on the ground floor, and the baby room has an adjacent sleep area with clean, individually labelled cots. We felt the nursery had a fair standard of cleanliness, although some areas could do with some organisation and tidying.
Throughout the nursery there are indications of the Blossom groups stated aim of being an ‘eco’ nursery – recycled materials are used in each classroom and clever ideas such as water cooler bottles as light shades are in use throughout the building.
Blossom Village has a well equipped kitchen and all food is prepared by the in house cook each day. Parents report being extremely satisfied with the food and most make use of the service, although some do bring their own food. Allergies and special diets can be catered for. Food is charged separately to the standard tuition fees.
Staff to child ratios here exceed Ministry of Education guidelines. They range from 1:3 in the youngest group to 1:8 for children aged 41-60 months. We did feel that the ratio 1:6 for children age 12-20 months would make for a very busy toddler room!
We spoke to Emma, a young Irish teacher who had joined the Blossom group in August 2017. Emma had found the transition from an Irish preschool to Blossom very easy, saying that the quality of provision was easily on a par with home. Emma felt that at Blossom she had more assistance with basic classroom tasks such as cleaning and hygiene, meaning that she had more time to devote to activities with the children and planning. Emma found had found her new colleagues at Blossom Village warm and welcoming and said that everyone was ‘friendly, willing to help and supportive’.
Before we left, we spent a few minutes chatting with Jenifer, Mum to Isla (3). Isla had joined Blossom with the Inspire cohort. Isla has Downs Syndrome and Jenifer had felt that she was extremely well supported and cared for at Inspire. The family had approached the move to Blossom with some trepidation, not least as Jenifer had withdrawn Isla from another Blossom branch some before joining Inspire. Jenifer had experienced concern over increasing class sizes at the previous Blossom branch, but so far she had been impressed by Blossom Village and Isla was adapting well. Isla had been kept within her previous class grouping and with the same staff, something that had eased the transition. Jenifer was happy so far and felt positive about the future.
This is a nursery embarking on a new venture and amalgamating two teams of staff. Although there are bound to be some teething problems, none were immediately obvious to our reviewer - the management appear to be handling this with ease. We saw lots of happy and engaged children at Blossom Village, and we would love to see more nurseries have a strong element of SEN inclusion and support.
We look forward to revisiting this nursery to see how the new relationships progresses.
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