Bumble Bee Nursery can be found in the Al Ramla district of Sharjah, not far from the beautiful heart of the emirate, Cultural Square. On our visit, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com discovered a very well run nursery, with a passionate leader, and well qualified staff undergoing continuous personal development and refresher courses...
As with many nurseries in the UAE, Bumble Bee Nursery is housed in a re-purposed residential villa. Under the same ownership as Honey Bee Nursery in City Walk Dubai, this is a thoughtfully branded nursery, with the ‘bee’ themed signage prominent from the street. We parked in one of several parking bays immediately outside the nursery and entered by buzzing the security gate.
On our visit, we passed through a second security measure, a low rise gated fence, in to the play area and then on into reception. Inside the bright and spacious reception area (yellow and black being the predominant colour scheme – obviously!), we are given a warm welcome by two smiling receptionists and sit down to wait for Sally Al Shakarchi, Nursery Manager and owner of both Bumble Bee and Honey Bee Nurseries.
An Iraqi National who has built her life and business in the UAE, Sally is keen to give a very forthright account of her career in childcare and Early Years education.
Sally first opened Bumble Bee Nursery in 2008. Her education and prior career had been as a Computer Engineer – quite far from the world of babies and pre-schoolers! However, a search for a kids club or after school facility for her own children quickly showed a gap in the market for good childcare and Sally decided to take the plunge and open her own nursery.
Initially, Bumble Bee Nursery did not implement a formal curriculum. Sally, who throughout our discussion spoke very candidly, told us though she has always had high standards for her nursery, she was at first unaware of the various curricula available. She is, however, passionate about the need for ongoing education and from the early days sought out ways in which to improve the quality of education on offer at Bumble Bee.
The first curriculum used at Bumble Bee Nursery was the International Preschool Curriculum. However, in 2009, Sally stumbled across the very well regarded Nursery Teaching training institute in Dubai, Early Years Educational Services (EYES) and began attending many of their professional development courses.
As a result of this ongoing learning, Sally quickly came to understand the many strengths of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), a very popular Early Years curriculum from England. Bumble Bee Nursery was quickly converted to the EYFS and staff were offered Cache training and qualifications*.
[*Cache qualifications are qualifications awarded by the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education - the UK's leading provider of vocational qualifications for those working in the care and education sectors. Cache qualifications are divided into five different levels, ranging from Level 1 (entry level) to Level 5 (for experienced professionals).]
Continuous Professional Development for both Sally and her team remain a very important facet of life at Bumble Bee Nursery and Sally proudly shows our reviewer a wall covered in certificates!
Staff are given refresher training in practical areas such as First Aid, Health and Safety and hygiene. Often parents are included in this, ensuring that they are also aware of their responsibilities in these areas (such things as closing the security gate as they leave, or keep unwell children at home are particularly important).
The EYFS is focused around three ‘Prime Areas’ of learning; Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional Growth and Physical Education. We asked Sally to talk our reviewer through the Bumble Bee approach to these three important areas of early education.
75% of the children who attend Bumble Bee Nursery are Emirati and as such enter the nursery with English as a second language.
Parents are generally keen for the children to acquire English before starting school, and this is an important element of provision at Bumble Bee. Arabic is used during the all-important ‘settling in’ period, to help the children form bonds with staff and each other, but after that all communication is in English, barring the regular Arabic and French lessons (delivered by Baby Arabia).
Children spend a minimum of 30 minutes per day outside when the weather allows. The outdoor area is equipped with a climbing equipment, play houses and has plenty of free space for bikes and trikes.
All children also receive a weekly gymnastics lesson and Sally tells us that inside the classrooms, the teachers plan daily activities aimed at improving fine motor skills and readying small hands for handwriting.
Personal, Social and Emotional Growth
Sally is keen to point out that the nursery places great emphasis on relationships with children and their families in order to help the children consider Bumble Bee a home away from home.
This starts with a gentle settling in process (with children slowly building up the amount of time they spend at nursery day by day) with lots of daily feedback to parents and becomes an ongoing routine of two way communication between home and nursery. Sally feels that children who leave Bumble Bee Nursery are well equipped to start school. Day to day life here is ‘child led’ and allows children the space and freedom to lead in lots of different aspects of their day.
In addition to the daily curriculum, children who stay later into the afternoon can try an expanded range of activities, including cooking, stories telling and puppets and science.
Sally extends her candid words to the topic of working with children with additional needs. Her perspective is very clear – if Bumble Bee is unable to fully cater to the needs of a child then she will try to guide the parents to a more appropriate centre.
The nursery houses 6 classrooms from babies through to FS1 (age 4). In the baby room the ratio of staff to children is 1:3 (with a maximum of 6 babies under the age of 1 in the classroom).
For the older children, there are a maximum of 18 to a class with 1 teacher and 1 assistant (1:9). This is in line with local recommendations but somewhat over what we would consider the ideal ratio (closer to 1:6 is preferred).
Throughout the nursery classrooms are clean, beautifully decorated (with a combination of murals and the children’s own art work) and well equipped with toys, books and resources.
Just off the main reception area there is a library/reading space (we noticed lots of both Arabic and English books) and a soft play/imaginary play area. We did feel that some of the classrooms were smaller than average, and hope that teachers take advantage of the additional areas as often as possible,
Children are able to attend Bumble Bee from 7.00am – 4.00pm daily and there is a bus service serving Sharjah, Ajman and Dubai to help cater to the needs of working parents. A healthy menu of fresh food is prepared in house daily.
Although Bumble Bee is clearly very much Sally’s nursery and passion we were keen to speak to parents and teaching staff to gain their perspective.
Teacher Maryam has been with Bumble Bee for a little over 1 year. She leads a class of 18 Foundation Stage children. She is Cache qualified and delighted to be able to implement the EYFS. She cites teamwork and collaboration between the teaching staff as a real strength and says that the teachers ‘teach with their hearts in a warm and nurturing environment’. Maryam had recently attended a child development course to improve her knowledge in this area.
Before leaving, we spent time chatting with two Bumble Bee Mums. Both had seen older siblings and family members ‘through’ Bumble Bee and had been happy to enrol their younger children.
The parents loved the healthy food (which had helped them to overcome some fussy eating issues) and practical winter and summer uniforms. One Mum felt that she would like the classrooms to be bigger to allow the children more space to run around indoors, especially in the hotter months.
That said, she felt that Bumble Bee’s greatest strength was giving children confidence and getting them ready for a successful start at school. Both praised the regular communication – mostly via an app where they receive 2/3 photos daily and regular written updates.
We enjoyed our visit to Sharjah and Bumble Bee Nursery gave us the impression of being a well-run, well-equipped and happy nursery, albeit one with some space limitations.
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