The Chubby Cheeks group has a total of twenty one nurseries across five emirates in the UAE. A busy and highly popular group, we were keen to see what the team in Sharjah had to offer.
Chubby Cheeks Nursery (CCN) Sharjah is located in Al Taawun – ‘the heart of Sharjah’ and not far from the Dubai border, making the nursery a popular spot for working parents commuting between the emirates. The area is just minutes away from the popular family entertainment spots of Al Majaz Waterfront with its water play areas, parks, fountains and restaurants plus the Al Qazba entertainment zone with Sharjah's famous big wheel.
Located in the ground floor of a residential tower and close to a number of similar towers, many parents walk with their children to CCN. As with all the branches in the group, CCN provides free bus services from a number of surrounding areas. For parents who drive, there are plenty of parking bays directly in front of the entrance.
Our team is met by Roshi Tandon, CEO of the group. Roshi runs the business with her sister, Rachna. Having met Roshi on several occasions now, we can see that she is a passionate advocate of her team and her nurseries.
Also on hand to welcome us is Basma Essbai, Centre Director for the branch. Basma is joined by her deputy, Sam.
The reception area is open plan to a large play area where, as we arrive, we see a lively ball skills class in progress. The children are happily joining in with the baseball activity their coach has planned for them. We were impressed by their listening skills!
There is a large aquarium to the side of the reception desk and a small green corner for nature play.
Basma welcomes us warmly and leads the tour of the nursery. Primary colours are used throughout and there are brightly coloured balloons hung from the ceiling down the main corridor. There are 6 FS1 classes, 2 preschool (approximately 2-3 years) and a toddler room. Reflecting local demand, there is no baby room at present. All rooms are busy with a wide variety of activities and we see lots of laughing and smiling children.
The classrooms are very clean, well decorated and all feature a large mural with inspiring words on one wall. In the toddler room and main play area the floor is covered in safety matting. Rooms to the left of the main corridor have natural light from the external windows, the remainder do not but are well lit with artificial light. There is one large bathroom (clean and with individual stalls) serving all the classrooms.
Tables and chairs are child height and most of the rooms have a comfortable home corner for quiet reading. We also notice well equipped mark making areas in each room, with lots of different materials for children to expand their early literacy skills.
We felt that in one or two rooms the reading books were positioned a little high for the children to reach independently, but when we pointed this out, Basma made an immediate note to have this changed. It was obvious to us that Basma was keen to learn from the experience of our visit, asking our reviewer lots of thoughtful questions and proudly pointing out her team’s ideas and new initiatives.
In all of the classrooms we visit we see a great variety of options open to the children. In some rooms the children are sitting with their teacher for Circle Time, but we notice that children who do not want to join in are not required to do so, but simply given an alternative and interesting activity. We feel that respecting children’s interests in this way is extremely important.
As we tour we see maths and literacy activities, sensory play, arts and crafts, French and Arabic lessons as well as lots of fun active play in the large play area. In one room children are threading with leaves, a way of bringing natural play inside. Whilst we would love for all nurseries to have outside space, (this CCN branch does not, some do) the play area offers lots of physical challenge and a good variety of activities.
CCN offers lots of special programmes and Extra Curricular activities, at this branch most notably a Little Muslims programme, ball skills and ballet.
A naturally warm person, Basma tells us that she wanted to move into Early Years teaching as her own children got older as she so enjoys the inquisitiveness and energy of children in this stage of childhood.
Later Basma will tell us that she believes it is the responsibility of us all to ‘serve society’ and that she believes creating a home from home, high quality nursery is one way in which she can do this. Basma holds a Bachelor degree in English from her home country as well as Cache level 5 Early Years Management diploma.
[*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).]
Basma is Morrocan and on hand to converse in Arabic with the 70% Arabic language families this branch serves. Also reflecting the demographic of the CNN Al Tawaan, corporate literature (such as joining packs, policies and procedures) are produced in both Arabic and English.
Children with additional needs are helped here by the experienced teaching team and by a Speech and Language professional employed to serve all of the branches in the group. A Special Education Needs coordinator has also recently been hired and will join the group in the coming months.
Quality and the opinions of parents are monitored in monthly surveys by the group Quality Assurance Manager. Staff also receive regular ‘happiness’ surveys where they can anonymously (or not) give feedback on their working life and suggest improvements, both personal and for their team and nursery.
We spent a few minutes speaking with Asma, a British teacher who joined CCN in January 2018. Asma’s young son also attends this nursery, and as a parent she is very happy with his progress and care. Asma has noticed that her colleagues talk to children respectfully and that there are warm relationships in all the rooms. When we visit Asma’s classroom she carefully points out activities relating to each area of the EYFS curriculum. She tells us that the nursery has a healthy eating policy and that they try to work with families to ensure that all the children receive a balanced diet. Asma would love for the nursery to have an outside area and would suggest that as the sole improvement she could think of.
Last in our tour we chatted to Zahra, a Morrocan parent of a 2 year old girl in the preschool room. Zahra was quite hesitant about choosing a nursery - this being her first child she felt nervous about the transition for her and her daughter. She visited more than 20 nurseries before selecting CCN! She said she felt at home straight away and had received very positive reviews from friends and neighbours. The location was also a plus point, being convenient for her commute to work. Zahra’s daughter attends the nursery 9am-5pm, five days a week but still rarely wants to go home! Zahra complimented how patient and helpful staff had been with issues such as potty training. Overall she was extremely happy with her choice.
This branch of Chubby Cheeks is open 8am-6pm, all year round, closing only for public holidays. We felt the team offer a good standard of care and education and an excellent value option for local parents (full time care 5 days a week, 3 terms per year is priced at 25,000aed).
Children tend to progress to British curriculum schools on leaving (Scholars International, Sharjah English School are popular) although a significant number also move to the not for profit- Australian/IB curriculum Victoria International School. In 2020, the Chubby Cheeks team made its first move into school ownership and now operates Deira Private School in Dubai where a nursery is also included.
In addition to the Al Taawun branch, the group now includes branches at Discovery Garden, Dubai Investment Park and Karama, Business Bay Al Quoz, International City, Mankhool Burdubai (Orange Tree Children's Nursery), Barsha Heights Tecom, Skycourts DSO Dubailand,Al Nahda Deira, Al Qusais (Indigo Valley Nursery), RAK Mina Al Arab, Abu Dhabi Mushrif, and Ajman (Wonderkids Nursery).
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