Emirates English Nursery is situated in the Al Fayha area of Sharjah, within striking distance of the residential areas of Al Ramla and Al Mansoura. A bus from the popular Al Tawaan area is available.
Emirates English Nursery is a relatively small nursery, housed in a converted villa. Parking is generally on street and close by. It was also very easy on the quiet summer morning we visited, however we did wonder how hard it might be to find a space at a busier time of year.
On our visit we met Penny Merifield-Newell, the Nursery Manager and Head Teacher to find out all there is to know about Emirates English Nursery (EEN).
Penny has been working for EEN for 10 years – an impressive length of time in an industry that often has a high turnover of staff. She holds a Cache* Level 5 Early Years Management Diploma, the industry ‘gold’ standard for Nursery Managers. Despite being in a leadership role, Penny is still very hands on and can often be found in the classroom, keeping her teaching skills up to date and covering staff absences as necessary.
This is a relatively small nursery, with a small and dedicated team. At the time of our visit the nursery was operating with three classes, although at busier times there are four. Care is available for children age 45 days to 4 years. Penny tells us that many families are now sending their third child to EEN – a reflection of parent satisfaction and something she is rightly proud of.
All teachers at EEN are Cache 3 qualified as minimum and the nursery supports student teachers by allowing them to volunteer and gain experience whilst studying.
[*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).]
Although an EYFS curriculum centre, Penny tells us that she and her team are heavily influenced by the Montessori style of teaching and learning. Age groups are often mixed to allow peer to peer learning (a common initiative in exclusively Montessori nurseries) and many of the rooms have Montessori activities and resources ready for the children to use.
This mixing of age groups is useful in many ways - Penny and the team like to use older children as role models for positive behaviour, and always avoid ‘punishments’ for negative behaviour. The team here wholeheartedly believe in positive behaviour management.
A majority of children attending EEN have English as a second language. The student body is diverse, with children from Russia, India, the UAE and other Arab nations, Pakistan and America. Parents commonly want their children to acquire a level of English fluency before starting school, so English is the primary language of tuition.
Arabic is also a priority and the nursery employs a full time Arabic language teacher. The language teacher is also Cache 3 qualified, meaning that Arabic lessons follow the EYFS and are delivered in the same hands on, child led style as all other learning opportunities. All age groups receive Arabic lessons twice weekly.
Sensory play is a regular fixture on the curriculum. Every Monday is ‘Messy Monday’ where children come to nursery in their swimwear or old clothes, ready to get messy and have some free play fun – whether that is in water, sand, the mud kitchen or at the art table. Every Messy Monday is different and Penny finds that the children soon come to anticipate these special days. As we toured the nursery we saw sensory play in action in all of the classrooms.
Although the nursery does not offer extra-curricular activities, all teachers have received training in a movement and dance curriculum from the UK - ‘Movin Monkeez’. These dance, fitness and healthy living sessions have been designed to align with the EYFS and are delivered to children of all ages at EEN.
The children have two play areas, indoor and outdoor. The indoor playroom (housed in a building just outside the main villa) has been created to be a role play, dress up and physical play space for the hotter months. It also plays host to special events, such as a recent ‘graduation’ ceremony. We felt this space very important, as the actual classrooms at EEN are quite small. For this reason, it is important that the children are able to move around the space available – especially during the hot months.
Outside, there is a variety of play equipment – climbing frames, swings and slides - which whilst not the most up to date or new, did give children a range of challenging physical activities. There is a sandpit, space to grow plants (using up-cycled old tyres) and walls covered in quirky ‘real life’ objects such as locks, computer keyboards and paintbrushes. Outside the nursery grounds, the staff can also take children to a small adjacent play area/park when the weather allows.
The team here have built a strong working relationship with The Wilson Centre, a local special needs education provider. The nursery hosts a monthly parent education session and coffee morning in conjunction with The Wilson Centre and, if needed, therapists from the centre will visit to assess children or offer therapy in situ. Penny assures us that EEN is an inclusive nursery wherever possible.
We spoke to Ghalia, a teacher at EEN and a parent of a 2.5 year old child attending the nursery. Ghalia has had Montessori training and holds a Cache Level 3 diploma. She cites relationships with parents as the ‘number one’ strength of the nursery. Ghalia feels staff offer parents a very personal relationship and a lot of support. She would love for the nursery to have more space, inside and out but feels that they manage what space they do have well.
This is a small and friendly nursery. Open for mornings only, EEN does not have an option for children to attend full days, which may rule out families with working parents. All children are enrolled for five mornings per week, and on an annual basis this costs 1360 AED per month.
EEN does not offer the largest space or the most up to date facilities but staff are well qualified and create a happy atmosphere that is conducive for learning and development.
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