Future International Nursery is situated in a large, purpose built campus in the Al Warqaa area of Dubai.
The Future International Nursery (FIN) building is modern, expansive and low rise and as one approaches it is possible to see the top of what looks rather like a giant toadstool from the street. When we eventually come to tour the premises, we realise that we are correct - it is, in fact, a giant toadstool (which neatly houses the changing rooms for the swimming pool and splash area)! The entire premises is secured by a wall and we are admitted via a security gate after finding parking on the quiet residential street on which the nursery is situated.
FIN is a very large, bilingual (Arabic and English) nursery which has been purposefully designed to bring children closer to nature. Offering the International Early Years Curriculum blended with the EYFS, and claiming a dedicated team of highly qualified staff, we were intrigued to find out more about this little known but ambitious nursery.
In June 2021, FIN announced that it had received approval to expand its provision to include Foundation Stage 2, from September 2021. This is something of a landmark decision, since until this time, only schools were permitted to offer the equivalent of KG1.
We begin our visit by meeting with Hala Adel, Director and Lysiane Ruf, Academic Director. The FIN leadership team is completed by Safa Bukhatir, owner and CEO who was unavailable on the day of our visit but who, we are told, plays an active and impactful role in nursery life. The two colleagues we meet clearly share a synchronised view of the need for the very best quality early years education.
“We have both worked with different age groups across the education spectrum” said Hala “and these experiences have helped to develop the view that good early years experiences are not just ‘nice to have’, they are absolutely essential for the future happiness and success of every child. This is what we are focussed upon achieving here – a truly great nursery education for every child”.
Academic Director Lysiane underscores the importance of bilingualism at FIN.
“Every space here has a story behind it. For example, classrooms have been created quite purposefully. Each class is linked to another, in a small hub we like to call a ‘Home’. Each Home shares two teachers: one who delivers the curriculum in English, the other in Arabic. The two teachers plan everything together and each language is given equal time. This means that our children become bilingual at a time when their brains are readily adaptable to new languages”.
The nursery has been designed not only to allow children to ‘connect with nature’ but to bring nature indoors when the weather prevents outdoor play. Children have access to an indoor ‘Discovery Centre’ which brings local plants, fish, birds and even the nursery’s own rabbit into the everyday life of the children.
Outside, there is a beautiful planting area with a small stream running through it, sand and water play areas, a mud kitchen as well as the small swimming pool and splash area.
“We realised that so few of our children are really going out into nature these days. Their grandparents spent lots of time out in the desert on the weekends, but children these days spend more time in the malls and looking at screens. We wanted to expose them to the great outdoors as much as possible”. Hala Adel, Nursery Director
There are certainly many options for outdoor play at FIN. In addition to the areas listed above, the building is designed to create a central courtyard area, which houses a high quality wooden climbing frame and slide as well as a clever ‘underground’ tunnel and bike track.
The great outdoors aside, there are many other spacious and well thought out facilities at FIN. We see a large gymnasium, used for active sessions and extra-curricular activities as well as performances (it has a stage to one end and even a full complement of AV facilities!) and parent workshops.
To the other end of the gymnasium is “Future Street” a role play area which, we are told, is often reconfigured and redesigned to match the interests of the children. When we visited it had just taken life as a film and news studio, which looked like great fun!
There are other interesting facilities here too: a ‘pattern room’ where children are given interesting loose parts such as pebbles, pieces of wood and smooth coloured glass shapes and encouraged to create art work that features repetitive patterns, an activity said to improve cognitive skills in young children.
There is also large kitchen with child height benches. Healthy food is prepared in house daily and children are invited to help prepare food twice a week.
We are impressed to find that our conversation with the FIN leadership team dwells mostly on the professional development of the staff, something that both Hala and Lysiane feels is vital in order that the nursery continually improves.
“We are very much focussed on the quality of our team”, say Lysiane, with Hala adding that “all of our teachers are working towards their Cache* Level 5 Diploma, which means all our policies, all our procedures are regularly reviewed, critiqued and updated. It also means that our team feel valued and listened too and we benefit from their fresh ideas and creativity”. Even before studying for this management diploma, teachers at FIN are highly qualified with all having a Masters, Cache 3 or Bachelors Degree in Education.
[*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).]
Hala and Lysiane describe themselves as having a ‘passion for our staff’. They describe how they look simply for the right attributes in every team member and will help them to upskill and gain qualifications with the nursery. They are happy to say that they have previously promoted and trained staff who started as cleaners right through to the teaching teams.
Most important though, are relationships: between leaders and staff members, and between staff and children. “We focus on warm and loving relationships. That is really the most fundamental thing for us at FIN”.
The Nursery offers primarily the International Early Years Curriculum, blended with the principles of the English EYFS. The International Early Years Curriculum is a ‘holistic, enquiry based curriculum’ that ‘covers all of the outcomes and learning goals of the EYFS’. In short: whatever system your child progresses to, this sensible combination of curricula should see your child well equipped for school.
Hala and Lysiane are keen to point out how well their curricula addresses something they describe as “Desert Nanny Syndrome”. With many families in the UAE reliant on nannies for home childcare, Early Years workers are ‘at the sharp end’ of the well documented issues this can present, particularly in the areas of language development and social skills.
“We find that children spend a lot of time at home with nannies, who many not be fluent in either English or Arabic. Being at home without other children and a range of adults to socialise with limits personal, social and emotional growth. We also often find these children are carried or in strollers for far longer than they should be, weakening their muscles and preventing them from learning to address risk. We believe what we offer goes a long way to helping to counteract this” Lysiane Ruf, Academic Director
The curriculum is supplemented by 12 optional, afternoon ECAs including: swimming, yoga, kids Zumba, gymnastics, cooking and football. The older children are also taken on trips – the most recent being to the local supermarket, where children were tasked with creating a shopping list and purchasing all the items for a cooking activity back at nursery.
This is a truly superb nursery, not simply for the incredible facilities but more for the constant focus on improving the experience of children, on supporting families and on meeting the needs of the community which it serves.
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