Review Visit: 15/09/22
Situated in a quiet residential street, tucked away from any heavy traffic, you’d be forgiven for not having spotted the new Ladybird Nursery Al Barsha. Despite its inconspicuous location, this impressive purpose-built early learning facility is a stone’s throw from Saudi German Hospital and American School of Dubai, and a less than ten-minute drive from several popular residential communities, such as the Greens, Meadows, Lakes and the Palm Jumeirah.
Our reviewer visited the nursery just three weeks into its opening. We were pleased to find ample parking available and were greeted warmly by Ladybird Nursery’s CEO and owner, Monica Valrani, and Nursery Principal, Louisa McCormack.
Ms Monica Valrani is not your typical nursery owner. As a qualified Montessori educator and experienced nursery manager herself, she has a thorough understanding and genuine interest in the operations of her nurseries, very much a hands-on and highly engaged leader.
Ms Louisa McCormack, the nursery’s founding principal, discovered her passion for early years education after having children of her own, and leaving a successful career in the travel sector. She joined Ladybird Nursery JVC as part of its founding team in 2016 as a teaching assistant, and quickly enrolled on an early childhood education vocational diploma course to qualify as a nursery teacher. Ms McCormack's prior managerial experience allowed her to move up the ranks relatively quickly, and she held the role of Deputy Principal in Ladybird Early Learning Centre JVC for three years prior to opening the new setting in Al Barsha.
Ms Valrani spoke of the trust she feels in Ms McCormack. She expressed her absolute confidence that the same level of quality and the same ethos and approach that exists in the group’s other settings was present and would continue to be so.
The alignment between Ms Valrani and Ms McCormack, not only in terms of their vision for the nursey, but also their open approach, and warm style of communication, was apparent upon meeting them. Together they set a tone of calm confidence and professionalism, which can be felt throughout the nursery.
We had the opportunity to speak to two teachers during our visit; Sechni, who had worked with Ladybird for six years and recently moved from the JVC nursery, and Samantha, who had recently joined the team. Both teachers shared a similar sentiment that the opportunities to learn and grow professionally at Ladybird were exceptional. They had high praise for Ms McCormack and Ms Valrani and spoke of the support among colleagues, all of which have extensive experience in early childhood education and care.
Ms Sam, the nursery’s newest recruit (the other four having worked in the group’s other nurseries), had until recently worked in another very highly regarded Dubai nursery. Although new to the Montessori method, she explained that she had received in-depth induction training when joining the team, and that training in the use of Montessori materials was on-going.
The team at Ladybird Nursery Al Barsha are largely formally trained in the EYFS but have been provided with extensive training in Montessori practice internally. With certified Montessori practitioners in short supply, this is a reasonable approach in the UAE. Our reviewer had the opportunity to observe several classes in action and observed confidence and skill in the team's practice. Key Montessori principles, such as adults acting as guides and facilitators, sensing the right point to support the child and when to take a step back, was apparent in many of the classes. Children appeared confident in exploring independently and classrooms were well resourced in a range of key Montessori materials.
Ms Valrani and Ms McCormack provided us with a tour of the nursery facilities. This spacious nursery feels more like a small primary school in terms of scale, yet due to its carefully designed layout, retains the welcoming feel of a smaller setting.
The Ladybird Al Barsha campus is currently the MENA region’s largest nursery but will be far from having the highest number of children. Ms Valrani explained that the maximum capacity has been set at 222, not a small number by any means, but there are considerably less spacious nurseries accepting far higher numbers of children in the UAE. As a reference point, KHDA requires early childhood centres to provide 3m² of indoor space per child over three years, 3.5m² per child between 18 months and three years, and 4.5m² per child under 18 months. At full capacity of 222 children, Ladybird Nursery Al Barsha provides 13.8m² of indoor space per child.
Considerable thought has been put into the design of this nursery campus to improve air quality and reduce the risk of illnesses being spread. Ms McCormack explained that the campus utilises UV bulbs in the air-conditioning, which eliminate 99.99% airborne germs, and that fresh air is circulated through the vents daily. The building also has impressive green credentials, operating at around 93% capacity through the use of renewable energy, and was constructed using 25% recycled materials.
Interestingly, much of the nursery is open plan, including the majority of classrooms (the baby room is an enclosed space, as are the FS1 classrooms). We asked Ms Valrani about this design decision, to which she explained that she had conducted considerable research into the benefits of open plan early learning spaces, after having seen this approach working well in Scandinavian settings.
This is a particularly interesting (and unusual) move in a Montessori context, in which the learning environment is of considerable significance, being considered as a ‘third teacher’ (the students themselves are the second). The potential benefits include the possibility for interaction with children of other age groups, children feeling at home in the wider nursery setting and a more flexible learning environment.
Critics of this design approach would refer to problematic acoustics; noise from other classes can be unsettling and distracting for children and can require adults to raise their voices more. We asked Ms Valrani about this concern and, perhaps unsurprisingly given her extensive experience in this field, she had considered this and put in place design elements in response to this concern. The nursery’s ceiling has been specially designed to provide soundproofing, lowering the level of noise that carries through the building. How well this system works when the nursery is full will be the real test, but with five classes running at the time of our visit, noise levels were quite remarkably low, with a feeling of calm throughout the building.
Our reviewer was impressed by the number of shared indoor play spaces available to the children, providing a truly varied and stimulating learning experience even in the hotter months when outdoor play is not suitable. These areas include a music room, languages room, library, imaginative play area, children’s cooking room, as well as active indoor play spaces for each age group. The nursery’s vast outdoor space includes a splash pad, climbing frames, organic growing area and a tricycle track, all of which are well shaded.
As our reviewer observed children and staff participating in a range of activities, she was impressed by how comfortable the children appeared, after only a few weeks of the nursery having opened. Interactions between staff and children appeared warm and very connected, movements and transitions were largely calm and at the pace of the children.
Our parent panel were overwhelmingly positive about their experience of the nursery so far. The group's established reputation from its long-standing Jumeirah nursery and highly regarded JVC early learning centre was referenced as a significant draw, however the particularly flexible and supportive management appeared to have been a major factor for these parents in selecting this nursery. One parent, Collette, expressed her appreciation for the nursery's personal touches, such as sending updates via whatsapp as her child was settling in. Another, Malicah, told us:
"You get that nurturing family vibe at Ladybird, and Monica is very present. You can feel that there is a lot of love and care that goes into everything, from the teachers, the assistants, and the reception. When my daughter walks into the nursery in the morning, everyone knows her name, everyone greets her, she feels really special."
Ladybird Nursery Al Barsha stands out from the crowd in many respects. Its facilities are truly impressive, designed around the needs of children rather than aiming to wow adults (although adults will likely be wowed). The space could quite easily accommodate considerably more children than it has been designed for, but Ms Valrani has instead decided to provide more space per child than perhaps any other setting in the UAE (that this reviewer is aware of).
Ladybird’s blend of Montessori principles and England’s EYFS framework works very well. While the practice here would perhaps not satisfy parents of a purist Montessori inclination, it certainly does demonstrate many key elements of Montessori practice. Ultimately, the key indicators of success in an early learning and care setting are here: children are happy and engaged in their learning experiences, staff are passionate and well supported, and parents feel connected and well-informed.
If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.
Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information