Little Land nursery is based in Umm Suqeim, off Manara Road. It is Montessori and EYFS based so emphasizes learning through play, and takes children from 1 and a half to 4 years of age.
Little Land Nursery is proud that it only takes on educators with pre-school teaching qualifications equivalent to the National Nursery Examination Board (N.N.E.B., UK) diploma, although this does not apply to its teaching assistants (who are "encouraged to gain these qualifications").
As a Montessori based nursery, the pre-school has a wide selection of toys and materials both within and outside of the classroom. Classrooms are divided into six areas: Art, Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics and Culture (which includes geography, nature and science) and children are given "the freedom to choose from the different sections", and encouraged to "learn and explore at their own pace".
Classes are essentially split into age groups - nursery ages (14 months - 2.5 yrs) and Montessori classes (2.5 - 4 years). Nursery classes have one teacher, and two teaching assistants, while Montessori classes have 2 teachers and 1 assistant. Each age group is further divided into year age groups with 6 classes in total.
Maximum classroom sizes in terms of the number of pupils is not stated by Little Land, but a key to Montessori is that learning is guided. A prospective parent should ensure that each child receives individual teacher attention.
Classes run from 8 am until 12:30 pm. There is an early class starting at 7:30 am and a late class until 2 pm.
Fees range from 5,350 AED a term for 2 days a week, up to 12,595 AED for 5 days. There is a 500 AED registration fee non-refundable if a place is offered and an annual medical fee of 250 AED. In addition the preschool asks for a 1000 AED deposit to keeps a child's place from term-to-term or year-to-year (deducted from the summer term fees only in the child's last year of nursery). There is a waiting list fee of 200 AED (non-refundable, but deductible from registration).
Early Classes cost 1,950 AED per term, late classes 3,250 AED per term.
The nursery does not provide food, so parents are asked to bring in a lunch box with healthy snack food. The school has a simple uniform (with shorts and t-shirt it costs 100 AED).
‘Very niche with traditional values’ is how LittleLand’s dynamic leader/owner describes the well-established nursery, and we agree. Overall this is an impressive warm and professional establishment. There is great attention to detail and the whole team is dedicated, passionate and very hard working.
Touring with the Manager
LittleLand is a gem of a nursery in the heart of Umm Suqeim between the Al Wasl and Jumeirah Beach roads. The owner and fully engaged manager, Siog Moore, set up the establishment in 1994 so she has more than 22 years’ experience. Children from the age of 14 months enjoy an exciting and play-centred traditional nursery experience while those two and a half to four years old explore learning through the Montessori system.
The nursery is housed in a series of connected white villas with wide open outdoor play spaces. These are new premises (created with care from an older residential villa) with the business having moved here recently. The nursery has been planned with modern curricula in mind. There is a reasonable quota of parking available, including a small private car park and we saw that parents seem to drop and manoeuvre their children safely to the building as the road is pretty quiet.
All the doors are safely secured at adult height and Siog’s office is immediately to the left of the entrance. A very careful eye can be kept on comings and goings by her and her team. This reception area is welcoming for prospective parents to sit and chat and have a drink before or after their guided tour. As we explored the site with Siog we realized how much larger the overall spaces were than on first impression.
The main building has two floors and an open area in the middle of the classrooms at each level, used for smaller group work and language sessions. Unusually, the nursery operates a combination of both EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) and Montessori classrooms. The differences between the two curricula are subtly but skillfully implemented with appropriately qualified staff in each of the rooms.
Classrooms are all large, colourfully decorated and beautifully equipped with little round tables and chairs. Shelves, bathrooms and wash basins/sinks are the right size for all the little ones to use. We observed a spectacular variety of playful learning including painting, squishy shaving foam trays, play doh rolling and cutting out along with fun using yellow colour mashed potato to simulate ice cream being spooned into cones. In fact everywhere we looked the variety of different activities on the go at the same time were astounding.
Each individual child seemed to be engrossed in the playful tasks and teaching staff’s guidance and supervision appeared to be excellent. Free messy play is encouraged at this level so children usually wear shorts and a simple LittleLand T-shirt available from the nursery office. Indoor open areas are spacious with well-organised storage and ample play equipment. Outdoor play spaces are all shaded and overhead fans are there for the really hot season.
There are colourful climbing frames, wendy houses, bikes, a tent and several areas for sand and water play. A cute grassed area for the little ones known as the Teletubby garden has been developed. It has tunnels for them to climb through, huge palms trees for shade and a wall painted with pretty desert and sky mural.
This space is regularly used for groups of children to enjoy a picnic lunch. There is no swimming pool for safety reasons, but Siog describes how sensory water play is very popular throughout the community.
Every day a range of pupil artwork is created and display boards, each with a theme, are built up over the weeks. A simple whiteboard is used outside each classroom for the parents to read explaining the daily activities for each group. We were shown two further large rooms, one with mirrors and ropes for swings dedicated to dance and physical activities and the other Siog described as a parenting room. Training and advice is offered to parents on a variety of relevant topics.
Chatting with Parents
We were next able to chat to Ellie and Vanessa who both have children in the early years. We asked why they had chosen LittleLand as there are so many options available. They described their choice as ‘head and shoulders above the competition’. Both valued that it was not run as a business but by a leader with passion and integrity. Vanessa mentioned that she particularly wanted her child to experience the Montessori system. What most impresses them about the nursery is how cosy, cute, non-fussy and child-centric the nursery is.
They described LittleLand as the closest to a village nursery they might find in their home country. In fact better than that as the learning experience overall is way beyond what they would get at home. They feel the school is absolutely excellent value for money considering the overall quality provided. Food is not available on a day-to-day basis but both parents prefer to prepare their own balanced snacks for their children.
Communication from the nursery to parents is via newsletters, emails, and daily information boards, Facebook and between the parents they use WhatsApp groups to keep in touch. These parents felt that LittleLand had become ‘like a family’ to them and that they could go to Siog with questions as they would their mum!
There is fully open access to the owner/leaders who are always there and offer help in every way. Ellie related a very personal tribute to Siog and her teachers who were incredibly caring and practical while she was unwell, helping her by walking her children in and out of nursery and even one teacher who drove over to collect them from home. She said ‘I believe Siog cares about the lives and development of my children and has the power to ensure that the nursery has that as its core purpose.’
Getting to know the Manager
To complete our visit we were able to discuss with Siog her professional journey behind the creation of this nursery. Siog trained as a general nurse, then a neo-natal specialist when back in Ireland. Despite this already impressive set of qualifications, Siog is currently studying for an Early Years degree, and hoping to acquire Early Years Professional status very soon. This is the industry “gold standard” for Early Years workers.
Siog learned about nurseries through observing what her own children experienced. She soon developed a keen interest in child psychology and from this came the vision for LittleLand.
Teamwork is extremely important to Siog along with fully qualified and dedicated staff. All teachers are assisted by professional TAs as there are no nannies employed here. Staff retention is excellent and some teachers have been with Siog for more than 20 years.
Staff training and professional development is ongoing and highly encouraged. We were amazed to see a list of staff who had signed up for voluntary training courses during the Spring Break – commitment indeed! Siog recruits staff via her wide network of contacts in Dubai and by word of mouth. She aims for a good spread and balance of specialisms and interests in her team.
Siog is a qualified nurse and there is another nurse on hand, but all staff have first aid training and are prepared to deal with sickness, hygiene and fire drill routines etc. There are written policies for each of these areas in the parent handbook. Siog fully supports job sharing so any staff absence is smoothly dealt with to enable minimal disruption.
Staff to pupil ratios are in keeping with requirements and several children have one-to-one shadow specialists where necessary. Any special needs are identified by Siog very early on. There is an open acceptance policy so individual programmes can be devised.
The nursery’s approach to personal, social and emotional growth in the child is focused on building self-esteem. Individual needs are tackled in individual ways.
Siog does not offer school trips at LittleLand but instead prefers visitors to come into the nursery. For example they have a brain gym specialist and teachers from the Step Up dance academy. A pilot or fireman might visit along with a storyteller professional, all of whom inspire imaginative and relevant activities along with role play.
Communication and language are a vital part of child development here. Learning Arabic is optional in early years but made fun by a young and fully trained specialist. Spanish and French are also introduced and given special focus.
The child’s physical development is crucial so play equipment and a cycle route are in regular use. Indeed outdoor play is an everyday occurrence. New parents receive a handbook which explains child and parental expectations but it appears that parents know what they want when they choose LittleLand.
When pupils leave they disperse to a whole variety of primary schools across Dubai.
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