Redwood Center of Excellence is a premium early learning center for children aged 45 days to 6 years.
The story so far...
Redwood Center of Excellence is a premium early learning center for children aged 45 days to 6 years. It is the latest opening from the highly regarded early childhood education providers, Kids First Group, a UAE-based early childhood education provider that has been operating since 2012. The group also owns and operates reputable UAE nurseries such as Willow Nursery, Odyssey Nursery, Redwood Montessori Nursery, Children's Oasis Nursery and Ladybird Montessori. While donning the name of the group’s Montessori nurseries, this early learning center has a different concept altogether.
We visited during its opening week in April 2022, and felt an air of pride and excitement from the founding team during our visit, clearly delighted to have children enjoying the environment they have created.
We met with the ELC's Director, Ms Janet Ghanem, whose enthusiasm for the center’s vision and for her team was positively infectious. Janet, an early years and primary education veteran, told us a little about her background:
"I'm first and foremost, an educator. I started as a grade one teacher, moved into early years leadership and then became an Elementary School Principal, I did this for 15 years. In reality though, my passion is and has always been early years education, and when I moved to Dubai eight years ago, I developed a love for the Reggio Emilia approach in particular and had the pleasure of leading a Reggio setting for several years."
Ms Ghanem went on to tell us about the vision and pedagogy of Redwood Center of Excellence. She explained that Kids First Group have developed "high quality early years settings using the Reggio Emilia approach, Montessori and EYFS" (this is something we can indeed attest to). These early years approaches, she told us, along with the Pickler approach and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) have been used to develop Redwood Center of Excellence's emergent curriculum, combining “highly regarded practices from each of these approaches, in a state-of-the-art setting, with high calibre educators and carers”.
We also met with Head of Curriculum Development and Training, Ms Geraldine Hill. Also a familiar figure in the UAE early years sector, Ms Hill has lead numerous Montessori settings across Abu Dhabi and Dubai. She told us a little more about the ethos of the setting:
"Redwood Center of Excellence is certainly forward thinking in preparing children to be future ready, but we also strongly hold on to the concept of what early childhood is. We are not rushing our children, we are providing an environment where they can be their authentic selves, while also providing opportunities and experiences for learning and development. It is our job to find a balance and marry the two."
In addition to English being used throughout the day, the team also includes an Arabic teacher, who provides children with an introduction to the language, through play-based activities.
|Age Group||Adult to Child Ratio|
|45 days - 12 months||1:3|
|12 months - 17 months||1:3|
|18 months - 2 years||1:5|
|2 - 3 years||1:6|
Redwood Center of Excellence makes a very strong first impression; in terms of scale and quality of facilities, it resembles a small primary school rather than a nursery. Our reviewer utilised the extensive parking facilities provided within its gates (a noteworthy plus point for parents).
Director, Janet Ghanem provided our tour of the facilities. We had high expectations, given the grand claims in the name of this ELC, and on the whole, we were not disappointed by what we saw. The setting is large and spacious in comparison to more typical UAE nurseries, yet not intimidatingly so. The facilities are spotlessly clean (a big tick on the priority list of many parents) and it has been carefully designed to provide an organic feel in its decor, promoting feelings of calmness and curiosity.
As well as having reasonably spacious and well-lit classrooms using natural reggio-inspired decor, this ELC boasts a sensory room, dedicated gym, botanical garden (soon to open) and extensive outdoor space. The learning materials we saw were varied, with some Montessori materials present, as well as open-ended loose parts and natural materials.
The biggest wow factor, in our view, was the outdoor play facilities. This impressive multi-area outdoor play space features custom-built natural wood climbing frames with rope ladders, bridges and slides, climbing walls, road tracks for tricycles and more. The space is well shaded and is framed with trees and shrubs, that will likely create a beautiful secret garden feel when fully grown. Our reviewer would have loved to see natural grass too but appreciated the challenges in maintaining this.
Despite being in its first week, with children clearly still settling into the setting, there was a feeling of warmth and (mostly) happy curiosity in the classrooms, due to the attentiveness of the staff. We spoke to a teacher, Ms Becky, who enthusiastically shared with us the extensive training she had received in advance of their opening, including visits to several top Kids First Group nurseries to share best practice and experiences. It seemed to us that this founding team had been prepared well and invested in.
We were informed that all lead teachers in the founding team were qualified to degree level (the KHDA does not require this level of qualification for educators working with children under 4 years).
As we are yet to receive sufficient survey responses on this newly opened setting, we spoke to a to a group of parents, who were utilising the center’s parent lounge. Several were using this space as a remote working environment (this is likely a big plus point for many working parents), while others were simply locating themselves close by in their child’s first week at nursery. Our reviewer noted an already developing feeling of community between these mums, who were sharing with each other the rollercoaster of emotions that comes during this transition period.
The group had a few key things in common: they had all done considerable research before selecting Redwood Center of Excellence for their child, they were all blown away by the setting’s facilities, and they all expressed feeling enormously reassured and supported by the setting’s warm and passionate Director, Janet Ghanem. While there were a few minor niggles (as we might expect in the setting’s first week operating), these parents reported being generally very satisfied so far, and felt they had made the right choice for their children.
In naming this ELC a ‘Center of Excellence’, Kids First Group have set some pretty high expectations. Our reviewer was pleased to see the considerable level of investment in the facilities and the high standards applied in recruiting the founding team. At whichschooladvisor.com, we strongly believe that the true quality of an early learning center comes from its educators and leadership; our impressions in this area were positive and we do hope to see the team grow with the same high level of training and expertise maintained, to ensure Redwood Center of Excellence can continue to live up to its name.
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