The Wonder Years Nursery in Dubai Sports City is housed in a low rise, purpose built building. The nursery follows the UK's EYFS, but the pre-school is clear that relationships come before curriculum.
From the street, The Wonder Years Nursery looks relatively compact. The walls are bright white and accented by the nursery’s cheerful logo and some brightly coloured sail shades over the outdoor areas. We park on the street in a nearby parking bay. There is a lot of construction work surrounding the nursery, but also several completed apartment buildings. The nursery sits close to the residential developments of Dubai Sports City and Victory Heights.
Both branches (Sports City and Remraan) of The Wonder Years Nursery are owned by Interstar Advisory Services DMCC, along with Victory Heights Primary School (VHPS), South View School and Delhi Private School (Dubai and Sharjah). We hear several times during our visit just how much the nursery benefits from close links to thesee schools.
We enter a cheerful reception area and are greeted by Nursery Manager, Claire Jones. Claire is joined by Corinne Glauser (who was the founding Manager of this branch and now manages the second branch in Remraan) and Hannah Hepworth, Early Years Co-ordinator for both Victory Heights Primary School and The Wonder Years Nursery.
As Claire is the person that parents will interact with most frequently, we begin our visit by talking to her about the career and experiences which have led to her current role. Claire has a UK NNEB (National Nursery Education Board, equivalent to Cache Level 3*) qualification and worked in both Early Years and Young Adult services before becoming a prep (private) school Matron.
[*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).]
The role is a primarily a caring and pastoral one, often in boarding schools, where the Matron is responsible for the safeguarding and wellbeing of the children in her care. Claire feels the experience equipped her well for managing a nursery.
Prior to joining The Wonder Years, Claire was manager at Toddler’s International Nursery in Dubai Silicon Oasis. We find Claire approachable, calm and friendly and despite not being in a classroom role, we notice that she has a great relationship with many of the children, who know her by name and greet her with a warm hug or hello.
This is clearly a closely knit team with Claire, Corinne and Hannah sharing happily where their roles merge and how the school and nursery interact to raise standards in both settings. Hannah takes on a training and advisory role, visiting the nursery regularly to ensure that the curriculum is implemented in line with that at the school (both the nursery and the school offer the EYFS). Staff often swap ideas and share professional development sessions. Recent topics for training have included providing risk during play, planning and fine motor skills (the happily names ‘squiggle while you wiggle’ class!).
The remainder of the team are well qualified, with lead teachers needing a minimum of Cache 3, Teaching Assistants Cache 2 and nursery assistants needing significant nursery experience or Cache 1.
We sit and chat to the team in the administration office, which is just off the cheerful but compact main reception. From here, we begin our tour of the nursery. We enter a large indoor open area which comprises a large play area (complete with a sweet little play house/slide) a huge self-contained art area (which is sunk slightly lower than the rest of the space and surrounded by a half height wall, no doubt to contain over exuberant painting!) and a glass panelled sensory play room equipped with lots of interesting messy and muddy activities and a mud kitchen. The sensory room has no roof, we liked this touch: it made the outdoors accessible even on a warm May morning. There is also a ‘gym’ for active play during the hotter weather and activities such as football and ballet.
There are twelve classrooms at this branch. At the time of our visit, not all were in use as classrooms (the nursery currently has 168 children enrolled, out of a maximum 240). Some rooms are large, more are a ‘reasonable’ size but not particularly spacious. Like the exterior, classrooms are painted bright white and use carpets, wall displays and furnishing for colour. We like this approach – the rooms feel calm yet uncluttered. That said, we did feel that some of the rooms felt a little bare and could so with some ‘cosier’ spaces for children to rest and be calm between activities.
Every classroom at The Wonder Years Nursery has access to an outdoor area. We felt this was a real strength of the nursery and added greatly to the experience of the children, who had continuous access to the outdoors in all but the very hottest months. One class were sat outside enjoying ice lollies they had made in class the day before and there was plenty more going on. In addition to these spaces, there is a large shaded play area with climbing frame and a separate space for children under 18 months. There is also a track for bikes and trikes although we did not get to see this in action on the day of our visit.
The core curriculum hours of the nursery are 8am – 1pm, although wraparound care is available from 7.30am to 5.30pm. The nursery closes only for Spring Break (two weeks) when all maintenance and deep cleaning works are scheduled.
Claire is keen to point out that relationships come before the curriculum here. “Settling in, forming those bonds, this is key to a happy child” she tells us “and really, happy children are our number one priority!”
The transition to life at nursery can at times be a tough one (for parents and children alike!) so The Wonder Years Nursery team try to make it as gentle as possible, with children coming for very short sessions with their parents to begin with and slowly building up to independent days. Parents benefit from regular parent workshops.
The EYFS curriculum is implemented in as child-led as manner as possible. There is some timetabling of shared spaces but children are given the freedom to follow their own interests for much of the time. If this looks messy or untidy – well, so be it! “Learning isn’t always pretty” say Claire with a smile. Children have regular Arabic lessons during curriculum hours and the nursery employs a specialist nursery teacher.
The relationship with the school comes in to play again should a child at the nursery have any additional learning needs. The team find the expertise of the team at VHPS is incredibly useful and that the close relationship has helped many children to make a smooth transition into school. “We can work on any issues as a team” said Hannah, “and we are prepared for the children once they arrive at school”.
Physical development is further enhanced by a number of extra-curricular activities. These currently include soccer tots, Karate and dance and the team tells us that the range of activities is “always evolving”.
We felt that this was a good nursery. The benefit of a close relationship with the sister school is obvious and meaningful and the guidance of the VHPS team appears to be consistently improving the quality of provision.
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