Acorns Nursery is a 50 place setting based in the grounds of Oaklands College, St Albans. The setting provides day care for children from the ages of 3 months to 5 years. As well as caring for the children of college students and employees, it also cares for the children of local families.

We interviewed Wendy Taylor, the nursery’s manager and a former Chief Examiner for CACHE, to find out more about how the setting runs.

Why was Acorns Nursery established?

Acorns Nursery is part of Oaklands College. It was originally established to provide childcare and education for the children of college staff and students. This enables many students to attend courses that they would not normally be able to do and supports staff with an on-site establishment. Places are also available to the public and Acorns is popular with parents who appreciate the rural surroundings of the campus and the facilities that are available.

The nursery also provides a training facility for college students on childcare placements.

What is the nursery’s ethos and what values does it promote?

We have a nurturing and respectful ethos, promoting children and staff well-being, and a positive self-esteem. Many staff are trained to use the Positive Behaviours strategy to empower children to take care of themselves. Staff are mentored to be reflective practitioners and the management team encourage a continuous cycle of improvement through supervision, training, and mentoring.

What aspect of the nursery are you most proud of?

The nursery recently achieved an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ grade and we are all immensely proud of that. We put up a banner and will probably keep it up for a long time! The whole staff team work very hard to achieve best practice throughout the day and I am very proud that their achievements are officially recognised.

We are also very proud of our children and the progress they make. Our exceptional partnerships with parents and carers and other agencies underpins everything we do and contributes to the children’s development. The welcoming and family friendly atmosphere we have created at Acorns makes me very proud and the reputation we have in the community.

How did you come to work in childcare?

I made the decision at a very early age that I wanted to teach and fulfilled this ambition back in the late 1970s when I completed my B.Ed in Norwich. I’ve had an amazing career, using my degree to teach children and adults, supporting families and working as the Chief Examiner at CACHE which enabled me to focus on developing the quality of training for early years practitioners. My focus has shifted over the years towards the Under 5s. It therefore seemed a natural progression to bring everything I have learnt to managing Acorns Nursery. It feels like a huge privilege to do this job and I absolutely love it. I have an amazing team and they make it seem more like fun than work!

What do parents say they love most about your setting?

Our parents find the quality of our care is superb and they comment that we have an excellent balance between nurturing, learning and play. They like the way their children are cared for and that their children are happy in a safe environment. The parents particularly love the environment, the old manor house, large natural garden and the regular walks around the campus. We are based on a working farm so children are used to seeing sheep and lambs, horses, cows and the more exotic snakes, spiders, turtles and tortoises in the Animal Care unit.

In what ways do you strengthen your partnership with parents?

We build relationships with parents from the minute they step through our front door. The staff all recognise the problems parents and carers have and try to provide positive support for them. As a manager, I have an open door policy and welcome parents telling me their snippets of information or concerns. We celebrate the children’s achievements together.

We will “go the extra mile” if appropriate, for example doing home visits, making links with the local Children’s Centre and attending paediatric or speech and language appointments with parents. We communicate daily with parents through Dayshare and produce a newsletter called “Peek at the week” so that parents know what has been happening and can support their child’s learning.

The deputy managers hold regular Saturday events for mums and/or dads to come and play with their children at nursery. Parents really appreciate this. Our parents often make us cakes, so it’s definitely a two-way relationship!

Will you be offering the 30 hours to parents in September, and if so, why/why not?

We are offering the extra funded hours in September. It hasn’t been an easy decision due to the loss in income and the amount of extra work changing our financial systems. Most nurseries in our area will offer 30 hours so we need to remain competitive. We are also aware that some of our parents struggle with the cost of childcare and every little helps. However, this needs to be balanced with the extra charges we are making to cover our losses. For example, for the first time we are now charging the Under 3 year old children for food, which we have never done before.

About the author

wendyWendy Taylor has 40 years’ experience of working with young children, including early years teaching, lecturing, deputy manager of a local Children’s Centre and as the Chief Examiner for CACHE. She is also a co-author of books for students on foundation degree courses and currently manages a day nursery in St Albans, which is attached to Oaklands College.

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