Nursery: a collaborative learning environment or a glorified babysitter?

As a result of the complaint I made in December we now have monthly meetings with G’s Keyworker at nursery. Dh and I make sure that we can both attend each meeting and they generally last about half an hour. I instigated them as I wanted to know what the girls were actually up to in the c.28 hours a week they spent away from us.

R and G are going through a stage where we ask them what they did at nursery that day and they say “Nothing”. We ask them who they played with and they say “No-one”. We know this isn’t true because they normally have pen or paint on their tops and mud on their trainers. They also get invited to a lot of parties and playdates and talk about their friends constantly so I’m fairly confident that they’re not sitting in the corner being ignored by everyone.

We get a daily sheet but it’s pretty basic. One of my biggest bugbears is that the activity section of the sheet is already filled in on the computer and printed off. At my request, I’ve asked that a little extra comment is added to the bottom of the sheet each day and G’s keyworker is very good at this, adding a little anecdote to give us an additional insight. They’re also true – not that we’ve tested G on them or anything…

I’m always quite shocked at the parents who ‘drop and run’ each morning and stick their head round the door each evening and beckon their child to follow them home without any interaction with the nursery staff. I understand the morning escape as we all work and have important deadlines to meet and places to be but certain parents seem to treat nursery as a rather expensive babysitter. I accept that they might have different, unseen ways of communicating with nursery about their child but when you speak to a parent and they have no idea what their child is doing or doesn’t even know the name of their keyworker, you begin to wonder.

I wouldn’t describe us as pushy parents but, with my business head on, we’re paying for a service and I’d like to know what we’re all getting out of it. We’re essentially paying for them to have a private pre-school education at this stage and as they’re going to be going to a state primary and we won’t be paying to educate them again until they (possibly) go on to higher education, I want them to get the best start possible.

Plus, we like knowing what they’re up to at nursery so we can reinforce it at home. We were inspired to get Maisy and Eddie by the water topic they were doing recently. They’re currently doing growing and Spring so I was showing the girls photos of their scans and my pregnant bump and explaining that they lived in Mummy and then I gave birth to them (R  looks at me like I’m mental at this point). When we were at the zoo last week we saw some heavily pregnant sheep and explained that it would soon be lambing season. The girls are now obsessed with measuring each other as we did their height and weight last week. They are teaching us new songs: ‘Everyfink (sic) is growing’ is a current favourite.

Dh and I make a point of learning the other children’s names so that we can greet them properly when they say hello and goodbye to us. As a result, we’re sometimes asked to read stories when one of us picks the girls up in the evening and, if we time it right, we get to join in with the late afternoon snack time – the girls refuse to leave until they’ve had their snack.

So, back to the meetings. G’s keyworker is very academic in her focus with her children and she seems to have a strong sense of G’s personality but there isn’t a huge amount of warmth there. Much of the meeting is taken up with discussing the Early Years Foundation Stage and the ‘targets’ (for want of a better word) that they are focusing on. It’s hard not to reference R in the meetings and I have to keep bearing in mind that we’re there to talk about G, although R invariably crops up in conversation. Dh and I feel much happier that we have a bit more knowledge and it seems that G is doing just fine.

We’ve always had a good relationship with R’s keyworker. She’s much less academic in her dealings with the children. So far, we haven’t instigated formal meetings with her as she’s much more available to chat informally, but in the interests of fairness we should have meetings with her too now. We bought R and G’s folders home last week and the different approaches of their respective keyworkers in obvious. Everything in G’s is filled out correctly. R’s is more hit and miss so hopefully the prompt of formal meetings will mean that her folder is also kept up to date.

I know it’s ‘each to their own’ and it’s not healthy to judge the parenting practices of others without knowing the facts – they might think it’s weird that one of us is curled up reading stories or participating in snack time when they come to pick up their child – but I’d feel like I was neglecting my parenting duties if I didn’t get involved in nursery matters.

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