Channelling Karen

I really, really like all of the girls’ friends (and their parents)…or I have done until recently. I now completely get why my Mum would be very tactful when I spoke about a newly acquired friend at school that she didn’t quite approve of and then quickly change the subject or ask after one of my other friends that she did like.

R is, or has until recently been far more comfortable around boys (G being the notable exception), challenging them to running races (and winning) and not caring a jot about the state of her hair or the fact that her scruffy leggings don’t quite match her top.

Now she wears tights and skirts or dresses every day (she has worn jeans once in the last two months) and quite often pops a princess dressing-up dress over the top. She likes wearing hairbands, which don’t stay in for five seconds in her recently-bobbed, poker straight hair. She pulls a weird little pouty face when I take photos of her and asks me to tell her that she’s pretty and beautiful. R used to want to be Fireman Sam but now she wants to be a princess. When I say ‘Don’t you mean a princess that’s also A DOCTOR?’ she rolls her eyes at me.

To cap it all, R has decided that she doesn’t want to do Sporty Tots (or messes around so she isn’t allowed to do it) because New Best Friend doesn’t want to do it either. R loves (or should I say, loved) sports afternoon on a Thursday. NBF also does mean things to R, like hurl mud at her. R didn’t want to tell a carer so G stepped in and made sure that justice was done, but that’s not really the point.

I miss the real R. I don’t quite know what to do with this imposter. I see glimpses of her occasionally, which gives me hope that this is just a phase. She challenged two boys to a race at a party at the weekend and cackled madly when she beat them. I was practically begging her to find someone else to race with.

Gah. NBF is very pretty and lovely but…basically it’s the situation that Karen was in during the last season of Outnumbered. Hopefully they’ll outgrow each other. R isn’t the first NBF that this girl has had and girls being girls she won’t be the last. I hope R, who pretends to be really confident and bolshy but is actually quite shy and sensitive underneath all the bluff, comes out of it unscathed.

Nursery questionnaire

I shouldn’t be allowed to fill questionnaires out unsupervised. Nursery recently sent home a ‘how are we doing’ questionnaire to all parents. I had some fun with it….

Parent questionnaire

The welcome you receive when you arrive at nursery

Most of the time we get a ‘Hello’ as we walk through the toddler room from whoever is on duty that morning, but the turnover of staff is rapid and they rarely wear name badges or introduce themselves.

The friendliness and attitude of the staff

Some of the staff are excellent but most of the others don’t give the impression of wanting to be there.

The overall cleanliness and décor of the nursery

  • The new preschool room is really nice but the rest of the nursery smells pretty bad (of stale milk, bins & dirty nappies).
  • There should be more things on the walls in the preschool room e.g. letters of the alphabet, days of the week, numbers up to 50, etc.
  • I’d like to get more of a sense of activities that the children are doing together e.g. painted murals for the walls.

The general mood and atmosphere in the nursery

The mood is quite downbeat and the staff seem quite depressed and downtrodden.

Do you feel that your child likes the nursery and looks forward to coming here?

Yes they do, but that’s more to do with the fact that they can play with their friends than the activities they do.

Are you adequately informed/consulted about progress in your child’s personal development?

No. I have no idea how they are doing.

  • This is concerning as they are starting school in September and I have no idea if they are being prepared for the transition or not. We are doing everything we can to get them ready for school, but I’d like to work in partnership with nursery on this.
  • Apparently the children are doing Sporty Tots on Thursdays again after a hiatus. We were not informed of this by nursery and only know this anecdotally from the children.

Are you kept adequately informed/consulted about progress in your child’s education and learning skills?

No. I have had one report since they moved up to the preschool room.

  • We do a lot at home with them e.g. flashcards, number and letter books, name and word writing, reading, letter of the week (with associated activities) but I have no idea if they are doing any of this at nursery.  I’d like to know what their strengths and weaknesses are and if there are things we need to focus on at home.
  • I get the impression that it has been decided that they are of average intelligence and therefore not worth bothering with. For example, I felt that they should be moved up to the preschool room much earlier than they did but was told quite categorically on several occasions that they had to wait until September. This completely contradicts the current procedure of moving all of the 3 year olds up to the preschool room, which means that they are no longer divided into school years and that the older children may not be doing age-appropriate work as the carers are having to keep more of an eye on the younger children.

Do you feel encouraged to become involved in nursery activities?

Yes – on the daily sheets and in the newsletters it says that parents are encouraged to stay and play, but for most working parents it’s hard to justify taking time off work to spend at nursery. The ‘Big Events’ (Christmas, Sports Day, Fun Day, etc) are well-publicised and attended by parents.

Do you feel staff listen to you, respect your views and act upon any recommendations you may have?

No. I requested that the preschool children do flashcards but this hasn’t happened. We’re always told to ‘put suggestions in the postbox’ but in my experience they are ignored.

Do you feel comfortable in approaching our staff with any problems or concerns that you have?

I wouldn’t say I feel comfortable, as the last time I complained I was phoned up by the person that I complained about and they spoke to me in an aggressive manner. The matter was resolved and things improved subsequently. I have got to the point now where I feel that if I raise things, it will make life more difficult for the children so I’m trying to be more circumspect. For example, I have tried to keep this document as anonymous as possible so that the child/ren involved can’t be identified as I fear there may be repercussions for them.

How well do you feel that the nursery provides equal opportunities for all children?

I like the fact that they celebrated Chinese New Year and the Christian festivals are always well-recognised, but I’d also like them to learn about other faiths e.g. Judaism and Islam. Also the notion of equal opportunities is wider than just faith-based learning. It also encompasses disability (physical and mental), sexuality and gender and I don’t see how these are represented in nursery activities.

How do you rate the quality of menus for children’s meals in terms of variety and nutritional value?

The quality of food has gone downhill over the last two years. Lunch is usually things like corned beef hash, which is extremely cheap and not very nutritious. Tea is generally just a scone or a crumpet, and we often have to give a snack at home before bathtime now as they aren’t full when they come home. However, they do eat a lot of fruit at nursery which is good to hear (if the daily sheets are actually filled in truthfully).

How well do you feel that you are kept informed of trips and outings that are planned for the children?

They haven’t been on an outing for about eighteen months, so this hasn’t been an issue. It’s a shame that outings don’t take place any more as I’m sure the children would enjoy them. Maybe if they staff were more motivated they would organise exciting trips for the children. The preschoolers would certainly benefit from a trip to the aquarium or even Greenwich Park and the Maritime Museum.

How well do you feel that you are kept informed of nursery events?

We always know about the ‘big’ events e.g. fun day, sports day and the Christmas activities. However, we had no idea that the Big Stars were doing superheroes and fairytales until we spoke to another parent. I’d like to get a planner that outlined activities for the coming term, so that we could reflect the things they’re focusing on in nursery at home.

Our level and quality of response when you telephone the nursery?

I’ve only phoned the nursery a couple of times but on one occasion I phoned to ask how my child was and I was greeted very coldly and my concerns were brushed off. I felt stupid for even phoning.

If you have had cause to make a complaint, what do you feel about the manner in which it was handled?

I have made two complaints in writing. The first complaint was handled very well in writing. The second complaint was handled very badly initially (see earlier answer), but things improved afterwards.

What are your overall impressions of the nursery?

It’s a missed opportunity.

  • The nursery is in a prime location and has the space and potential to become an Outstanding Early Years Setting but it is poorly managed and the staff don’t seem to want to be there or care about their jobs.
  • Little attention is paid to the individual needs of the children. Bright children are not stretched to achieve their full potential.
  • I get the impression that as the nursery is full and there is a waiting list, there is no incentive to improve.
  • I have yet to meet a parent who is totally happy with the nursery.

Would you recommend the nursery to others?

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t for the reasons outlined above.

Do you have any other comments?

No.

————

We all got the same, blanket response sheet back. The meals have improved (although the girls are still scarfing down a snack when they get home) and the staff seem friendlier (apart from the one that now blanks me totally) but I still don’t really have a sense of what they get up to. We were told to look at their learning folders but on past experience I know that they are full of post-its with no sense of cohesion.

Six months to go….

Monday morning

BC (Before Children) I hated Monday morning as much as every other person on the planet with a job. Monday morning was God’s way of punishing you for having a life away from the office I used to struggle grumpily out of bed and throw myself in the shower, swearing and grunting until I was awake enough to face the world.

AT (After Twins) I now regard Monday morning as a rather wonderful thing. I adore my children. Honestly I do. However, I love going to work, docking my laptop and settling down in front of my computer, hot chocolate in one hand and a piece of toast in the other. I like the quiet hum of the office, the mumbled greetings and the office gossip. I like flicking through my e-mails, opening my post and checking my electronic diary for meetings and events. I like popping over to the tap to fill up my water bottle and wondering down to the canteen to see what today’s specials are. I like answering enquiries, dealing with requests and thinking, that in some small way, I’m making a difference to someone, somewhere. I like being able to go to the toilet in peace. I like the fact that no-one constantly shouts Mummy Mummy MUMMY at me with increasing urgency for some life-threatening reason like losing a Peppa Pig snap card, completing a drawing or needing yet another snack.

R and G are safely despatched to nursery, after a lovely weekend with Mummy, Daddy or both of us, eager to tell their friends about their adventures and do more of the stuff that pre-schoolers do. Dh is either (depending on his shift pattern) at work or pottering around at home. I get to have some ‘Grown-up’ time, which makes me appreciate my time at home even more.

I think Monday mornings are BRILLIANT.

Newsletter rage

The girls’ nursery produces a when they can be arsed to write it bi-monthly newsletter. It’s full of news and information – the topics they’re focusing on this term, the bad things that SILLY PARENTS DO, the names of staff that have walked out in a rage / been sacked for showing initiative left – but all I really care about are the photos.

The newsletter is littered with pictures of the children doing fun things…but I scroll through like a junkie seeking a fix for pictures of R and G. They feature fairly regularly. There are two of them after all, so they’re more likely to appear in at least one picture.

The latest newsletter doesn’t disappoint. There’s a lovely picture of G ‘mark making’ or ‘trying to write her name’. Only one problem. They’ve given G a name card to copy and it clearly says Gracie, not Grace. Gracie is one of the girls’ friends. It is not Grace’s name. Close, but no cigar. It might be one of her many nicknames, but it’s not the name she should be learning to write.

The bloody annoying thing is that the girls are both getting pretty good at writing their names. They can both pick out the letters from their names (G especially) when they see them written down anyway – road signs, books, graffiti – you name it. It’s something we’ve worked on with them at home. Thank goodness we have or they would be really confused now.

When I picked the girls up from nursery tonight I asked the girls what they had done today. G said that she had been writing ‘Her other name’. I didn’t quite get what she meant at the time. I thought that maybe (stupidly) they had been encouraging her to write her middle name or surname. Now it makes sense. She knows that there shouldn’t be a letter ‘I’ in her name.

I know it sounds like a small thing but I’m really cross. I’m now bracing myself for a little ‘chat’ with someone. Silver lining time: at least it wasn’t a picture of Grace with Ruth’s name card.

Baby, you’re a Big Star now

If this were a film this blog post would be accompanied by the pages of a dairy fluttering to the ground accompanied by brown leaves and shiny conkers to show you two things:

  1. It’s Autumn
  2. Time is passing very quickly

If this were a film I’d look like this and Dh would look like this

Right. You’re going to have to give me a minute now…

Where was I?

Oh yes. The girls have moved up to the preschool room at nursery, which is called Big Stars. The nursery has always been oversubscribed (aren’t they all?) so they have built a brand new Big Stars building that is adjacent to the existing premises. I say building, it’s actually a very fancy garden shed built on brick foundations. Anyway, it’s lovely and it feels about two minutes since I wrote about them moving up to the Little Stars room last September.  Now you have to imagine a whooshy sound and me doing wiggly hands, Wayne’s World style.

I picked the girls up from their new room for the first time last night and I was struck at how similar the setup was to Sunnyside nursery in Toy Story 3. To get to the new building you have to walk through most of the old one and I’d spotted a couple of toddlers in the Bubble Room (AKA the Caterpillar Room) bashing each other over the head with toys and running around. The Big Star room was, comparatively, an oasis of calm. Very grown-up looking pre-schoolers curled up on beanbags reading picture books.  A couple of children were helping the carers to tidy up at the end of the day. R and G ran over to their trays and pulled out a bundle of drawings each to take home. It was the real-life Butterfly Room.*

G absolutely adores the new setup. I asked her what she’d been up to today and every sentence began ‘IIIIIN BIG STARS…’.  She’d been playing with the dolls’ house, doing more complicated puzzles and constructing things with lego. She’s inordinately proud of the fact that she can write her name (kind-of, pretty much) and every scribble is accompanied by her left-handed wobbly hieroglyphics. There are lots of new books and she told me about a few of them in great detail.  G also told me a very complicated story about another child that didn’t listen when it was tidy-up time and talked during circle time. I strongly suspect that she was referring to herself…

R, generally more resistant to change, is not quite so pleased. She really liked the transition half-days she did in the Big Star room over the last few weeks, but was upset when she realised that the ‘old’ Big Stars had gone off to school. How dare they! She really misses her old keyworker (her beloved Mel-Mel) and told me at bedtime that she wanted to be a Little Star again. I was sympathetic and gave her lots of cuddles, but when I arrived this evening she was in the playground with a group of boys playing chase and laughing her head off so I I’m confident that it’s a temporary malaise.

Meanwhile, Dh and I are plotting the girls’ next move…

* Did you know that the little girl playing with dolls in the Butterfly Room in Sunnyside is the older Boo from Monster’s Inc? (I thought that was lovely when I found out and I’m going to go away now before I start listening to You’ve Got a Friend in Me and crying…)

Wild? I was livid!

After our encounter with Bullseye the nursery dog back in July I thought we were safe from nursery soft toy-based shenanigans for a while but the girls and Dh came home with George the Gorilla on Thirsday evening.

I was rather chuffed as we had some quite exciting things planned for the weekend – not quite the Eurostar, but nice things nonetheless. The kibosh was firmly put on most of our plans on Friday afternoon when Dh took the girls (and George) to the park and some lovely bastard person decided to crash into our car. Luckily they left a note with their details on but the back right door doesn’t close properly now and the back bumper had been pushed downwards towards the rear wheel rendering the car pretty much undriveable. Dh managed to nurse the car (slowly) home and we’re now waiting for the insurance companies to do their work (bye bye carefully built-up no-claims bonus) and for a courtesy car to turn up.

We had to re-jig our plans for the weekend. I managed to arrange a lift for the girls and I to a 3rd Birthday party (number 13 for the year if you’re counting…) on Saturday morning and we managed to get a food shop delivered but had to forego the second party on Saturday afternoon as we simply couldn’t get there.

The girls were really good about it all, but on Saturday morning couldn’t work out why we had to go to the party with J and his Mummy. G expressed shock that Daddy couldn’t magically fix the car himself. R looked confused: ‘Daddy fixes everything’. This is true (he’s handy) but there’s not a lot he can do with a car that needs a new bumper and some serious bodywork.

Dh was working all weekend so had to take the bus. The car is sitting outside looking a bit sorry for itself. Note to self: Citroen cars don’t like side impact crashes very much. You take a car for granted until it isn’t available to you. I felt really lost without it today, even though I had no plans to make a trip in the car. I like knowing that it’s there.

At this point I’ll roll out the usual cliches about being glad that Dh and the girls weren’t in the car at the time and that the person was kind enough to leave their details. The car will get fixed. It’s bloody annoying though.

Nursery Doggy

Bullseye is the nursery toy dog (in the style of Teddy Playgroup from Peppa Pig) and each child gets to take him home for a day or two. It was R and G’s turn this week. He came home last night with his own basket, blanket, lead(!) and diary for us to fill in.

My parental one-upmanship kicked in and I flicked through the previous entries. Some of the other children had looked after him for a whole weekend. We only had him for two nights and a day. If I’d known in advance I could’ve booked a flight to Peru and taken a picture of Bullseye on Macchu Picchu. Damn! A simple day at home with us would have to do….

This is what I they wrote in his diary:

The Adventures of Bullseye

By GH and RE aged 3 years 7 months.

Bullseye came to stay with us for two nights so we thought we’d take him through a typical day at home for us.

It was a warm day so we were able to sit on our swing in the garden and eat strawberries. R fed him some:

We also took him for a bounce on our trampoline. He got a bit scared so we didn’t stay on there for very long:

G cheered Bullseye up by feeding him some jammie dodgers special dog biscuits:

While Mummy made lunch, we played with our sand and water table and did some painting. Bullseye stayed in the buggy so he didn’t get messy!

(NB: I asked the girls to do a painting of Bullseye. G produced a picture. I asked if one of the blobs was Bullseye. ‘No!’ was her indignant cry. ‘That’s the witch. That’s [points at blob with line coming off it] Bullseye‘. Of course. How silly of me.)

Bullseye was very cheeky and ate quite a lot of Mummy’s home-made (I put this phrase into the diary entry and Dh keeps ribbing me for it…) apple and plum crumble. Naughty Bullseye! He seemed to enjoy it though…

There wasn’t much left for us by the time Bullseye had finished!

We took Bullseye to the Park and had a lovely time playing on the swings with him:

When we got home we introduced Bullseye to our guinea pigs, Charlie and Lola:

After a busy day, it was time for us to go to bed. Mummy put Bullseye’s pyjamas on and he sleepily climbed into bed. He was snoring in a few seconds! He must have had a really busy day. We loved having Bullseye to stay and would like him to come and see us again very soon!

All curled up and ready for bed after a fun day with R and G!

Now, I don’t want you to think that having Bullseye here was in any way fun. I didn’t enjoy it as much as (or possibly more than) the children. Oh no. It was a terrible chore for me to do all this stuff, take these photos, write it all up in a diary.

Next time we have him he’s going on the Eurostar to Paris.*

*Not really.