How do you organise something as apparently spontaneous as a children’s play session, when the whole point of the exercise is surely to encourage them to interact, invent and enjoy in their own way?The other question arguably worth asking in this context is how do you judge whether or not a particular exercise – whether it’s drawing, or some sort of themed play event – has been a success?
There’s possibly no such thing as the perfect ‘system’, according to Nursery Managers Adelle Taylor and Diane Murray at Scottish company Little Einstein’s, where the mission statement is “Imagination is the key to unlock the potential.”
Adelle Taylor, Manager at the firm’s nursery at Ninewells in Dundee and Diane Murray at the Thistle Street nursery, both in Dundee, consider their nurses’ main role is to gently point the children in directions where their own natural curiosity and ingenuity will deliver a rich and varied – and highly enjoyable – learning experience.
However, from their point of view, the conditions necessary to get the best from each individual child in every kind of situation – from a group play exercise to a full-on learning activity needing one-to-one tuition, for example writing – they say there are relatively subtle but nevertheless effective mechanisms for ensuring every activity delivers a high value in terms of fun, social interaction and education.
The firm’s Nursery Nurses are continually honing their skills through training courses designed to give them the broadest possible professional experience, and there’s also a rigid insistence on a relatively high ratio of Nurses to children, one to five.
The net result is said to be a capable crew which can remain energetic and committed no matter how hectic any particular day becomes – so that, while the typical nursery day will seem cheerful and industrious to a visitor, it’s also ‘organised’ in terms of resources from the word go, and certainly fully able to accommodate all the little crises of the day without any of them interrupting the flow of events.
The Managers also point to an in-house system which effectively expects innovation to follow experience gained in organising particular events, so that its (currently) six nurseries can all benefit from a particularly good idea – or perhaps customise it to suit some specific local purpose.
There are plenty of thoroughly organised events, of course, but the ones which involve the local community are particularly valuable.
The activities and ideas which spring from an imagination-grabbing objective such as a charity fundraiser are impressive. There’s the communal pride in achieving something praiseworthy and the individual sense of achievement from, say, a manageable sponsored walk.
There’s also the major side-benefit of interaction with local organisations and community issues in the area around the Nurses – meaning it isn’t a unit sealed from the world the children inhabit.
Adelle Taylor said, “I had worked at this nursery when it was under a previous ownership and, having now had a chance to experience the new system, I feel the way things are organised now, with regular evaluations of how we are doing things, gives us the chance to bring in regular improvements.
“The feedback from parents is one of our best guides. If they see healthy and happy children who are enthusiastic about the day they’ve had with us, they will know we are getting the most important things right.”
In terms of organising sessions which will encourage play the Managers’
nurseries have a rolling programme of special themed days (for example, Scottish culture and food) which involve plenty of variety. No exercise ever need be exactly the same, even if it’s based on a tried and tested format.
Diane Murray said, “There always has to be the capacity to work with children one-to-one, so that, if something just isn’t going well for that child, there’s a way of getting over the problem smoothly and quickly – whereas without that degree of attention a small upset can cause the whole group to lose focus.”
Group work, she says, can be detailed but also largely intuitive. Nurses will evolve teamwork to the degree where the play experience can be given full rein within the safe limits imposed by careful organisation.
This in turn, she adds, obviously starts with health and safety considerations above all others. “It’s our most important concern, clearly,” she says, “and this has to be reflected – and organised – in every activity which we carry out.”
However, both agree that, beyond this, organisation can be flexible as well as effective, and that far from putting limits on creativity, and therefore learning, it can set the scene for a fun, valuable experience that continually offers children fresh challenges and rewards.
Adelle Taylor is a Nursery Manager at Wonderland Nursery, Ninewells in Dundee, and Diane Murray is a Nursery Manager at Wonderland Nurseries, Dundee, part of Little Einstein’s children’s nurseries across Scotland.