TEY hears from Jacqueline Duranti and Rachael Lawence about their commitment to keeping the individual child at the centre of everything they do…
Our emphasis is on the starting points and uniqueness of each child. We always take time to really understand their individual routines, learning preferences and needs, adapting and creating activities to suit the child and provide equal opportunities.
We also adapt the physical setting to suit children’s needs – for example, we’ve had stair lifts put in for children who need access, and rearranged furniture in the setting to ensure children with walkers have access to all the resources.
Some children at the nursery have learning differences and some have complex medical needs. The learning journey software that we use is fantastic, but the statements can be quite broad for children with SEND, so we use a personal profile and early support developmental journals.
These incorporate smaller and more individual steps, which should be celebrated just as much.
One non-verbal boy at our setting loved raisins, and learned to look up at us and hold out raisins when he wanted some, and we extended that with pictures. Another step might be that a child responds to their name when called.
It might seem like a small thing for a 3-year-old, but for them it’s not. It’s about getting to know how an individual child communicates and how they learn in their own way.
Communicating with families has been trickier since Covid as they’ve had to queue outside rather than coming into the nursery – we haven’t been able to build that bond in the same way, which can make it more difficult to approach a child’s specific need, especially if they’re fairly new to the setting.
It’s still really important to build relationships with parents. They need confidence too, to know that the questions they’re asking are valid and to feel comfortable to talk with us about their child’s learning and development.
One parent is hard of hearing and lipreads. I didn’t realise this at first, but once I knew, I switched from wearing a mask to wearing a visor whenever I spoke with him. Using a range of communication is also essential, understanding how parents prefer to communicate – whether its face-to-face, telephone, email or via the learning journal – whichever makes them feel at ease.
It’s crucial to remember to signpost parents to other professionals, too. It really helps them – just knowing that they can speak to their health visitor and doctor; that they’ll be able to help.
We’re lucky enough that some health visitors are parents at the nursery, and we have a hub of local health visitors to go to. Identifying a point of contact ensures that you get the specialism that you need for the individual child.
We also have visits from a speech and language therapist. They’ll come in and look at our environment – our resources, how we use the room, small group activities, and general routine. They’ll then make suggestions for adapting things.
For example, a child who has attention difficulties might struggle to sit down for the whole of story time. We’ll adapt their routine so that they join in for part of story time, always joining in at the end; never at the beginning.
That way, they’ve completed the activity and they’re not being taken away from it. They can also be working on individual targets during those quiet moments at the beginning of story time, so it’s the best of both worlds.
As a team, we work closely with Suffolk County Council. Jackie Bridges, an early years advisor, is a huge support to us. We run ideas by Jackie, and she’ll make observations, talk about the best way forward and signpost to other places for additional support if needed.
The SENCo role has really developed over the years. We’re more involved now with EHC plans and 2-year progress checks. Our work is more varied than ever. In one way, it’s a great that our work is recognised – we’re the ones who spend most time with the children and really know their individual needs – but it is a lot of work, so support from people like Jackie is invaluable.
Anglia Sunshine was rated ‘Outstanding’ for the third time in February 2020. Self-reflection is very important, it’s easy to get complacent. When you’re good, how do you constantly get better? We always look at ways to make changes to every aspect of the business, to ensure we’re constantly improving.
When we have different children moving up through the nursery, we adapt to suit those children’s needs – our provision’s always evolving. Sometimes, if children need consistency, staff will move with children as they progress through the nursery.
Consistency has been particularly important since Covid began. Children who are just starting nursery aren’t used to spending time with other people. So, at age 3, sometimes with not long to go before they start school, they’re suddenly expected to share and know how to talk to their peers and other adults. Settling in has been a real focus since the pandemic.
We’re committed to training, too – online training, coaching, and mentoring. We use EYlog learning journey software, which is a great tool for communicating with parents, using photos and videos to really help them understand how we’re supporting their children.
Through using online communication, we were still able to support families during lockdown, so it’s been a huge help to us. Parents can share photos and videos of their children’s home learning, too, enabling us to understand their routines.
Some parents are tech savvy and might regularly share voice notes and videos about their child’s learning or routines. We can share those easily with nursery staff and put the same things into practice.
Jacqueline Duranti is the Director of Anglia Sunshine Nurseries.
Rachael Lawrence is the Deputy Manager and SENCo.
Anglia Sunshine Nurseries won the nasen Award for Early Years Provision. For more information on nasen Awards 2021, visit nasen.org.uk/awards