From virtual dinosaurs to daily yoga, kids are getting the best start in life with these unique education nurseries…
Your own hazy memories of starting school probably revolve around glitter and paste; but flash cards and finger painting no longer cut it when it comes to nursery education. Now, a toddler’s day is as likely to include organic gardening, a language lesson or even yoga as it is story book corner and naptime.
The nursery revolution has its roots in Manhattan and London, where parents have been known to add children to waiting lists for top pre-schools before they’re even born, so anxious are they to ensure their tot gets the best possible start in life. For their efforts (and substantial financial outlay), their little one is rewarded with an early years education that incorporates everything from individual iPads to immersive language learning.
Now the landscape in the UAE is changing too, with unique education nurseries in Dubai. Take Tiny Feet Nursery, where augmented reality animations in the interactive walls, floors and desks mean children can learn surrounded by lush gardens or colourful, moving marine life.
“Say for instance we are looking at the topic of dinosaurs; through our augmented reality floor and walls the children see dinosaurs walking past them,” says Tiny Feet principal Paulette Jackson. “The children find it absolutely fascinating.”
The nursery in Umm Suqeim is embracing the Smart Learning Programme launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, which encourages the use of the most up to date technology to further boost the education system in the UAE.
“Technology is all around us,” says Paulette, adding that it makes sense to utilise it to help children learn and develop. “Incorporating technology in the early years boosts cognitive development in children and prepares them for school,” she says.
Children at Tiny Feet use interactive tables for writing, drawing or educational games, and when they successfully complete an activity, it’s displayed on a big screen to help boost their self-esteem.
It isn’t just the kids who benefit from the technological advances at Tiny Feet; parents can log in to its website to monitor their little ones’ progress.
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Where Tiny Feet uses technology to spark kids’ imaginations, Starfish Lane Nursery, due to open the doors to its first Abu Dhabi branch next month, emphasises the effectiveness of its “holistic” methods.
“We are teaching children to become individuals,” manager Jayne Lucas tells us. “Our holistic approach helps them to become creative thinkers and critical thinkers, and improves their ability to learn.”
As part of this, Starfish pupils have daily yoga lessons to help improve their concentration and develop their balance. “It boosts their physical and emotional resilience too,” adds Jayne. Each week the children learn a different yoga pose and by the end of the year, all of the children can perform the full series with confidence.
Starfish follows the Australian curriculum, and has a laidback approach that is distinctly Antipodean. The nursery espouses “learning through play” as an effective way of encouraging children to develop a sense of curiosity. “We follow the curriculum but it’s not rigid here,” Jayne says. “The teachers have to have a holistic approach and they have to be flexible –things are not set in stone.
“We’re not just telling children ‘do this’, we’re teaching them to ask questions.” says Jayne. “Most importantly we’re teaching them to think for themselves.”
Dubai’s Home Grown Nursery also has an appealing USP; it’s an eco nursery where young pupils learn to embrace nature and develop a sense of environmental responsibility – something founder Lucy Bruce believes is crucial in our desert home. She says she and her business partner Beverly Jatwani (both women are mothers of three) felt compelled to create an early years education setting that did not focus solely on academics, but also on “teaching children to be valuable human beings”.
“Living here in Dubai we need to teach children about the environmental impact their actions have,” says Lucy, adding that staff and parents have witnessed the effects of instilling a sense of responsibility in children at an early age. “We had a child who was in a superstore and told the manager there were too many lights on,” she says. “Or parents tell us their child won’t stop telling them off for leaving the water running as they brush their teeth.”
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It’s not just the environment that Home Grown children are taught to care for. Each pupil is paired with a child at Harmony House, the non-profit community centre for women and children that Lucy opened in India five years ago. “The Home Grown pupil’s fees will pay to educate a child in India too,” says Lucy, explaining that the children in both countries chat via Skype.
According to its founders, Home Grown addresses needs that are quite specific to Dubai. “It’s that worry that your child is an expat brat,” says Lucy. “It’s very difficult when you live in a place where so many of us are so fortunate, and we’re quite sheltered from poverty.
“We provide not only what we feel is an excellent educational setting for children, but also a focus within the curriculum on giving back.”
It seems more and more nurseries in the UAE are providing added value for parents eager to secure the best early years experience for their child. So whether you want to see your little one grow into a digital whizz kid, or you have your heart set on raising an eco warrior, finding the perfect fit for your young family is getting easier all the time.
Images: Alex Atack and Supplied.