Last November a group of us went to Education Scotland’s Early Years Conference, where we heard the familiar message of recent years. Pre birth and the first 3 years of a child’s life are the most important in that child’s development. Brain research shows it, politicians believe it, practitioners know it, we all talk about it. As Susan Deacon says in Joining the Dots, it’s time that our bias is for action. So I sat in that conference thinking what resources do we have in Prestonpans Infant School to make something small happen? What could we do for our under 3s and their families?
Those of you who have known me for many years, know that I lived in West Pilton when I had 2 under 5 year olds. I lived in a flat with a dreadful back green so resorted to having a sandpit in the house so my kids could have good play experiences. I cannae believe now that I did that. What saved me when I was going through the loneliness of being at home with 2 wee ones was Craigroyston Under 5 Centre. Craigroyston was an amazing community school, in every sense of the word, funded by the Van Leer Foundation. The Under5 Centre was pulled out of heaven and dropped in the middle of Pilton and Muirhouse… for us parents. Staffed by the most nurturing of women – Grace – a nursery nurse and mother to all of us, Chris – a skilled and kind early years teacher, Addie – a local mum – the under 5 centre was a place where you could go and play with your children in a quality early years environment. Beautifully child centred for the under 3s and 5s, children baked bread daily, every child’s baked a cake on their birthday, parents who were really toiling and stressed came in that door and were soothed by the care of the team and supportive friendships were made with other parents…. and through all that children developed and grew through having play experiences and through the team modelling play to us stressed parents. There were times when our children were challenging. One of mine became a biter. We’d walk in the room and at times, I could see parents shrink away in case their child got bit. The team helped me understand that. I remember Grace, in her utter generous, kindly way, saying, ” Such a clever child that, isn’t it the perfect way to get to play with the very thing you want!” Oh, what a haven.
So can we do that today in some wee way in Wee Pans was my thought sitting in the Early Years Conference. Then a crazy idea came. Can’t we open up our nursery on a Friday afternoon, when we have no children in. Being quite new to Prestonpans Infants, not knowing how amazing my nursery team are, I knew that getting the staff onside with that would be really difficult. It’s no secret to early years workers that one of the sad side effects (and for practitioners there were many good ones) of the ‘Nursery Nurse strike’ was that practitioners’ roles became highly defined and fairly rigidly adhered to. But surely I could ask…….?
So I asked and was overwhelmed by the excitement and absolute commitment of our nursery team, every single one of them and there’s 8 of them, to working with our under 3s. They understood the whole debate and need for the earliest provision. They even volunteered to do it free in their Friday afternoon preparation time!
Next where to get a bit of money for this because I wanted this to be led by Susan Savage, working with us as a nursery ASN Auxiliary but trained as a Nursery Nurse. Support from the Start came up with £5000 funding – £2500 to resource play for babies and 1 and 2 years olds and £2500 to pay for Susan to lead this over the next 15 months. Not expensive is it?
Susan was given the budget and the responsiblity for setting up the play and organising staff into a rota. Susan would be the constant with one of us every Friday.
And so Wee Pans Stay and Play started on Friday 20 April 2012….. we’ve spoken to lots of young families, health visitors, Jacqui MacCrea who works in our council as More Choices, More Chances leader…. would anyone come?
After an hour, our first family came – a young lass of 15, her partner and their 12 day old son. How brave they were to come along to a school when their baby was so wee. But their coming was testament to the way Susan and her team had invited them and encouraged them to come along, as commented on by the baby’s grandparents subsequently on our school website (www.weepans.org). They were joined by another single parent dad and his daughter. Soon the 2 dads were talking about how magic it is to become a father. The single dad was playing with his wee one and the new dad was watching, probably watching and waiting with excitement for the day that he will be able to do that with wee Cruz. Cruz was welcomed to his school at 12 days old and will be coming on Fridays as he grows and develops. Pure early intervention and it doesn’t take a researcher to tell us that Cruz’s development and learning will be boosted by being with his mum and dad in a quality wee nursery provision for babies and toddlers.
Each member of staff was moved to tears by seeing these wee ones come to nursery with their families. We’ve been further moved and inspired as we see the comments by Cruz’ family on our website. Even Cruz himself commented. Blogging at 12 days old on your school website has to be a world first.
“I had a great day out it was magical thanx baby cruz”
A ray of hope…..