By Lisa Sherrington-Boyd AKA The Potty Queen
The Early Years Education rules have changed in Dubai, our options as parents for children aged 3-6 years have widened and now is the time to explore what this could mean to you.
As a Nursery School Principal in Dubai my heart would always feel sad as I waved goodbye to children transitioning to school at age 4, It was something I accepted, yet I longed for a day where I could implement the EYFS - Early Years Foundation Stage in its entirety 0-5 years and give children the full experience in a familiar setting. This is now possible!
It was even harder to wave goodbye when previous age rules meant that children aged 2.5 years were transitioning to “Big School” as per the old rules their third birthday was to be between September to December. This meant that children were missing a year of nursery life. Early Years Practitioners know just how much little children need support, it’s our specialism and the rush to get children school toilet ready at age 2.5 was one of the reasons I made the decision to set up The Potty Queen in 2020. I wanted to help. I spoke to many educators at the time and there were strong concerns that little ones needed more time. I am overjoyed that the KHDA heard and gave parents choice.
Parents can opt for a formal school life setting from FS1 if they feel their child is ready for the challenges of school life, it meets their values and practical needs. Alternatively, they can opt to extend their child’s Early Years Foundation stage and transition later by staying on in an Early Childhood Centre. Jumeriah International Nurseries is extending all its nurseries to finish at the end of FS2 and in two brand new locations they are extending into Primary Pre-Prep until age 6. I believe many nurseries will follow; however, it is important to fact find and ask questions.
In the British Curriculum there are 17 Early Learning Goals to reach in order for a child to transition to Year 1, will the setting you choose have experience of this? Jumeirah International Nurseries are working very closely with their sister schools Sunmarke and Regent International so for them this box is well and truly crossed.
I talk to parents all day every day and I understand the challenge of making life choices for your child. I understand the mountainous task of too much choice and multiple options. I understand the fear of not getting a school place and the daily struggle of child care, commutes, transport and fees. I hear you. It’s in every social media group or WhatsApp group for Mums. It’s a hot topic!
Please know that your choice won’t be right or wrong, better or worse in the generic sense, but the choice you may make may impact a variety of factors for you personally and that’s what I am here for. To guide you.
Here are the key facts
Early Childhood Centre’s are open for children aged 0-6 years.
Nurseries are open to children aged 0-5.
Children can transition to a school if they turn three before 31st August at the beginning of the school year.
Compulsory school age is from age 6 in the UAE. Which means you do not have to choose ether option.
ECC - Early Childhood Centre’s are subject to the same inspections a KHDA approvals.
What does it mean for you: Choice? Quite simply choice and that a wonderful thing
Who will benefit?
Many families will benefit from this change. For example, working parents who are looking for extended care in the afternoons. At Jumeirah International Nurseries (JINS), for instance, they offer families an option of extending their child’s day until 6 pm across all our branches and age groups (including FS1, FS2 and Primary Prep).
Parents who might need to work during school holidays would also benefit from this change as most ECCs in Dubai, including JINS, they tend to be open and have holiday programmes in place to extend children’s learning and keep them engaged throughout the year. Being able to attend the same setting even during the holidays can give parents peace of mind that there will be consistency in routine and that their child is already used to the environment and won’t have to go through a settling period once again at a new place.
The home-away-from-home atmosphere and personalised approach which you might get in an Early Childhood Centre (ECC) is also a plus. For example, an ECC would usually be more willing to accommodate the needs of a child who is not yet potty-trained at age 3; or of a child who is still not independent when eating or perhaps who might need a nap in the afternoon. Schools would be less likely to accommodate in these cases as they request children to be fully toilet trained. My experience is when they say “Toilet Trained” they mean it.
An interesting development to hope for could be that schools shift more to an emphasis on positive healthy toileting associations for life rather than a deadline. I work with too many tearful children and parents facing daily accidents and phone calls home. I hope one day this will be different.
The personalised approach which you tend to see more of in ECCs would also be beneficial for families who have just arrived in Dubai. In such cases, the child might not yet speak English or due to the many changes which are going on in his/her life, would perhaps greatly benefit from the tailor-made care that they offer.
What are the curriculum options?
Jumeriah International Nurseries is using The International Primary Curriculum which was created in the UK as an answer to international schools preparing children for American, British and all school systems. A reliable and trusted curriculum to prepare international children for schools all over the world. In the under 6 years category, it is my personal belief that a child’s curriculum path doesn’t need to be set in stone. It’s possible to transition from the British Curriculum into the American curriculum in this early age range for example. It is important that children reach early Learning Goals by the end of FS2 so they can meet the demands of Year 1 and choosing an ECC that has a track record of achieving this is vital. The recruitment of teachers into ECC’s for the older age range must be carefully considered and links with schools’ part of the curriculum building process. Teachers will need to be of the same standard we would expect in a school.
Questions to ask a potential Early Childhood Centre and consider may be:
What are the resources available?
What is their pedagogy? How is this evidenced?
Are they accredited in their chosen approach?
Are the resources safe, spacious, well maintained? A child of 5 climbing a tree is different to a child of 3. Is the setting suited to growing children with lots of energy?
How will they ensure they meet targets? Do they have strong links with schools?
How will they assess? Will they use baseline assessments to track?
How will they feedback to you on progress?
How often will there be reports to read and parent teacher meetings to attend?
How will they support children who are not reaching milestones?
What is their inclusion policy? Do they have links with outside therapists?
Will you be able to talk to the teacher each day?
Will they offer a sports and PE program?
Are they going to offer school enrichments and school trips?
Which languages will they offer and how often?
Where you live? Location and traffic?
Staff turnover, leadership and governors?
What is their up-to-date reputation and reviews?
Fees and extra costs
I have recently had the pleasure of visiting many of the Jumeriah Group International Early Learning settings and I have had meetings with the leadership team to discuss the wider issues of family life in Dubai. I felt they understood very well the demands on family life and were tailoring a solution which could greatly impact the daily stress for working families in particular with children under the age of 6. It is a beautiful thing to imagine that children would be given time and space to be educated in their smaller communities. Childhood is a precious thing and as Magda Gerber wisely said “earlier is not better”.
Early Childhood Centre’s
Open All Year for holiday care continuity
Fear of possible school place availability (it’s what we are told)
Extended Day Care 7.00am -6.00pm even on Fridays
Other siblings at schools to collect
Large resources like swimming pools and Basketball pitches
Smaller Staff to child ratios
Support with personal care
Independent Nurseries may not have strong school links or expertise
Early Years Specialism
Reduced pressure to Toilet Train
Time to settle if new to Dubai
Home away from home
Everyone knows your name size setting
They may offer you access to a parent app for daily life updates
Where to start and how to choose?
Once you’ve narrowed down to a few Early Childhood Centre’s, book a tour. In fact, don’t just tour once, visit at other times. All good schools welcome a 2nd tour. I think it’s worth checking on parent involvement and engagement, sometimes this can be visible through social media or their website. Do the photos, the information they share display a sense of community where you could see yourselves being a part of? Can you visualize your child being there?
When you are on the tour and going through the registration process are they able to find time to answer your questions? Some questions to ask may include: what do they feel makes them unique? What one thing would they change about the school and why? As you tour can you see engaged children who are enthusiastic about learning, teachers who are relaxed and comfortable? As you finish the tour you may ask yourself if the school resonates with your family values.
When touring nurseries, it can be useful to ask them what they do in different scenarios such as when a child bites another to test if your values/responses are aligned etc. It can be helpful to ask to see some policies to check on safety.
Most parents will decide on the feel, an instinct, a connection and also how their child reacts…
What about the children themselves? Should they choose? Children will see schools in a different perspective and may choose based on colors, toys and facilities. It’s important to allow children space to ask questions and take part, however you are the grown up with the most understanding and experience. I like to see children having access to the classrooms and play spaces to see how they feel and then allow themselves to imagine life in that school. It’s great if you can speak to other parents and for children to have access to other children to ask questions.
Whichever school you choose I can guarantee it will be busy and bustling, as schools and nurseries are living breathing communities of people all doing their best. No school is perfect.
"First I was dying to finish high school and start college. And then, I was dying to finish college and start working.
And then, I was dying to marry and have children.
And then, I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work.
And then I was dying to retire..."
Wayne W Dyer- What Do You Really Want for Your Children
Before you jump into accepting school for FS1 as your only option please know that you have choices and options.
“Earlier is not better. All children accomplish milestones in their own way, in their own time.”
– Magda Gerber
With love and best wishes for the first day of school wherever you choose
Check out my Instagram for more tips and advice for families @principal_lisa