In March, 2019 I met up with Jessica, who is the manager at St Thomas’ Preschool, in Lancaster city centre (which has just been awarded the Ofsted Outstanding Provider status), to find out more about what they do and to put your questions to her (just in the random order that you posted them to our facebook page):

Do you use the naughty step/time out as punishment?

  • No. Our philosophy which is proving to work, is ‘in the moment planning’. We don’t expect childrent to do anything unless they’re investing in it and wanting to do it. Our curriculum (Anna Ephgrave) recognises that in a morning a child may have 1000 teachable moments. A structured curriculum can limit these moments by expecting them to do things they’re not naturally interested in. (Watch a 12 minute video from Anna Ephgrave describing this approach here).
  • The wellbeing and engagement/involvement are the main things we measure, on a 5 point scale, and learning happens when these are high.
  • We focus on the environment, relationships with children, parents to keep these levels high. This minimises opportunities to display negative behaviour.
  • There are still rules, and we still remind them not to snatch or push when these things happen. We see it as that child learning, and that it’s not appropriate to punish them for something that’s part of their development. We have ‘kind hands, kind feet, kind words’ and explain that to children, and encourage them to role play the situation doing it the right way, to reinforce the positive.
  • We aim to give ‘meaningful consequences’ eg. if children are playing rough with a toy, then the toy will be removed. Meaningful consequences teach more than just time out, which children of this age are often not able to understand.
  • Key people have good relationships with their key children and can spot when things are getting too much and anticipate issues before they arise. We know the children really well and help them work through difficult emotions and support them with a range of strategies. If there is a child struggling with biting, for example, we can have a plan in place and discuss this with the parent, working together. We don’t believe that time out teaches anything.

What are the sleeping arrangements like for naps?

  • Any preschool setting that only takes children from age 2, and for short sessions, probably won’t have sleeping arrangements. We’d encourage you to book them in for sessions that don’t clash with naptime so they can make the most of the 3 hour session.
  • We have had people arrive in a pushchair that they can have a nap in, but pretty soon they don’t want to and stop napping on preschool days.

Do the children have free access to outside spaces?

  • At least an hour, every session (in both morning and afternoon) when they can play outside. Our outdoor space is small but we have developed it really well with lots of play equipment and interesting things for building ramps, obstacle courses, mud kitchen, pipes, tubes and more. Our next step will be to develop the back to do some planting.

Are you open in the school holidays? Do children have to attend every day? What’s the division of play / learning.

  • At the moment, St Thomas’ Preschool is termtime only, 9-1 Mon, Friday and 9-3.30 Tues, Wed, Thurs. You can be flexible with how you use your funded hours provision, if you go over your 15 hours, you just pay for the excess. For 3&4 year olds, £4 an hour for a 3 hour session. For 2 year olds, £4.40 per hour. Book whichever sessions work for you, you can even split your funded hours between 2 settings.
  • It’s all play and all learning. The learning comes through the play which both follows their interest and is guided.

What ratio of staff to children do you have and what level of training do you all have?

  • We’re a really small preschool and follow the 1:4 for 2 year olds and 1:8 for 3 year olds that all childcare settings are bound to, but we’re usually at a bettter rate of staff to children than, sometimes with 6 children and 2 fully qualified adults.
  • We have 3 staff with qualified teacher status, and one member of staff with a degree on working with families and 20 years experience in the field. All our staff are highly qualified and between the 4 of us we have over 70 years experience working in early years.

Do you do cry it out, or give cuddles?

  • Children get cuddles whenever they want or need. We are acting in the place of the child’s parent for the time when they are with us, so provide whatever comfort is appropriate.

Do you supply meals & snacks? Is drinking water available at all times? How do you cater for allergies?

  • Water is available at all times. They all have their named water bottles which are washed by us every day and refilled. We provide fruit morning and afternoon which is available throughout the session, and only food that nobody is allergic to. Children need to bring their own lunch.
  • If a child has allergies we do a care plan so everyone knows. We have a big picture in the kitchen with photos of each child with allergies along with what they’re allergic to and what to do if they accidentally have it.
  • Milk is only had with adult supervision.
  • With serious allergies, such as a seriuous nut allergy – we’ll be nut free as a preschool.
  • Lunch boxes are named and allergic children have their own named plate and are taught to only eat food that staff put on there for them.
  • When baking, we’ll ask parents of children with allergies what they use at home and get it in so that all children can be included in our activity.

How often are nappies changed? Are Nappies, wipes & cream provided? Do you aim to ensure his key-person (who he will feel most secure with) will be doing his nappy?

  • Nappies are changed once per session by the key worker, unless more is needed. Because we’re so small, all staff know all children really well anyway. If a child bonds with someone who isn’t their key person, we can either change key worker or just let the child choose who changes them.
  • You need to send in your own nappies and wipes but we do have spare.

What is your security like? When dropping off / picking up do parents enter the room or are the children brought out to the parent?

  • Outside gate locked when we’re playing outside. Doors all have coded locks. Baby gates on every room. A password system is used so that if someone not on usual list comes for pickup we know they’re safe. (If someone we didn’t know arrived for pickup, and didn’t have your password, we’d ring you straight away)
  • We tend to bring children out one at a time for pickup, with parents waiting in the entrance room.
  • In the morning, parents often go in the room to help them settle, although if they’d prefer to say goodbye in the entrance room this is fine.
  • Nobody would ever be allowed into the building unsupervised.

Are all staff first aid trained? Yes

What is your food hygiene rating? 5

What levels of safeguarding training have the staff had? All certificates are on display. All staff are trained.

Do you have pushchair storage? – Yes, it’s limited, but there’s enough. You can leave your pushchair with us during the session.

How do you support transition to primary school?

  • We do readiness for school stuff, both in small groups and on a very individual basis. We meet with their primary school, and can meet with other key staff when necesasary.

Do you record what they’ve done in the day?

  • We don’t keep a daily diary for each child. There is plenty of opportunity to speak to staff each day about what they’ve been up to, and the children tend to like to tell you themselves too.
  • We keep very thorough learning journey folders on each child, and you’re welcome to look at these whenever you like either at preschool, or to take them home to have a thorough look.
  • For children with English as an Additional Language, we’ll use a home link book.
  • For a non-verbal child we’d make sure we tell parents what they’ve been up to.

Do I need to provide outdoor clothing or nursery?

  • We have spare wellies, and a collection of wetsuits so that all children can enjoy some messy or wet outdoor play.

Are you able to administer medication?

  • We can give medication that is prescribed to them, so long as it is still in the labelled bottle with their name on it.
  • We can also administer paracetamol or piriton.
  • You have to fill in form to enable us to do this.

What’s your accident/incident policy? We record all of them.

And finally, here’s a poem that Jessica believes captures the heart of preschool:

If this is not the place where tears are understood, where do I go to cry?

If this is not a place where my spirits can take wing, where do I go to fly?

If this is not a place where my questions can be asked, where do I go to seek?

If this is not a place where my feelings can be heard, where do I go to speak?

If this in not a place where you’ll accept me as I am, where can I go to be?

If this is not a place where I can try to and learn to grow, where can I just be me?

William j crocker

To really see what we’re like, you need to come and visit us, it’s hard to convey just how much of a home from home setting we are like.

Marton Street, Lancaster, LA1 1XX
Tel:01524 60652