'Learning And Play' Haven In Chiswick
Devonshire Day Nursery tries to give children the best start in life

When it comes to giving children the best start in life, instilling confidence and finding fun are priorities at Devonshire Day Nursery in Chiswick whether you are six weeks old, nearly five or an experienced practitioner.

In the top 12 per cent of the country’s early years providers, the day nursery in Bennett Street is Ofsted rated ‘Outstanding’ because, Manager Dee Townsend explains, each and every child knows they are special and has a variety of opportunities to shine. “Confident, secure and happy children make friends easily and are open to new experiences. When you get that right, it is just a case of introducing as many different opportunities as possible to capture their imagination and see where their learning journey takes us,” she said.

Part of the employee-owned Childbase Partnership – which invests in research into early years development and provides award-winning staff training programmes - Devonshire Day Nursery sets the scene for fun in imaginative, age-appropriate playrooms with a mixture of state of the art equipment; natural materials and everyday objects.

Budding artists are born in the messy creative play corners where paint and recycled materials, like cardboard and yoghurt pots, are transformed into works of art, while dress-up and role play in other areas provide an introduction to a wider world outside the safe and secure nursery setting.

“Children of all ages are encouraged to explore and investigate and to question and contribute in a process that not only builds self-esteem but helps practitioners identify particular interests and talents,” said Dee.

Outside every available space in the garden is fully utilised with even babies being encouraged into the fresh air where a separate, canopied and astro-turfed area provides safe, clean play and crawling all year round.

Older children plant, tend and harvest herbs from special garden containers learning maths, science and healthy lifestyle messages as they go, and as part of The Forest Schools Project, which is designed to encourage and inspire children of all ages with positive outdoor experiences, respect for the environment is also promoted at the nursery.

Margaret Griffin, a qualified Forest Schools practitioner at the nursery, and Simon Braidman, who is also a wildlife conservationist, ensure all children get the most from special nature days by bringing in natural materials gathered during expeditions.

At the last ‘Autumnal Forest Schools Day’ in the nursery, children and parents toasted marshmallows over an open fire; learned how to peel a carrot to make Halloween-themed witch fingers, and created twig skeletons and towers with materials gathered by staff from Stanmore Country Park outside London.

“We have wonderfully supportive parents and grandparents at Devonshire who recognise the importance of working with us to ensure each and every child gets the very most from their nursery experience. That support can range from membership of the Parent Forum, which ensures our pursuit of continual improvement is both informed and targeted, to helping us celebrate special religious festivals and understanding the importance of family traditions,” said Dee, adding that special themed days at nursery were particular favourites with children and staff.

One example of this was World Food Day in October following Chinese New Year and Africa Day celebrations, when the sharing and celebration of food from different cultures was marked with a party for parents and staff.

Dressed in national costume, practitioner Mary Mensa Bonsu, who was born in Ghana, treated children, parents and staff to some traditional home-cooked delicacies, like ‘Puff Puff’ doughnuts, Joloff rice, plantane crisps and ‘Chin Chin’ biscuits.

George Fiawoo, of Kekeli Dancers, provided traditional music and helped the children – some barely seeing over the large African drums – create their own compositions. Diwali, Halloween and Christmas celebrations offer more opportunities for dress up, crafting and fun and demonstrate a serious commitment to recognising and celebrating individuality and diversity amongst children and staff.

Harvest Festival at the beginning of October saw children bringing tinned goods and dry food gifts to delighted elderly residents of the nearby Convent Elderly Care Home which is a popular destination for pre-schoolers.

Believing that “it takes a community to raise a child”, Dee and her dedicated team organise outings and welcome a variety of local professionals and specialists into nursery from the recent visit by popular children’s author David Chukka to local firemen.

“We are preparing happy and confident children for a smooth transition to mainstream schooling and, equally important, for their roles and responsibilities in a much wider world. That cannot be achieved behind closed doors,” said Dee, adding that creating a varied nursery routine was just as important in retaining talented, energetic staff teams as it was to children’s development.

In addition to exterior and in-house training provided by the company, staff are given the opportunity to visit centres of excellence and take part in major research projects to ensure they stay abreast of developments in the sector and the pursuit of excellence is on-going.

Justyna Deneka, Devonshire's Polish-born Deputy Manager, is passionate in her support of children and families with English as a second language and will be joining company colleagues on a two-day European Commission funded conference in a bid to put practice in specific areas under the microscope.

The two-year ‘Education and Language at Childcare Centres’ project – involving Childbase Partnership and providers from Germany and Denmark - is designed to identify improvements and innovations that will provide the basis for a ‘toolkit’ for the sector European-wide. For Justyna there is not only the opportunity to contribute but also bring back new ideas to support inclusive practice at Devonshire.

“Ofsted inspectors have told us repeatedly that a happy and engaged staff team equals happy children. Our pride in our nursery is reflected in our happy and confident children and there is nothing more rewarding or satisfying than that,” said Dee.


October 30, 2013