We had a meeting last week with Yvonne, who is the nutritionist whom we are working with for our Early Years Nutrition Partnership Award at Innsworth. We have designed our new Spring/Summer menu for all the nurseries, which will start later this month, and made sure it meets all the requirements to make it nutritionally balanced. Yvonne then showed us a great piece of work she had done on the sugar content in Easter eggs. She had measured out the amount of sugar contained in each egg, which she had in a small bag, so we could compare all the eggs, many of which retail at less than £1 and are very much marketed at children and parents. This ranged from 26.5 g (5 teaspoons) in a Creme egg, to 74g (15 teaspoons) in a Smarties Egg, through to a whopping 31 teaspoons of sugar in a Chocolate Orange egg.

The recommended amount of sugar for a 4-6 year old each day is 19g, so you can see how quickly these are exceeded. So, what do we do in the face of the onslaught of marketing? Yvonne suggested using hollow chocolate eggs for an egg hunt, or small chocolate ones which can be rationed! It’s also worth noting that mini eggs, which are very popular with us all, are labelled on the pack saying ‘not suitable for children under 4’, as they are a choking hazard, but many people are not aware of this.

So, have a happy Easter, but just be aware of how much sugar is in Easter eggs and let us know if you find any good alternatives!

A sense of place…

March 25th, 2019 by Sarah Steel

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Flo’s Place in Oxford, having last seen it several months ago, when it was just an idea. It is a former children’s centre in a very mixed part of Oxford, which has been transformed into a community centre by its Trustees, who wanted something that really served the local community. The ‘anchor tenant’ of this centre is a children’s nursery, which has been put together with a lot of support from Annie Davy, former Head of Early Years in Oxfordshire. It was fantastic to visit on a sunny day and see people using the nursery, cafe and midwives to give a vibrant and buzzing feeling of purpose. I wished I had something on my doorstep like it, when I was a new Mum. I hope it continues to thrive and becomes part of the community.

Annie also gave me a copy of her latest book, ‘A Sense of Place’, which is a lovely deep dive into ‘mindful practice outdoors’. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Early Years provision and think it should be on the reading list for all Early Years students. It will certainly be doing the rounds within our company! There are lots of ideas of activities included, but also it prompts you to reflect on why we do what we do. I particularly like the section on risk benefit, so that teams can think about the hazards of working outdoors and how they can manage these risks, as well as teaching children about risk taking and keeping safe. I hope that every OFSTED inspector who visits us has also read Annie’s book!

As Margaret MacMillan so famously said, ‘The best classroom and the richest store cupboard is roofed only by the sky.’ For more details of Annie’s book see:

Leadership Day 2018

November 4th, 2018 by Sarah Steel

Every year we have a whole company training day and invite a guest speaker in, with the brief that they need to entertain and inspire over 100 members of the team. Our whole company training day, or Leadership Day, is at the end of September and it is always a great chance for everyone to hear the same message together. Our practitioners all enjoy the chance to get together, to network with other nurseries in the group and to do something as a team.

This year we were really pleased to welcome Anna Ephgrave for the day and she ran a training session on ‘In the moment planning.’ This is really about focussing on the interests of the children, rather than spending a lot of time planning ahead and trying to fit the activities of the room around set topics and activities. Our team at Innsworth have been following Anna’s approach since Julie and I went on a training course at the end of last year and they were able to share how it is working for them.

The day prompted a lot of discussion and reflection and it was interesting to hear from all the nursery managers on Friday, to see how this more spontaneous method of planning is being adopted in the nurseries. Generally, it is a huge relief to move away from a lot of paperwork and ‘strip back’ what we are doing, focussing carefully on each child. Each nursery is doing it slightly differently and some have embraced it more than others, but it is a case of continually reviewing what we do everywhere and adapting as we see fit.

Our cooks also enjoyed a great training session with Yvonne Richards from the Early Years Nutrition Partnership and we are really glad to be taking part in their accreditation scheme, starting with our Innsworth nursery, so more to follow on that!

The day finished, as always, with our Rising Star awards, and it was great to celebrate another successful year with a truly special team.

If you want to find out more about Anna’s training, do have a look at: Anna Ephgrave’s training company

More information on the EYNP is also available at: Early Years Nutrition Partnership

Yesterday I was at the NDNA conference in Coventry with all our managers and it was an excellent opportunity to hear updates on what is going on in the Early Years sector and to share best practice with many in our industry. One of the seminars was by Dr Sam Wass from Cambridge who is one of the experts on Channel 4’s very successful ‘Secret Life of a 4 year old’ series. He talked a lot about what our children now and in the future will have to cope with and interestingly after his talk one of the questions was, ‘will you give your baby access to a tablet?’. (His wife’s due date was yesterday, with their first child!). He was unequivocal, ‘Yes, but with restrictions’.

We cannot turn back time and technology is definitely here to stay, but our children need to have time ‘unplugged’ as well. This article discusses the research carried out on the subject recently; Anna Sosa in North Arizona University carried out an experiment which showed that where parents and small children were given a digital toy, rather than a traditional toy, the words that were used between them them were much fewer and they responded less to their children.

The various research projects conclude that technology should augment teaching (in the traditional sense) and should not replace. We think there is a place for technology in our nurseries, but always alongside traditional activities and there will never be a substitute in early years for a real person. Do ask in more detail if you are interested in how we use technology with each age group and let’s continue to create environments at home and at nursery which give children the stimulation and conversation they deserve! 

I have just finished writing an article for the trade press about the issue of first aid, and this followed a lot of discussion amongst our managers about recruitment challenges. It is no news that recruitment in the early years sector is very difficult at the moment, following the GCSE debacle that the Government managed to engineer, and the pipeline of new recruits is slow. The expansion of some settings caused by the 30 hours funding has increased pressure on supply, and many nurseries are finding it hard to recruit and retain staff.

Many of us are turning to agencies to help us to fill the gap, but it does feel that some of the agencies are not pulling in the same direction. We are committed to achieving Millie’s Mark at all our nurseries, which demonstrates excellence in paediatric first aid. This kite mark requires us to have all of our staff who deal with children qualified in paediatric first aid, and in order for us to be compliant, we have to ensure that this includes agency staff as well.

Before Christmas our Ops Manager contacted all the local agencies whom we used, assuming that they would be aware of this and would be starting to ask all their agency staff to work towards this standard. Unfortunately we were largely met with a negative response and there was no suggestion from any of them that they would be requiring this in the future. Agency staff need a minimum of a 6 hour paediatric first aid certificate to meet the requirements of Millie’s Mark, and this is something that the whole sector is being encouraged to adopt. It is time for the expectations around first aid to be raised, and we would like to see agencies leading the way on this, so that nurseries are able to provide the safest possible environment for all children. 


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