Parents may have the opportunity and prefer to send their children to a nursery school, rather than a playgroup. Nursery schools may be run by the State as part of the education system or may be privately owned. They are usually run along more formal lines than a playgroup and are staffed mainly by trained teachers or qualified nursery nurses. The number of places available in State-run nursery schools is very limited, and they are usually reserved for those children with special needs (whose parents both have to go out to work, who come from one-parent families, whose parents have mental problems, etc.).
The Plowden Report in the mid-1960s recommended State provision of nursery schools for all three-to-five year olds, but finance is still insufficient for this plan. State-run nursery schools may be run as a separate unit, or may be a nursery class attached to the infants’ section of a primary school. The children may go every morning or only a few times a week, and the class is run by a specialist teacher and perhaps one or two helpers. The children spend some time in informal play and activities, but quite a lot of time sitting at tables in their own places. The atmosphere tends to be different from the more relaxed learning through play methods of the playgroups.
Care should be taken in the choice of privately run nursery schools. The fees charged should give some guide to their quality: but high fees do not necessarily mean a good school. The school should have plenty of suitable equipment, be kept in good repair and have trained staff, and to pay for this the parents should expect to pay a reasonable sum. Parents looking for a good school should visit the school beforehand and look for:
- spacious, well-maintained buildings with an outdoor play area.
- plenty of play equipment with room for movement and activities.
- a pleasant atmosphere and happy children.
- caring, well-trained staff.
- good standards of safety, hygiene, heating, lighting and toilet arrangements. Information for parents
Many children benefit from attending a playgroup or nursery school, but if a child is happy at home, with plenty of other children to play with and parents who understand his needs and are able to give him plenty of time, he will develop just as well and be ready for compulsory schooling at the age of five.
It is useful if parents have some knowledge of the way their child develops and how they can help, and there is a lot of valuable information available for parents and children. This includes:
- Open University courses on ‘The First Years of Life’ and The Pre-school Child’.
- TV and radio educational programmes that deal with pregnancy, birth and bringing up children.
- adult classes run by Local Education Authorities or health centres.
- information published by the Health Education Council, the British Association for Early Childhood Education, and the Advisory Centre for Education.
- videos and home computer programmes.
- postal play packs such as ‘MacDonald 3/4/5’ and the Humpty Dumpty Club, and postal catalogues such as those from the Early Learning Centre, Galt’s and Hamleys offer advice on the choice of toys and activities.
- magazines designed for parents and children such as Mother, Mother and Baby and Parents, and lots of books on every aspect of child development.