At Little Buckingham Nursery School, situated in the suburb of Craighall Park, Johannesburg, we pride ourselves in offering our families a unique school, built on strong principles.
Our school has a distinctive management structure that comprises the three owners of the school, Lindsay Wooler, Jackie van der Hoven and Philippa Kohler. We are all early childhood development educators, and some of our own children are currently attending the school.
Spurred on by the success of our initial endeavour – Nurturing Nannies – we took ownership of Little Buckingham in September 2019. Fast forward just a few months to March 2020 and a global pandemic brought us face-to-face with unprecedented challenges. Even so, our ambition to create an exceptional and continuously improving learning space where all children can thrive has remained firmly in place.
One of the initial changes that we made when we took ownership of the school was to expand the year groups to include our littlest learners, aged 18-months, by adding a Grade 00 class. Our parents and caregivers heartily supported this initiative. A collaborative approach to a child’s development allows that child to feel comfortable and secure and we know that if our learners feel this security, successful learning can take place.
To ensure continuity of care, we believe it is necessary for parents, teachers and therapists all to have a seat at the table with the well-being of the child as the central focus of our discussions and strategies.
Little Buckingham Nursery School is a community-based school, where all religions and cultures are celebrated. We have a parent-led Diversity and Transformation Group, which works alongside the leadership team. Together, they decide how the school teaches children so that all cultures and ethnicities are acknowledged, recognised, understood and celebrated.
This year alone, we have had the opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year, Passover, Easter and Ramadan. Eid-al-Fitr was brought to life through the reading of Ilyas and Duck by Omar S. Khawatja and ‘Eid’ by Maria MiGo.
A Passion for Learning
At Little Buckingham we aim to create meaningful learning experiences through a sensory rich and hands-on curriculum. This is based on a pedagogy of play and experiential learning drawn predominantly from the Reggio Emilia and Montessori philosophies. Play is central to our day, providing the opportunity for the children to make significant emotional connections with their peers, while they develop their imaginations, curiosity, resilience and adaptability, and their courage to take risks and solve problems.
Our teachers are given the autonomy to share their own appetites for learning through a fun-filled, sensory inspired, science, technology, engineering, arts and technology-based (STEAM) curriculum. Every Friday, we celebrate Maker-Maker, where the children take it in turns to design (with the support of their parents) and create an item or artwork. The sense of pride that each child feels at presenting their crafted products is a delight to see.
Another highlight of the week is our Messy Monster Mayhem. Every Wednesday the children are served up a sensory feast that has been designed with the aim of facilitating discovery and engaging them in scientific processes. For example, our scented chia seed rainbow slime with cream clouds provided a multi-sensory experience, where the children were free to explore colour mixing and the combining of textures as they scooped, poured and swirled to their hearts content.
Each week’s learning is based on a book that may be either familiar or new to the children. We want them to connect the stories to their lives and to learn something important in the process. This year we have chosen books that embrace the lives and talents of South African authors.
The children delighted in Refiloe Moahloli’s beautifully written books. We started with How Many Ways Can You Say Hello? a wonderful celebration of South Africa’s many cultures. We then all read You Are Loved, where the clear message of acceptance and celebration of the unique aspects of ourselves and others is at the heart of the story. The children engaged in many wonderful discussions about what makes each one of them special.
These moments, as well as all the highlights of the children’s day, are carefully recorded by our teachers and shared with the parents via Tapestry (a parent/school app) so that they too can experience the joy of their child’s learning adventure.
Striving for Continuous Improvement
The school has an ethos of continuous improvement through reflective discussions and skills development. We are so proud of two of our staff who we have supported through their successful completion of their NQF Level 4 in Early Childhood Development.
Reflection on our achievements is a consistent part of each day, each week, each month and each year in which we look to how and where we can improve. This can apply to the way we start our day with check-ins with the children, to building a mindful and holistic approach to how our children approach their life and learning.
Our teachers integrate reflection into their classroom routines, and the children amaze us with how they respond to the opportunities to think back about their day. To encourage discussion we ask them, for example: What was the best part of your day? What were your favourite activities at school? Was there a part of today that you did not like? or Where there times when you felt sad? Our older children are encouraged to elevate their discussion to incorporate reflective solutionist thinking’.
COVID-19 compelled us to adopt a flexible approach to teaching and learning. We recognised the stress placed on our parents to meet the new demands of becoming teachers of their young children over night and the requirement to balance this with the strain of their altered work environment.
No family was unaffected and the landscape for all of us was very unclear – as each week went on we had to navigate our way through. Our teachers rallied to maintain continuous contact with families, provide online Zoom sessions, and pull together creative learning packs filled with ideas and crafts to keep the children busy and learning. We are very proud of the resilience of all our staff whose own lives were not unaffected.
Recognising Our Staff Members
The pandemic experience reminded us that our staff members are central to the success of the children’s learning and their experiences at school.
We have recently implemented a system whereby the achievements of each staff member are recognised by their peers and the school parents. Each time one of our members of staff – whether it is a teacher, teaching assistant, or a member of our administrative and security/maintenance team – is recognised and needs to be celebrated, it is recorded anonymously and at the end of the month, these accolades are attributed to the successful candidates and they are featured in our end-of-month newsletter.
We strive to equip our Little Buckingham Nursery School learners with the best possible tools to thrive in the various schools that they will go on to after spending time with us. Our learners are growing up in a world where the future is exciting and unpredictable.
Our role is to ensure that every child is equipped with the emotional strength to tackle the challenges to come, and the belief that with practice and tenacity they can be the best that they can be.