So, your child has finally settled at nursery. They have made friends, are happy and confident to come to the nursery, and are learning and developing wonderfully.

When they get a bit older, your mind turns to “big” school. Questions about keeping your child in nursery for FS1 (pre-K), FS2 (KG1), or enrolling them in a big school usually may be highly confusing for many parents. With the number of available options and the variety in curricula in Dubai, it is no wonder that many parents feel lost. Is it the right choice for you and your child to move on to a big school for FS1/pre-K, or to stay on at nursery and complete even FS2/KG1 there and only move to big school then? Here is a guide that hopefully will help you make this decision.

Parents tell us Early Years professional often when they approach us with questions about big schools, that they fear their child will not have a place in the school of their choice. With the abundance of great schools out there and the fact that so many schools are using various channels of advertising to promote themselves, it is hard to believe that parents would not be able to find a suitable place for their child. Some schools have even resorted to scare tactics and were convincing parents that their children “would not be ready for FS1/FS2 (pre-K/KG1)” unless they enrolled right then and there. It is very easy to get frightened into making a decision that may not be in the best interest of your child. Just take a deep breath and think about it – Dubai is a transient place where new families with children of all ages arrive and leave all the time. Some children go straight from home to school, some have attended nursery from the time they were 45 days old, some come here at the age of 5 years with very little or no English knowledge at all. They all do get a place in a school and schools can cope with such a number of different levels, that “your child will not be ready” is probably the most ridiculous thing you can hear.

Children who come from having attended a nursery that combines child-led exploration, playful learning, and structure have been exposed to and very likely have mastered the skills that are required to integrate into any school environment. They have been exposed to various ways and avenues to fun learning and can focus for specific periods, cueing into teachers’ questions, and are also able to offer responses to said questions. These children ARE ready to learn and able to focus! These children are eager to learn because they know that learning is fun, and they are eager for new experiences and hungry for fun knowledge that stimulates and engages them.

So the question YOU should be asking the prospective schools is how they will make sure your child will keep on loving school the way they love their nursery! How will they make sure they do not lose their interest in learning?

What is the difference between pre-school at nursery vs. school?

Nurseries/early learning centers and kindergartens at schools both follow a well-established curriculum which impacts on the learning, development, and care of children from birth to five years old.  Depending on the nursery or school, the curriculum may be based on the English Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, High Scope, US Common Core, or International Pre-school Curriculum (IPC) amongst others.

Nurseries base their learning on the individual interest, development, and needs of each child. The teachers offer educational activities that help them progress and succeed by continuously observing each child.  A well-rounded nursery has a strong focus on the fundamental areas of their development (Personal, Social and Emotional, Creativity and Imagination, Physical, and Cognition, Language and Communication development) and as children progress, increasing focus on more specific areas of development (among others Understanding of the World, Confidence and Public Speaking, Self-Expression, Reading, Mathematics, Science and Technology). Some schools follow a similar approach, while others may be less flexible and more inclined to follow a more rigid and highly structured approach.

At the nursery, a child may be more comfortable and confident. It is less daunting attending a nursery than a school since all children are within the same age range and the environment usually more family-like with a closer resemblance to their homes. If a child is shy and reserved, he or she may find it more daunting, even overwhelming, and harder to cope with a big school setting. However, some schools do realize this and have their Early Years classes in a separate building or section; this might be helpful for the child to ease their transition into the new environment.

A nursery that focuses on children’s all around development also emphasizes proper transition and progression between levels that become more structured as they progress. Children become familiar and comfortable with changes in their learning environment and are exposed to the teaching styles of multiple teachers as they move between learning areas within the nursery and are in daily contact with specialist language teachers, extracurricular activity coaches, and the nurseries’ extended and full day program teaching team. A child who stays on at nursery for an FS2/KG1 program will be fully accustomed to not only daily routines, but will also be able to quickly adapt to the changes and learning environment of a big school setting. Their full transition from nursery to big school may take as little as only a couple of days. They were given the opportunity to build their social skills at nursery and therefore feel more secure and confident in the transition to big school.

When children get an extra year at nursery, pure magic happens! A child who is truly settled in his or her environment achieves more development during a shorter period of time than a child who is settling into a new environment at a new school. By keeping

children at the nursery, they receive a great deal of individual and customized care, their educators know everything about them, they are supported and loved. They feel like they are the “VIP stars of the show.” At the nursery, there is an additional focus on developing personal skills like toileting and eating, making friends and overcoming shyness. This extra time ensures that children have a chance to build on their strengths and work on any areas where they may need additional support, before moving on to big school, where they may not be given such extensive care and customized one-to-one attention. All this gives children the necessary boost they need to later flourish at a big school. This golden time spent at a well-rounded nursery also guarantees children have the maturity, social, and self-regulatory skills to ensure they are ready for school and have a comfortable and smooth transition.

Nurseries also offer a lot more flexibility in terms of timings for working parents. It is a lot more convenient knowing parents can drop off their children as early as 7:30 am at most nurseries and keep them up to 5 or 6 pm if parents need. Nurseries are also open all year round, and offer exciting activities during holiday programs, in an environment in which children feel happy, safe, and comfortable. A place where they are looked after, have fun, and even learn!

All in all, you have to choose the setting that works best for your child and your family requirements no matter if it is at nursery or big school. But do not give into unnecessary and unfounded pressure that some may try putting on you to start your child at a big school if you feel he or she is not ready. Your child will truly benefit from that extra year at nursery, and their transition to big school will be a lot more effortless.