Choosing a Nursery

With the introduction of the additional free nursery hours coming shortly, more and more parents will be making the difficult choice as to which nursery is right for them and their child. There is no right choice, especially when you’re  not sure how you’ll feel when you leave your pride and joy for the first time. However, I hope that this quick little guide can help:

How does it fit in with work?

If you’re lucky enough not to worry about this, then great! However, opening and closing times are vital for most, and their location compared to work is key. It might be easier for the nursery to be located close to work as opposed to close to home

School or Private nursery?

Obviously for the smaller children, this isn’t an option, but it is something to give thought to. For some, the longer opening hours of the private nursery outweighs the benefits of a school nursery. A school nursery is likely to be better in getting a pre-schooler prepared for proper school, but a private nursery is likely to have better facilities and more freedoms.

Check out OFSTED

Whilst it is only a report about past performance, reading the OFSTED report can provide an excellent insight as to how good a nursery really is. This also applies to childminders, so it can be an invaluable tool.

Get Recommendations

In your circle of friends, ask around to see if anyone has any recommendations about which ones are good or not so good.

Look around

At the end of the day, you’re a customer (sad to think of it that way!) so feel free to ask to look around for an hour and see how your child fits in. You’ll know quite quickly if they feel at home or not!!

Cost

Sadly, life comes with a pricetag! However, ask about certain things such as the cost for lunch/snacks, as well as things like visits out of the nursery setting. Also ask how easy/costly it is to increase or reduce your hours, as well as flexibility.

Activities

Do the children get to play out on a regular basis? Do they get to go on trips out of the nursery setting? I know some go to the library on a regular basis and so this is something to ask when making enquiries.

At the end of the day, it is a difficult choice – however, it is harder when you say goodbye for the first time. This was my open letter when Heidi started nursery… Starting Nursery

Feel free to add your comments and thoughts into the comments section below, especially as I am sure that I have missed some!!


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Orlando Science Center

 

Regular readers of the blog will know that Heidi is quite the scientist, with our regular trips to Mini Einsteins (read here) and almost continual rocket experiments

So a trip to the Orlando Science Center seemed like a perfect way to fuel this interest whilst on holiday and make sure she was learning a little whilst away from nursery.

Orlando Science Center is around 30 minute drive away from the Disney parks, up I-4 near downtown Orlando, and it is a relatively easy drive, apart from the traffic near the parks. There is onsite parking ($5) in a multi-story car park where there are plenty of spaces, but please don’t make the same mistake I did and park on the top floor – the sun makes the car remarkably hot!!

Orlando Science Center is a fully indoor attraction (good for rainy days!) and has 4 floors. Our favourite was the top floor with the lab and hands-on experiments. The lab had around 7 little experiments for people to try out, including testing the acidity of food/drink and testing the strength of structures. We had done a few of them back at home previously, so it was good to know that the science methods were the same on the other side of the Atlantic.

Also on the top floor were lots of hands-on, visual experiments which were ideal for smaller children. The dinosaur exhibit was also on the top floor and for any dinosaur fan, the impressive structures would really help their learning and bring them to life.

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The next couple of floors down were slightly too advanced for Heidi as they were to do with complex structures/mechanical engineering, as well as space. These would have been ideal for children around 7 years old and older as they would have linked into the school curriculum quite well.

However, there was still plenty for our 3 year old as there was a play area focused around farms/produce where the children could run around and “play” but they could also focus on learning if they so desired. There was also a lovely wet play/water table area in this area which had a similar effect.

On the ground floor there was a lovely small animal section, with some adorable turtles as well as quite a lot of small water creatures – highlighting the Florida eco-system. Again, for a 3 year old, it was mainly about seeing the animals, rather than learning about them in great detail!!

The best idea is to play the day around the pop-up activities throughout the day and take it from there. When we went, the activities weren’t well signposted, but the friendly staff went above and beyond to help. Likewise, the staff member in the Lab area (she had ginger hair and was losing her voice!!) took a real shine to Heidi and made a very good visit a little bit more special!

 

In terms of facilities, there is a Subway on site, which is useful for a snack, but if you’re staying all day, you might need something more substantial. As you would expect Stateside, the toilet/changing facilities are top notch.

As at May 2017, it costs $19.95 for adults, $13.95 for children aged 3 and over and under 3’s are free. As well as all the learning, you also get a screening to a “Hollywood Movie” as well as films in the CineDome – we didn’t take advantage of either because, well, a 3 year old on holiday doesn’t want to see films!!! This cost feels about right, but obviously for overseas visitors, the exchange rate plays a part.

Heidi was probably a year or so too young for Orlando Science Center.  We did stay around 3 hours and that is with us being slightly tired after walking round the parks etc.  However, that just means that we can go back again at some point and learn it all again!!


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Mini Princesses – Rainbow Factory

** This class is not being run by the Rainbow Factory at the moment **

Any regular readers of the blog will realise that we are HUGE Rainbow Factory supporters and we have been slowly working our way through the “We Are Mini” classes. To read about Mini Heroes follow this link and to read about Mini Einsteins (as at May 2017, no longer running) follow this link.

Mini-Princesses-Character

The aim of the Mini Princesses classes is to teach the children about how to understand their emotions, use their imagination and generally be better people but being kind and courteous. Just think of it as classes to make them better people both to themselves and others.

While it is called Mini Princesses, in reality, there is nothing gender specific about it and while I have not seen a boy in the class, there is absolutely no reason why boys wouldn’t get as much out of the classes as girls.

So the class is a mixture of movement/dancing, games, crafts and the famous Rainbow Factory story thrown in for good measure. As the class is only an hour long, as you can imagine, the tempo is fast paced and as such, the children are not kept around waiting or stuck doing the same activity.

The classes are probably suited for those between the age of 3 and 8 – Heidi is 3 and for one of the bigger classes, it was good to see her being stretched and challenged by some of the tasks which were aimed at the older children. Any younger than 3 (or nearly 3) and I feel as though they are not going to have the concentration or perhaps the ability to understand the concepts being delivered. Because it is aimed at slightly older children, this is perhaps the first class which I have watched from the side rather than take part – a very strange feeling indeed!!

A little word about the Fairy Godmother, Emma. As with all of the Rainbow Factory staff, she is  always eager to talk to all the children, particularly at their height level, with so much enthusiasm and always with a smile. As I have said previously, while the classes at the Rainbow Factory are good, it is the staff that make them great.

You may ask why are there no photos – well, the classes are quite intimate and I felt that taking any would spoil that. Besides, if I took any at the last class, they would just be a blur because Heidi was constantly moving because she was so excited about the class!


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Crayola Experience, Orlando

While visiting the Magic Kingdom (link here!) was amazing for Heidi, perhaps the attraction in Florida which she was most excited about was the Crayola Experience. Actually, it was Heidi who wanted to go here because she had seen numerous videos on YouTube and once she saw a leaflet, she knew she wanted to go!!

Despite the colourful design of the building, it is difficult to find as it is around the back of the Florida Mall and you can’t see it from the roadside. However, head into the Florida Mall and you’ll see it whilst driving round the car park.

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Just a little bit colourful!

As you might imagine, the Crayola Experience is an attraction that is based around arts/crafts and so if your child is into those activities, you’re in luck! There is also a soft play area/climbing frame which is really good which will help the little ones burn off some energy too!

When you enter, you each get 2 coins so you can get a personalised crayon and piece of play-doh to mould and play with. Additional coins are 50c and the personalised crayon is a lovely keepsake which the little ones can actually use and enjoy!

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Playing with the Play Doh!

The Experience is essentially a number of different activity tables dotted around where you can do various creative pieces of work. Some are based on computer imagery, such as designing an outfit for a fashion show (see my effort below!) and some are more “old fashioned” involving colouring, painting and those kinds of activities.

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Fashion of the future!

The favourites were the Drip Art (melted crayon dripping onto a spinning card) and the Melt and Mould where a crayon is melted and, you guessed it, moulded, into a shape such as a car, ring etc. Sadly, neither made it back across the Atlantic in one piece!!

We spent just over 2 hours there and a good tip is to plan your visit for when a Florida afternoon thunderstorm is arriving or when you can get a good discount on the tickets. We lucked into the late arrival discount (after 5pm) which made a significant saving. As Florida Mall is next door, you can do some shopping and go to their Food Court for a meal (quite a good range of shops and food outlets). Older children will be able to spend more time here for sure (Heidi was 3)

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All the colours of the Crayola rainbow!

The main activities are on a single floor which makes it easy with a pushchair, but to get the most out of it, your child needs to be comfortable drawing/being creative. Any child younger than 3 isn’t going to get the most out of it (however, they are free!)

Given that our visit was over 2 months ago now and Heidi keeps on talking about our visit enthusiastically, I feel as though it was a success and I am sure on our next visit to Florida, she will get even more out of it!!!!


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Alpamare Waterpark

The Alpamare Waterpark opened its doors in the summer of 2016 and given that we are regular travellers to the North Yorkshire Coast (Here is a link to all the posts made about the area  https://leedsdad.com/category/north-yorks-coast/ ) we finally went down on May Day weekend to see what it was actually like.

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Alpamare has 2 outdoor, heated swimming pools (one of which is an Iodine pool, which apparently is really good for you – who knew?!) one indoor swimming area, which doubles up as a wave pool, 4 big slides, as well as a toddler wet play area with slide. Also inside is a restaurant and throughout are sun loungers in case you have had enough of the swimming.

 

The “wet side” is entirely cashless so as you go in, you get a wristband which you can use to use a locker and pay for your food/drinks. All you have to do is settle the bill at the end of the session. This means you don’t have to worry about having a £1 coin, and it is really easy to use.

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Decent sized locker

As you would expect, the changing rooms are really clean and modern, as are the lockers. One really good thing is the fact it is really warm throughout and so you don’t feel as though you’re going to freeze when you finish swimming and get changed! They enforce a strict “no outdoor shoes” policy, which was really good to see – even the electrician fixing an outside bulb up a ladder had to have shoe covers on!!

As the slides are only for those 6 and over, those with little ones are obviously limited in what they can do (5’s and under are free however) but despite that, we were in there for 4 ½ hours!! The wave machine comes on every half an hour and so I thought that would be our main attraction, but it was the heated outdoor pools which were the big pull for Heidi!

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Happy swimmer!

The pools are toasty warm and the patterns of bubbles means that it is such a relaxing experience. Because of the way that the pools are designed, you can’t jump in, which might limit some play for the little ones, but it just gives some scope for imaginative play instead. (we played mermaids for over an hour!!) However, the main reason for these pools is for a relaxing experience – Heidi was enamoured by the warmth of the pools that she seemingly spent an hour floating on her back saying how lovely and relaxing it was – and I had to agree!!

 

In terms of food, the menu is what you would expect at an attraction like this – Hot Dog and chips (pictured) was £4.50, and the drink was just under £2. They do children’s lunch boxes, but to be honest, the better value might be a pizza or similar.

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Dinner!

A couple of good things about eating there is the view (pictured below) but also the fact that you can pop to the lockers for your towel and because it is so comfortably warm, you don’t need to get dressed.

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View from the restaurant (not a prison!)

Now, the elephant in the room – the price. If you’ve done any type of research on Alpamare, you’ll know that there are complaints about the price. £19 an adult is expensive (you have to pay even if you’re just going to watch) but you’re not going to your local council swimming pool – this is different. You can’t swim lengths at Alpamare and you can’t swim outside in a heated pool at the council swimming pool.

 

If £19 each (small reductions for children aged 6+) for 4 hours entertainment is above your price point, that is fine and I completely understand. However, this isn’t about swimming; this is about relaxation for some and the slides and excitement for others. Compare the adult price to Blizzard Beach in Florida (£50-ish) and Sea Life Centre (£18) and it doesn’t look too bad then. Also, there is plenty of free parking on site. (UPDATE July 2017: There is no longer free parking on site!)

(Full disclosure: I received a free ticket for this blog post, but my views are my own)

However, I am sure that we will come back again, even before Heidi is old enough to go on the slides!!


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