Our policies and risk assessments have all ben updated

Our risk assessments and policies have all been updated – please click on each below to open

Risk Assessment COVID19 updated 28th August

COVID19 ECC policy updated 28 August

COVID19 wraparound policy updated 28 August 2020

Staff development day 4/4

We had to ensure that we kept up the momentum of the fast pace of the morning so after the photography session we handed over to our senior management team


Early Childhood Centre Teams

Karen, Ruth & Lisa – chatted about all things happening in the Early Childhood Centre.


  • The importance of ensuring observations are recorded & updated
  • Changes in the schedule of the daily menu (we swopped ONE of our mid morning snacks to straight after sleep time – so we offer breakfast, morning snack, lunch & pudding, fruit straight after sleep (instead of having this with morning snack) and then high tea).  We found that having too much food in the morning was leading to food waste at lunchtime as the children weren’t hungry.  There seemed to be mis conception that we were dropping out morning fruit but hopefully this has now been settled by a discussion as to why the fruit was moved to later afternoon (we appreciate that some children who leave at lunchtime miss out on a snack but we feel that its important to follow nutritional guidelines for early years, ensuring we are keeping to portion control and no leading to food waste).  We are happy to give fruit home with children leaving at lunchtime.

This is just one of the opportunities of matters discussed – good to get feedback with everyone in the one place and a good question and answer session  It was also good for the afterschools groups to have an understanding of issues in other areas of the business and vice versa


Wraparound Units

Dee and Rachel – spoke about various matters including Dee’s most precious subject of ‘allergies’.


  • Dee looks after all matters pertaining to allergies and specific dietary requirements in all of our wraparound settings – she absolutely excels in this role.
  • Both Rachel and her discussed some further items we were taking off our menus because ingredients had changed
  • They also discussed our new plans for Summer Camp 2020 with running a 9-3pm ‘normal school hours’ activity camp followed by a flexible breakfast club and late pick up.  This is to follow on from parental feedback and we will still have summer camp themes but the same theme will not happen during the same week in each setting – it will travel round each site and work on a rotation.  We will bring in some outside support to run the activities or have some of our staff lead the activity element of the camps.

Staff all seemed very excited about this innovative approach and providing a more tailored fitted and affordable camp for parents and children.


Accounts and Admin


Denise and Pauline talked about their roles within the team.  They talked about how staff should view them as the ‘sales’ and ‘accounts’ department in the business which made it easy for staff to ensure they are passing on queries to the right person.  Quite often invoice queries come to Denise and then parents needing extra days for example come to Pauline.  Their roles interlink quite a bit but it saves time and its better for customer service when we can ensure queries are being passed on promptly to the right person.

The staff in units and in the Early Childhood Centre have a face to face relatsionship with our clients which Denise and Pauline don’t enjoy due to the nature of their posts, and given they work in the office  and just don’t get the opportunity to meet with the clients as much as they would like to.  So its important the rest of the company can address even the slightest query by passing these on to enable Denise and Pauline to put the customer and family at the centre of our services.

So it was a worthwhile session and instead of us having a Denise and Pauline we had two brand new departments born – Accounts & Sales!



Diane talked about how Sleepy Hollow got its name!

Well the name was inherited – Diane bought the nursery over as a going concern.  At the time of taking over Diane hadn’t heard of either the Sleepy Hollow movie or the restaurant (its now one of our favourite restaurants for nights out for the staff team).  We loved the name back in 2001 but after 20 years of hearing why do you call your nursery after a horror movie we thought that we may like to rebrand our company.

The ladybird was the logo we created on taking over the nursery – the ladybird itself has had a facelift over the years but we haven’t been brave enough to change the name.

We gave staff post it notes and asked for their feedback and ideas of how we could rebrand.  Its all top secret (and undoubtedly will be delayed due to COVID19) but we will rebrand down the line and are lucky to have a passionate team who care and want to be involved with the ‘rebranding working group’


Three year development plan

Throughout the day we had post it notes on tables and posters round the wall with one year, two year and three year plans.  Through the day we would see staff going over to the posters and putting up an idea or inspiration written on a post it note.

By the end of the day the boards were covered.

We took 12 from each and committed to those straight away.  We promised to do a feedback on each suggestion on a longer workplace app video the following week (we actually had it posted by the Monday lunchtime).

We wanted to give the ideas & goals real consideration and some of the ideas were mind blowing.  We will do a longer post on long term development planning and will touch on the detail there but when we consult in this way – plans are achieveable as they come from the staff up.  When we impose plans and ideas from management down quite often – we are out of touch with what the staff want or desire, or staff become unmotivated due to the lack of consultation and partnership working.   Lots more to follow on another blog – but just to say there were ideas put forward that we had never considered and they were mind blowingly inspirational.  We are excited to follow these up when we re-open!


Drinks and Nibbles

We finished the day with bubbles – prosecco, beer and fizzy water with nibbles, good fun and just getting to know each other on a social level.


Probably the best money we have every spent on Staff Development – EVER!  We will do this annually for sure



Staff development day 3/4

Just before lunch break we had three people come in to speak with staff about the following

Briege Price – Briege is owner of Price Insurance services.

Sleepy Hollow has recently engaged Briege to source and manage a private insurance package for our staff team.  This is open to all staff to join if they wish and we also fund managers private health care once they have reached a certain number of years in their post.  This is also open to their immediate family members to join.  Briege was able to give staff an oversight of the following insurance :-

Life Insurance

Critical/Serious Illness

Income Protection

Key Man Cover

Relevant Life Plan

Private Medical Insurance


Orla Tennyson – Orla is a senior partner of St James’s Place Wealth Management.

Orla was able to give advice regarding a strategy required to achieve your financial goals or retirement.

This followed on from an earlier Ulster Bank finance health check clinic we held for staff and this really gave staff an insight into how they can start planning for their future goals and dreams, including retirement, by starting early …. even if its just a little at a time.

Kelly Irwin – Professional Mortgage Solutions NI .

As business owners we write many letters of support to staff who are seeking to rent properties, provide many financial statement of earnings to those applying for mortgages and see first hand the struggle some of our staff find themselves in regarding housing matters.  We want to be able to support our staff team through these times.

Kelly was able to provide support and advice which was bespoke to each individual staff member who spoke with them.  Again giving many hope that a mortgage is possible and often more affordable than renting.




We broke up for lunch, a huge batch of pizza’s from Domino’s (not sponsored but we look forward to sponsorship of our next event!).  During this time we gave one hour for staff to go into breakout areas to speak individually with the three advisers and the success of this was such we had to add time on to the lunch break to ensure everyone was afforded the time to speak with these advisers.  Again this was an invaluable addition to the day.

The power of photography

The topic after lunch was on the power of photography.   Anyone who knows Diane, or has worked with her, knows she is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to detail, and none more so than in a photograph.   Naturally she lead this session.    

A selection of photos which staff had uploaded to our social media channels, on Famly app or on our private staff workplace app,  were circulated amongst the groups.  Staff were asked to provide feedback on the photos 

  • Were these posed photos?   As we focus on process over product, as a company we would prefer to see photos of children in the process of play or art & craft rather than the finished product or a posed photo.
  • Can these photos be used for milestone recording or planning evaluation?
  • Can you use these photos in our journals to reflect and evaluate?
  • Can you risk assess these photos – are there any things which should have been picked up on as a risk?  If so how can we use this to review our risk assessment?
  • Does the photo require a narrative to provide explanation as to what’s happening – if so its not the perfect photo and as such has it any purpose?


  • Are the children and young people able to capture their own photos?


  • Does the photo demonstrate our ethos and values in Sleepy Hollow?  Its not the first time Diane would see a photo on social media and ask how did that plastic xxxx item find its way into our play rooms.  Often there is a simple explanation or a purpose to the item but such is the detail a photo represents.
  • How we send cameras home in our early childhood centre to help give us with planning and involvement with parents/families to inform us of children’s interests.  Diane discussed the importance of including parents and wider families to inform our planning 
  • How to capture alternative photos.

A really fun session which gave people more insight into how sometimes a photo is all you need for an observation, a feedback to parents/carers or to inform risk assessments etc.

There have been some amazing photos captured as a result of this session.



That lead us in nicely to the final three sessions of the day.  Check in next week to find out about

  • Discussions with our senior management team – Q&A session
  • Re branding
  • The most important part of the day – planning the next three years ….

….. little did we know that a blip was just around the corner!

Staff development day 2/4

Well firstly apologies for the break in posting our blogs – our day to day routine has been turned on its heads with the COVID19 lockdown situation.  We are getting back to a new form of ‘normality’ during these strange times so getting back to blogging is one of these routines which is reassuringly familiar for us!

The morning session of our staff development day

So after the icebreaker which we covered in our last blog post we had everyone group into roughly the units they work in.  This was an important aspect as we had post it notes, note paper, markers for everyone to take notes and to write questions on the post it notes which we would collect after each session – this would frame part of a Q&A throughout the day and meant we weren’t interrupted during each mini session.  This was important as it meant we could keep to our timeframe and also that staff could allow us to finish each session as maybe the question they asked was being covered a little down the line.

However after each session/topic we gave an EQUAL amount of time to the Q&A as we did to the presentation.  This was to allow dialogue, to allow us time to answer questions and for us to COLLECTIVELY agree outcomes.  There was a real sense of cohesion using this approach and we believe that everyone felt they had an input into each area and their questions and ideas were given the weight they deserved.

Topics covered :-

  1.  Curriculum and ethos

We recapped our ethos for the team – OUR WHY!  We over emphasise this with our staff team and at times it’s almost like a broken record but OUR WHY is important to us.  If staff don’t understand our why then they cannot deliver our curriculum – you have to understand to do – right?

Our why includes

Playwork passionate

  • playwork,
  • the understanding of the playwork principles – not just what they are but where they originated and why we relate to these
  • playwork types – what each one means and how we can include these across out settings every day

Reggio Inspired

  • What is Reggio Emilia?
  • Its not a curriculum – its an ethos, its a WHY
  • An important aspect to recap on as staff all want to go to Reggio Emilia to see the curriculum – its hard to explain that its not something you can SEE to learn it – its a pedagogy, its an inspiration and above all what happens in the province of Reggio Emilia Nido’s cant be replicated here in NI – but it can inspire and influence our practices


  • We love the Curiosity Approach
  • Again its an ethos and a modern day pedagogy.
  • Its a network of professionals and is a support system.
  • The Curiosity Approach goes beyond an accreditation programme – its a constant source of support for us even after the accreditation process.

Sleepy Hollow Inspired

  • Why we have a qualification?
  • How it is inspired by all of the above
  • Why we must all follow the same approach

2.  Environments

  • We looked at the environments in which we work but also at the wider community.  Each setting is unique and whilst we follow the same approach we need to have an understanding of the local communities in which we work.
  • The importance of understanding and respecting our environments.
  • The importance of the environment as the third educator (even in a playwork setting) – Reggio Emilia


3.  Journalling

  • Again the importance of planning, reflection and evaluation
  • Reflecting and evaluating with children and young people – ensuring that our services are child led.
  • Incorporating journaling into self goals, group goals, staff supervisions and appraisals


4.  Circle time and play councillors

  • What does circle time look like in Sleepy Hollow – why its NOT like the traditional circle time as we would see in pre school settings
  • Time to discuss and share ideas – reflect and also to set the scene of what’s planned that day
  • Appointment of play councillors and their role in ‘running’ our settings
  • A play councillor on an interview panel


5. Play equipment

  • What equipment do we need to play
  • Setting up and clearing a pack away setting
  • How to set up a play kitchen in under a minute using a real sink
  • Creative minds
  • Overlooking obstacles and looking for opportunities
  • Ensuring children are part of the play set up and putting things back where they belong .

That’s all for now folks!

More of the day to follow on part three ……

What’s in a staff development day?

Sleepy Hollow Staff Development Day 2020  part 1/4


If you follow any of our social media sites you will know we held a staff development day on 29th February with (almost) the entire Sleepy Hollow Team.

We had a few absentees who have been off ill or on maternity leave.   In saying that one of our Managers who has a six week old baby and another who is still on crutches recovering from surgery came in and surprised us by attending for the full day – now that IS dedication for you.

There is too much to cover the entire day in one blog post so we will break it down to four parts over the month of March

Welcome and Registration

We wanted to keep this very much like a business development day to give staff the experience that we have when we attend for example an Early Years or Playboard NI conference.  The timing of such sectoral conferences, our requirement to meet staffing rations and the sheer costs precludes us from sending the entire team to these conferences.

So a very important part of the morning was registering and teas/coffees on arrival.  Staff didn’t expect it to be so formal but we wanted to set the scene and give staff a REAL conference type experience – allbeit it wasn’t in a hotel setting.

With over 100 in attendance we managed to get everyone seated and on time for kick off at 10am sharp,

We did brief housekeeping rules and set the scene of the day by asking colleagues to ensure they were sitting together at tables alongside the colleagues they work with at (the reasons for this will become apparent)


To set the scene we started off with an icebreaker – the rules were simple :-

So within minutes we had the loudest room in history and animals were herding together.  It was funny to watch to say the least – the scene was pretty much like this :-


So we had a few animals to choose from but they key was to make the sound of the animal written on the photo

So we had cats, ducks, elephants, dogs and lions when we herded together after two minutes but not one mouse …. why everyone asked no-one had been given a picture with a mouse on it.  We asked everyone to sit down and look at their animals again –  in small writing on the corner everyone had the following

So the moral of the icebreaker is attention to detail – something very important to us in Sleepy Hollow.

That said Bronagh and Diane took part in this very task at another event they attended which was on a much bigger scale and there was only one person in that group who was a mouse – so its something we could all take away from the day.   It certainly set the scene for attention to detail for the remainder of a very dynamic day ….

Check in next Monday for part 2.



The rising cost of childcare – from the providers perspective!

The letters are looming ….. if you haven’t received yours its likely in draft stage!

It’s that time of year where parents all over the country are getting the annual letter regarding increases in childcare costs.

I can assure you that letter is dreaded equally as much by the authors as it is for the recipients.

Never has there been a year in recent times where we have heard of childcare providers closing doors overnight especially in England where they have actually 30 hours ‘free childcare’. The issue with the free childcare is that is simply isn’t enough to cover the cost of providing the childcare.

Free childcare in England – why is it not working?

The 30 hours free childcare has failed to reach thousands of eligible families because nurseries and childminders are getting inadequate funding from local authorities. Childcare providers are reporting that the difference between the cost of providing childcare for 30 hours and the funding received equates to approximately £2155 per year (source this is money.co.uk). OFSTED report that between January and March 2019 179 day nurseries closed in England and 401 childminders.

At Sleepy Hollow we have links with the Day Nurseries owners associations in the UK and we are reading daily about nurseries for sale or sales of nursery contents. The numbers are quite unprecedented.

So why are we at Sleepy Hollow lobbying for subsidised childcare for our working parents in NI?

We mentioned in a blog a couple of weeks ago about our approaches to lobbying. One of those is actively lobbying for a childcare strategy for parents in NI. Prior to the collapse of NI Assembly there was consultation on a childcare strategy which surrounded 3-4 year olds.

This is fantastic but we need to remember that there are already 12.5 hours funded for pre school education WHICH arguably isn’t childcare but it comes out of the same pot in terms of early years education – so what about our under 3’s? Parents need funding assistance from birth and we have all the UNICEF research supporting us in stating that the first 1000 days of a child’s life is the most crucial for development – so why not fund these years.

What of course we don’t want for any parent or provider is a promise of xxx free hours if they aren’t actually free ie. if parents have to subsidise this or if providers have to provide these at a loss using income from other age brackets to part fund the free childcare.

But … we are still a while off from even getting a childcare strategy so at this stage we can only speculate what the outcome might be. We continue to lobby at every opportunity for childcare funding from 0-12 years of age.

Why is childcare so expensive to provide?

Any of our readers who have studied business management or accounting will tell you that the ideal payroll figure for a manufacturing company should be in and around 30% and for any service company like childcare it should be around 50%.

Studies from settings in UK show that childcare can be as much at 75% of income in some settings and even higher in NI.

Why higher in NI you may ask ?

Our childcare ratios of staff to children are higher in NI. We have to employ

1 staff member to every three children for 0-2 year olds

1 staff member to every four children for 2-3 year olds

1 staff member to every eight children from 3-12 year olds.

We also must have two staff members employed in each room as a minimum so even if we only have three 0-2 year olds in a baby room we need to have two staff members employed.  These ratios are the highest in the UK and Ireland meaning we employ more staff bringing our wage bill up to around 80% of total income.

Even in infant schools where we care for children up to primary three we cannot take children from nursery school age meaning that most children from nursery schools have to go back into day nurseries and are being charged full day care spaces. The reason behind having to charge full day care spaces if children are out for less than three hours is that it doesn’t fit in with any other day nursery part time session meaning that that child must be counted in the day care or childminder room ratio that day even if it means they are absent for a period of time for nursery school. Also unlike many of our neighbouring countries 100% of our staff must have or be working towards childcare or equivalent qualifications which range in price from £1000 to almost £4000 – £9000 pa if its for a BA Hons Degree. Quite often employers are funding or even part funding these to retain the staff or at least covering relief staff during staff training or assessment periods.

Now in Sleepy Hollow we ASPIRE to and WANT quality at all times – we don’t necessarily disagree with any of these stipulations but it means childcare is extremely expensive to staff but early years staff across NI aren’t necessarily paid in line with what they should be paid for the excellent role they play in early education. We have renamed all of our roles in our early childhood centre for example to be an early childhood teacher – not a carer, not a nursery nurse and certainly not an assistant. Our staff are extremely proficient in their roles and as much as we lobby for support for working parents we lobby for recognition for our employees so we can get funding for training at least to recognise the important roles they play. Quite simply put staff in our sector would have much less stress, better conditions and shorter working hours if they worked in our large supermarkets – but most childminders and people working in early years or Afterschools choose this career path for the LOVE they have for working with children.

Other costs which may not be apparent!

Heat and light : The cost of heating is huge as we keep our buildings to a certain regulated temperature all year round for up to 13/14 hours per day ensuring for example our heating comes on at 4am on a Monday morning to ensure we are warm for 7.30am. We need to keep it on most of the winter to ensure our temperatures remain warm. Then in summer we have the complete opposite as we fight to keep rooms cool – yes we are never happy (mostly with the fuel bills!)

Quality menu’s require quality provisions: – so we source our supplies from local grocers and butchers to ensure we are providing the best for children and young people in our settings. All of our managers have company pre paid credit cards and they buy from local stores in the proximity to our settings so we are ensuring that everything is fresh. Of course we ensure to buy the core supplies from our large supermarkets to keep costs down but there are many things we need to pick up on a day to day basis.

Transport – have you ever had a quote for minibus insurance for carrying children on a business level cover? I kid you not when I say we have three people carriers and a minibus and this sometimes makes me wonder how Translink can stay afloat! We have just put our bus through PSV again this year and another of our 7 seaters has gone through MOT last week and we are constantly getting services, checking tyres and luckily Stephen our transport manager keeps on top of all things road safety BUT this is a huge overhead for us. Of course all of ur settings make use of the vehicles over holidays because if we had to have bus hire for all of our TRIPS parents would face huge trip fees which we don’t want to have to pass on.

Supplies – we can’t be a childcare provider without the necessary tools of the trade – our equipment. Whilst you may think our Reggio inspired ethos is more affordable in terms of buying fewer toys – well it is in one way as we buy group membership to our local Play Resource Centre and are able to pick up lots of items there but the art and craft supplies are a huge part our monthly outgoings.

Rent – we pay a certain percentage of all of our fees each day in rent. Now we don’t complain about that as that fits in with our social economy ethos it means by using school premises we are making great use of public spaces and giving a percentage of our income back in way of rent which goes directly into school funds.

Rates – we and many of our friends in the sector have been crippled with the rates review. We haven’t got an exact figure yet but our rates bill in our Day Care for example is going up by £0000’s according the the Rates Reveal 2020 draft.

Professional development – in order to keep abreast of best practice Sleepy Hollow DO invest quite a proportion into professional development. We don’t see this as an optional expenditure the same way as hospitals ensure that their staff are trained on new procedures or protocols, banking staff are trained in new legislation or banking software, accountants train on new HMRC rulings – we need to train and update CPD to meet the needs of these very important children and young people in our care.

Subscriptions – we pay subscriptions to magazines, membership organisations and the most importantly to SAGE for our staff salaries and accounts packages. We see this as a necessary expenditure as we need to keep correct records and ensure that we are meeting all of our legislative requirements in terms of staffing needs. However again the bill for this runs into £££

Pensions – this is a tough one! We want to provide staff with pensions we NEED to but the cost is 5% of salaries for providers in an already very labour intensive workplace so our nursery and any nursery is struggling with this relatively new expense .

Maintenance – as with everything in our childcare settings we risk assess, risk assess and risk assess more (we like to add in a benefit column just to ensure that our staff and children don’t see risk as being a negative thing). When something is broken we recycle it but the nature of our sector is that things get broken which need replaced (our most recent one was the oven), walls get drawn on and get messy so they need painted, soft furnishings are washed more than they would be at home so their life span isn’t great even when we buy top quality so we have a high maintenance budget.

…. these are just a few of the overheads that come to mind. I’m sure other providers can add more to the list of outgoings but we wanted to explain WHY as providers we dread the annual increases as much as we dread passing them on. At a recent meeting of the employers forum for childcare providers which I chair providers were talking of increases this year as much as 10% to allow for the significant wage rise in April and the Reveal 2020 rates increases.

Some providers haven’t increased in a couple of years but it’s unlikely settings could survive without seeing significant increases this year.


We WANT parents to get every penny they can with help towards childcare costs and there is no magic solution to what percentage of savings parents can expect through the various support systems out there. That’s why we always recommend that parents contact EMPLOYERS FOR CHILDCARE to discuss your individual circumstances and they will deal with your call in a confidential manner and tell you what you can expect to receive by way of assistance through various savings that can be found out towards childcare costs.

We would also urge parents NOT to transfer over onto universal credits if you are claiming for an increase in childcare costs without phoning to check your circumstances with EFC first. It may not be in your financial interest to move over to universal credits and you MAY be able to avoid doing so. Childcare providers wont be the experts here in helping you with savings but all responsible childcare providers should be signposting parents to where they can get help towards childcare costs.


0800 028 3008 – free confidential helpline

Unregistered childcare – PLEASE DON’T … here’s why

Remember we would urge parents NOT to use unregistered childcare and you should report anyone you know providing unregistered childcare – not only are they not vetted to work with children they also wont be insured in the event of an accident.

Any setting providing childcare, including schools, for more than two hours must be registered with the local HSCT if they are providing CHILDCARE – note activity based extra curricular activities fall outside the requirement to be registered .

We would love to see more advertising campaigns surrounding unregistered childcare as parents will not get any financial help for unregistered childcare.

Another tip for working parents :- 

If you have to pay a balance after any voucher payments check if your provider accepts payment via debit or credit cards. Some of our parents tell us they use cards to accumulate points eg. Tesco card – for example for every £5 voucher you can redeem this for £20 voucher for Irish Ferries (for summer holiday) or vouchers for cinema, food etc. So ensure you are at least making savings through other means if you are paying childcare bills.

We don’t however advocate that you use credit cards to get into debt over childcare bills.  This will only work if you are clearing your credit card bill each month in order to avoid interest. Its simply an alternative to accruing spending or reward points – but if you can accumulate lots of points during the course of a year if you ensure not to be late paying your credit card bill or accruing interest.


Valentine’s Day – our way!

We had a week long fun approach to the day of love!  A week long where love was in the air …

For years we would have felt under pressure surrounding these celebrations to make gifts and cards to send home to parents and families.  A week where it was all about the adults in the room

  • perfecting cards
  • managers checking that siblings in families didn’t get more home from one room than they did another,
  • that all cards met our own in house quality kitemark, and
  • where children’s hands and feet were never out of a basin as we were doing handprints and footprints like they were going out of fashion!


What changed?

Now I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I still have very high standards I want to keep.

When I went out to Reggio Emilia in 2016 I had already researched about alternative methods to the pre printed displays and primary coloured notice boards we were changing each month as well as the huge focus on processes and tick sheets.

I was immediately drawn to the focus on process over product.  The focus on children working together on joint projects and art rather than individual a4 sheets of card.  The way the adults in the room were researching with the children and not leading them.  How advanced the children were in these learning environments from a very early age.

On my return I immediately wanted to transform our settings overnight.  That was challenging as no-one else in our settings had seen what I had seen and it wasn’t easy to transform practice which had been ingrained in our settings for years.

It took three years and more visits by Bronagh & Amy to Reggio Emilia for us to start to get the whole company mindset to think the same way.  During this period we found the Curiosity Approach.  That accreditation programme enabled us to bring our staff on a learning journey and one of the key elements was focusing on process over product.  Karen and Rachel were also able to go to shadow in their settings and Bronagh & I also attending one of their professional development days.

One of the key examples the Curiosity Approach give is about having a display with 50 identical Easter bunnies or the hand printed Easter chicks which were made by adults holding children’s wrists as they carefully printed the hand on card taking extra care that the painted didn’t smudge or smear.  They reconfigure that parents may love to look back on these creations but hope that parents recognise that its far better for children to create items that are unique to their individual child.  After all we don’t need children from a young age to have to meet certain expectations or to be clones of one another – we want children to learn to be unique and that there should be no peer pressure at any age.

The curiosity approach taught our team that it was more important to capture the moment in time with children.  To create their own artwork with individuality building their own self esteem.  Art work which we value and we don’t fix or correct.

So hopefully you have enjoyed the child led craft that came home last week.  There were no step by step instructions, we didn’t all create at the same time, it wasn’t hurried or rushed, adults had no input into the direction of the art work, children made their own choices from the materials on display.  It was all about love -we loved observing and capturing photos of the process, the children loved the week and we hope you loved the uniqueness it all – shown in the photos for example the uniqueness of the cards and such as the beautiful bouquet of flowers made from wood


Not forgetting the parties – the children all really enjoyed the parties as well!  Thanks to all the parents who joined in and we loved seeing some parents photo’s of the high tea on instagram of your own children .  Keep sharing and tagging us.

Some more photos  from around the settings last week

Feeling the love – through sensory play

Tasting the love – some of the fun snacks and party food from around the wraparound units

And the staff who know just how to ‘oversee – participate – co research – but never ever TAKE OVER the creativity’

All dressed in pink and red for the parties !  The staff team now wouldn’t go back to the old ways of adult led activities at all.  We certainly rock our pedagogy of Reggio inspired, playwork passionate and a sprinkle of curiosity.

Valentine’s Day – the Sleepy Hollow Way

Diane Koplewsky

17th February 2020


Play – our way! Lobbying and why we do it.

Lobbying and childcare isn’t something you would normally see in the same sentence?

People ask why we dedicate so much time to lobbying in Sleepy Hollow.

When we say lobbying its not taking part in any political marches with placards strapped to our back.  We are more purposeful than that!

Some of the ways we choose to lobby are :

  1. Being part of committees where we can make our voices heard.

*The voices of working parents as we hear your difficulties every day in terms of flexible childcare and the cost of childcare.

*The voices of our staff as we know this is a low paid sector which has exceptionally high levels of training required which are often not funded

*Childcare providers themselves as we all know too well the high cost of offering affordable but most importantly QUALITY childcare – so many settings have closed in the past 12 months or will close as a result of wage increases in April.  We need to protect each other!  Hence the importance of employer lead committees and forums.  We need our membership bodies to support our causes too.

2. Writing responses to consultations such at the rates consultation. As a sector we regularly complain about the exceptional cost of rates especially as our counterparts on Mainland get rates relief.  The shockingly poor turnout to the rates consultation held for day care owners in Early Years really was disappointing.  If we aren’t lobbying for things such as rates relief then it means operational costs go up and in return the cost of childcare increases and in turn we cannot afford to pay for staff training or higher wages (goes back to point one)

3. Lobbying for a quality agenda.  We attended many meetings during the consultation period of the minimum standards for example.  Again if employers don’t attend these meetings which form part of our inspection process then we cannot complain or feel aggrieved if we dont like how its managed.  All settings had a choice to have their voices heard.  Certainly if your voice was ignored or your REASONABLE opinions were not taken on board you have every right to feel aggrieved but often those who shout loudest didn’t attend any of the consultation meetings.

4. Funding meetings – we have NEVER been given funding or grant aid for anything (with the exception of training which was sector wide).  Partly because we are a private organisation with a social economy ethos my personal opinion is I think we should be self sustaining and giving back where we can. I know many others in our sector who have successfully obtained grant funding  for their private nurseries but the money they have obtained (which has resulted undoubtedly in not having to go down the route of financial loans) has meant significant financial savings.  These savings haven’t  necessarily been passed on in terms of reducing childcare costs or raising staff salaries – so that wouldn’t sit comfortably with us at Sleepy Hollow.  We do attend funding meetings however that may impact our sector and would lobby against some of the financial incentives which come from the public purse if they are funding elements of our sector which are non sustainable.  Its important that any money in our sector for the direct benefit of children and young people has measured outcomes.  This doesn’t mean that we won’t apply for grant funding at any stage but we are more focused on being self sustaining, not relying on tax payers money and giving back where we can.  So we continue to lobby for the correct use of funding into our sector.  Our main objective is to lobby for funding for parents first and foremost.

5. Lobbying local politicians – we sit on a childcare committee at Stormont where all of the political parties are represented.  This gives us direct access to feeding back our issues as childcare providers to those who can direct change through a childcare strategy.

6. Social media platforms – we use our social media platforms mostly for sharing our day to day work and fun within the organisation but we use more serious platforms such as LinkedIn to raise sectoral issues. Most recently our post was about the introduction of wraparound boarding departments within state schools in England – is this a step too far.  This simply raises meaningful discussions but can also be influential so in effect is indirectly lobbying.


We have an important role as childcare providers.  Our focus of course should always be on the children and young people – the quality of care and the rapport with our clients.  We have a sector to protect however for these children and young people and we are in a good position to explain the day to day difficulty parents face in our sector.  If every owner or manager of a setting in our sector (including childminders) could give up one or two hours a month to this cause our sector would be stronger for it.


Play – our way! The thing about snow drops

A brand new knowledge about snowdrops!


You will have gathered from our blogs we like to do things just a little uniquely in our settings and this past week was no different as we discovered and co-learned about snow drops in our settings this week.


Here are some of the things we learned

1.  Snowdrops are called Gallanthus or milk flowers.

2.  We discovered even better when we projected them on to the wall – they were much bigger than the ones we saw growing on our forest walk

3. The bulbs of snowdrops are poisonous so although we looked for them we know never to pick flowers growing from the wild

4. Snowdrops have built in anti freeze – they collapse in freezing weather conditions and recover when thawed

5.  The petals of snowdrops open at 10 degrees and the pollen is a great source of early spring food for our friends the bees.

6.  Snow drops are endangered in many parts of UK and Ireland so another reason why we should never pick them in the wild

7.  Snow drops are very pretty and they look amazing when you enlarge and project them onto the wall.  We had hours of fun with our snowdrop projects 

In our setting the adults are co-learners with the children and hopefully parents hear lots about whats happening during the day in our settings and you can discover even more about them at home with your children.  Early education is such a wonderful time for exploring and learning through our Reggio inspired and curiosity approach filled curriculum.

Remember these years are an investment in not only care for children but in early education – make sure to check in with your childcare provider to ask how they are incorporating learning from birth and in your after schools settings how they aren’t looking for learning outcomes in that age group but rather exploring through play.

Its important not to overload school age children with huge amounts of competitive based or learning outcome activities after school – they need time to wind down and have fun at the end of a busy day.  Play deprivation is huge amongst children and young people of school age as we have become so driven in learning based and competitive clubs that we forget about the importance of just playing!

Finally if you get a chance remember to plant some snowdrops in your gardens or window boxes – you will be feeding the bees in spring!

Play – our way! Chinese New Year celebrations the Sleepy Hollow Inspired way

Happy Year of the Rat !  

Good fortune, wealth, and happiness to all! 

新年快乐 (Mandarin) 春节愉快 (Cantonese)

We love celebrating cultural diversity – its embedded in our practice especially as the former Managing Director has a very diverse cultural background himself.   For years he would be very frustrated when in our inspection process we were asked to demonstrate how we incorporate multi cultural play into our curriculum – he was adamant it was more than having ethic dolls, dress up, books and plastic food on display.  For years we have celebrated cultural events as part of EVERYDAY ethos in Sleepy Hollow – luckily now our inspectors totally ‘get’ our approach and many record it in our reports as excellent practice (with one or two new ones into the sector each year still questioning our WHY on this stance until we offer our explanation)

Good early years practice and playwork needs to support equality from the earliest months of childhood BUT plastic food and a ‘culture’ book are meaningless to young babies and toddlers.

Take for example our Chinese New Year celebrations last week – play materials, books and other resources were offered in a constructive way by reflecting on how young children learn about culture and cultural identity.  Our Sleepy Hollow inspired ethos is based on the following understanding

  • Shared culture is communicated through the events of daily life, such as food – tasting food, learning a language or alphabet.
  • Posters, photographs and other visual images can give the message, even to very young children, that all these people who look different in many ways are part of our nursery, our school age childcare settings and our communities. Children see themselves and people who look like their family every day in our settings and that reflects whichever culture or background they are from.
  • Art and craft is another wonderful way to incorporate learning about cultures
  • There are plenty of quality story and information books that reflect the fact that Northern Ireland is a culturally diverse society. We tend to visit the library to borrow these books particularly about festivals and cultures which are topical that week – there doest need to be an expectation that you have books stored away which just come out of a cupboard or storeroom once a year.
  • Children benefit from stories with characters who look like them. Children can feel excluded if ‘people like me’ only appear in books about ‘children from other lands’.  Another reason why its very important to learn about our own cultures and backgrounds which Early Years – the Organisation for children and young people have captured so well through their Media Initiative
  • Sensory play – there are lots of different variants of sensory play activities which can add value to cultural celebrations.  For example we used red sand last week for a mark making activity around the cantonese and mandarin alphabets.
  • In another example last week we used ‘utensils’ (Chopsticks) for fine motor skills activities

Resources for pretend play should be much more than dolls and small play figures, dressing up clothes or the home corner equipment – we use proper food, spices, utensils, crockery, outfits (not dress up). All cultural celebrations should be offered with equal respect, as part of somebody’s normal life. For instance, the words ‘multicultural dressing up clothes’ are used in some catalogues to describe non-European clothing. The phrase could imply that there is ‘normal clothing worn by us’ and ‘exotic outfits worn in other cultures.’  We need to move on from this mindset.

A key message for equality practice is that there is no rush. Children become confused if early years practitioners feel pressure to rattle through a long list of ‘multicultural activities’, including many celebrations, before children enter formal school. A few quality experiences can start children on the road to appreciating diverse cultures and traditions.

In our school age childcare settings of course we let children take the lead and we are co-leaerners with them on their journey of experience of learning about other cultures.  They research and we learn together!  So next time you are embarking on a cultural celebration – remember to think about your why and what message are you sharing with children and young people about inclusivity and good practice.



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